– Why do you read a group of teenage boys asked me. I wanted to tell them that I read because it is the cheapest way of travelling to distant places, after a page or two you find yourself absorb into a different world, and that ticket cost you nothing at all.
I wanted to say this, but I didn’t. Then I thought that I could tell them that I just happened to have opened that book and had found myself so absorbed I found it impossible to put it down again. And perhaps I should tell them about my father, who died when I was little and how I find myself adopting fathers in the books I read, and there are so many dads to choose from.
The boys stared at me, waiting for my response. But I couldn’t explain to them why I read. It is important for me to read, I wanted to say, because I can be someone else when I read, someone other than myself, I can be a lonely old man sitting on a step and sometimes I’m friends with someone who tells me everything about themselves with no worries in the world. I can wear a knight’s armour, ride a horse like a god, travel around the world and go to school in a town in India.
– But honestly, why do you read, the boys asked me. They sat down on the steps where I was sitting. I told them I would happily read aloud to them and opened the book wide.
And even if the book didn’t start with “Once upon a time”, it was as if it did, because that book grabbed us instantly, the way a good book does. Astrid Lindgren had likened it to the bite of a northern pike. When you find yourself completely hooked. As I read the words of the story enveloped us and as I finished, it was with a massive splash, the splash of a wild pike batting his tail in the water.
The boys wanted more and asked me maybe I could re-read a paragraph or two, the bit in the text that had gripped them the most. I did as they wanted, thinking about that brave teacher who read Winnie the Pooh to my son and his classmates when they were seventeen, dramatizing the story with different voices and impressions for each character. He whimpered out Piglets worried words and sounded as down and despairing as Ior. They laughed together at his storytelling, but also unknowingly mirrored themselves in the book, it told them it was ok to be whoever you are.
–Why don’t we read more? One of the boys asked. Now the question was suddenly more open and no longer directed at me. Why don’t we read? Yes, why don’t we? I closed the book and told them I had to leave. As I walk away, I hear them shout after me. “Oy, you, what was the book you were reading called?”
Children’s Laureate, Stockholm