A voracious reader

I’ve always been – using that cliché – a voracious reader. It might be a cliché but it seems true that when you read like that you gobble up books, you consume them and your appetite for reading is never satisfied. If you have a particularly ‘tasty’ book you can eat it again, like you might have another slice of something, the same slice because it comes from the same something, but you always find something different – in a cake it might be more nuts or fruit, a flavour you didn’t notice before, a texture you’re more aware of. So it is with books – on re-reading you might love them more, or a little less, or you might wonder why you ever enjoyed it, or you might find that treasure which is always a thing of wonder and enjoyment no matter how often it’s read.

I’ve mentioned before that we had a library not far from home, and I would trail backwards and forwards renewing my books, and eventually using my mum’s tickets to access the grown-up section. This meant I could indulge what became my favourite genre, science fiction. I may have heard ‘The Day of the Triffids’ on the radio first of all; we had a radio in our bedroom and although we went to bed what now would be considered early for children, we could listen to the radio until we went to sleep. I think I was keener on that than my sister – something repeated when my children were small and they had a radio in their room – not to listen to music which I think my daughter would have preferred, my son was passionately interested in ‘The World Tonight’ with Robin Lustig.

Back to ‘The Day of the Triffids’ – it was broadcast in 1957 when I was six – surely I didn’t listen to it then? Maybe it was repeated after that… there’s no way I can tell, but I certainly read the novel written by John Wyndham, published in 1951, when I was quite young. It made a huge impact on me, as you can imagine – and in case you think it unlikely a child would read something which did not have children as characters, well, I’m sure there are many many readers who would say that they did! ‘The Day of the Triffids’ is now described as a post-apocalyptic novel,, all I understood when I first heard then read the story was that a man was in hospital in a completely normal way having had his eyes injured by some weird plants he was studying. While he was lying there, eyes bound, receiving treatment a dramatic event occurs rendering everyone else blind. His eyes had been protected so his sight was saved – the weird plants of course were triffids.

Having read that, over the next years I ‘voraciously devoured’ the rest of his novels:

  • The Day of the Triffids (1951)
  • The Kraken Wakes (1953)
  • The Chrysalids (1955)
  • The Midwich Cuckoos (1957)
  • Trouble with Lichen (1960)

There was another book which doesn’t sound familiar and I don’t think I read, The Outward Urge (1959),which he wrote with another writer, Lucas Parkes.

The reason I’m thinking about John Wyndham is that I am reading ‘The Chrysalids’ at the moment. It’s set in a dystopian future where some dreadful apocalyptic event has taken place. The main character is a young boy at the beginning of the book, and I think this maybe why it is my favourite – or was when I read them as a child. I’ve realised that I know very little about John Wyndham, and in fact that isn’t even his name, or is at least only part of his name as he was born John Wyndham Parkes Lucas Beynon Harris in 1903. He was bornin Warwickshire, and after his parents separated he went to various boarding schools. He tried several different jobs, but must have been interested in writing from early on in his life as his first novel was published when he was only twenty-four, and he continued to write shorts stories and serials, particularly for an American audience. This is what Wikipedia says about those years:

During these years he lived at the Penn Club, London, which had been opened in 1920 by the remaining members of the Friends Ambulance Unit, and which had been partly funded by the Quakers. The intellectual and political mixture of pacifists, socialists and communists continued to inform his views on social engineering and feminism.

He saw active service during the war and continued to write afterwards; he had used the pen-name John Beynon for a long time, and so he continued but then changed it to what we now recognise, John Wyndham.  He died in 1969 at the age of sixty-five.

So often when you return to a favourite book you find it has dulled, or your tastes have changed, but I’m enjoying The Chrysalids as much as I ever did, and look forward to re-reading his other books, and reading more of his writing for the first time.

It was difficult to find a featured image – I have reached the part of The Chrysalids where the main characters escape on giant horse, so I’m posing a picture of horses!

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