I am looking at how the story of a family could be told through a certain number of objects – I suppose like an actual museum, but this is a virtual museum. Some of the objects I might wish to share are long gone – not necessarily valuable or significant items, but little domestic objects, such as the red handled serrated tomato knife, or the glass chess set, or the child’s globe…
My object number seven is a book; it is ‘on display’ for several reasons. Books have been an intrinsic part of my family’s life, and reading has been an intrinsic part of my ancestors’ lives. This particular book, which I still have, was probably published in 1960 and it is a collection of stories, articles, quizzes, and miscellanea. Its purpose, now I look at it, was to interest and educate as much as to entertain; many of the stories were based on true events though some were written to be more exciting and accessible to young readers. There were practical articles too, of the ‘how to’ sort, and biographies of famous people. The book covered stories from across the world, and I can’t imagine how many times I read and reread them.
So why is this book on the museum shelf? Books and reading have been an embedded part of my life, my parents and relations, my sister and I, and now my children. My daughter is a very practical reader, she reads for a purpose not just for entertainment, my son is more varied and reads books of all descriptions. My husband is, like me an addicted reader, and my parents were readers too, both of them, fiction and factual, books, newspapers, magazines.
Thinking back to my grandparents who I didn’t know well as they died when I was very young (one grandfather the month before I was born) I have no idea whether they read or not, but I can guess they did as we inherited books from them (long since disappeared) and my parents must have inherited the reading habit from somewhere. Certainly my grandmother who left school when she was thirteen, and worked in very lowly positions was not only literate, but as an old lady, after a hard day’s work, would sit by the fire reading the Daily Telegraph from cover to cover – I’m not drawing any conclusion about her political persuasions, but in those days a broadsheet was a large newspaper with tiny print and certainly the Telegraph covered every aspect of life from world politics to seasonal recipes.
A different grandfather who I did know as an old man, lived alone and read and re-read Westerns and adventure stories. He’d had a very adventurous life and travelled to distant places – were his travels inspired by the books he read when he was young, were the books he read as an old man a way of recapturing the excitement of his travelling life? His wife, my grandmother was very well-educated; she certainly would have been a reader. I remember visiting their house when I was tiny and there were children’s books, very strange children’s books, which I realise now must have been from her childhood.
As for my more distant ancestors, who knows? Certainly my Jewish family would have been very well-educated, probably with tutors at home. Another family who worked on the land as agricultural labourers probably had a more rudimentary education, but their children had aspirations to come off the land and ‘better themselves”. The family of what you might call ‘artisans’, shoe-makers, butchers, ship-builders, and small businessmen – publicans and shop owners, would have had their children educated – maybe their reading material was the latest exciting instalment of a Dickens’ story!!
So, this nearly sixty year-old book sits on my actual bookshelf, as well as my imaginary one, as an example of an important aspect of my family story – reading.
As a footnote… my love of reading has brought me here… It has been overtaken by my love of writing!