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The simple act of reading: Why all reading is created equal

After many years of pondering, I’ve come to the conclusion that all reading is created equal.

This is not to say that all books are created equal — I’m not saying that there aren’t good or bad books. What I’m saying is that the act of reading, of diving into a story and experiencing the characters, setting, and themes is universal in literature, regardless of a story’s quality.

I think many people were very excited to attend the panel inspired by the book The Simple Act of Reading by Debra Adelaide for exactly this reason. Readers of all experience, who love everything from trashy romance novels to Greek classics, can appreciate the way it feels to dive into a book.

This Sunday morning session at Byron Bay Writers Festival included Andy Griffiths, Malcolm Knox, and Joan London, and chaired by Catherine Keenan, and it represented a hugely diverse group of authors, to say the least.

The Simple Act of Reading book itself is a collection of essays and memoirs, penned by authors on the ways that reading led them to writing.

Griffiths, who has written celebrated children’s books including The Day My Bum Went Psycho and The Treehouse series, cites his earliest reading experience as being a German book of morality tales for children called Der Struwwelpeter. Griffiths found humour and horror co-existed in these stories, where the consequences were absurdly out of proportion to the “crime” committed.

The children’s author decided that this combination was exactly the sort of book he grew up wanting to write. Recently he had re-read Pinocchio and lamented the disservice that Disney had done to the story by taking all of the horror out.

Knox, too, cited the same children’s book as being a great part of his childhood, although he joked that perhaps the reason his career “didn’t go in the same direction” as Griffiths’ was that when he read these German fairy tales, he took them seriously.

Perhaps that’s why he began as a journalist, and became a novelist later.

Author of several works including A Private Man and Summerland, Knox has not only won the Ned Kelly Award for Best First Fiction, but also won a Walkley Award for Investigative Journalism.

To me, Knox’s early reading choices really reflect a desire to deal with the real, the concrete. In contrast to Griffith’s stories, which exhibit some of the silliness that he appreciated about the otherwise horror-driven works of his youth, Knox’s writing is more serious, more solidly based in reality.

A Private Man, for example, deals largely with a death and the consequences of that death. Not as fanciful, but valuable in ways different from Griffith’s work.

London boasts an incredibly varied catalogue of works including a book based on the oldest poem in the world, Gilgamesh, which serves to ground an ancient tale in modern times. She has also written The Golden Age, which follows two people, whose lives become entwined after meeting in rehab.

When asked what sorts of books she likes to read, London confessed to enjoying the sorts of stories where inventive and intelligent children are able to create a good situation out of bad ones. When she picks up a book it is to “find out what this writer has to tell me about being a human being, and how to place your experience”.

Back to my point about how all reading is created equal—this panel has three authors who have read a plethora of books in their lives. Griffiths finds himself always revisiting The Catcher in the Rye; London says that Alice Monroe was a huge influence, and Knox admits to reading what he calls “airport trash”, the junk you get from the newsstand because you have nothing else to read.

Not all of what they’ve read is quality, but all of it is valuable. Need proof? Consider that no matter what it was that they have read in the past, or what they will read in future – these are published authors. They are the sum of their experiences.

I don’t care what anyone says – that itself is valuable.

Megan A. Morgan is a Bachelor of Arts student studying Writing and Visual Arts at Southern Cross University. She holds a prior degree in English from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. 

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