One of my best beloved books (and certainly my favourite film) is ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’. I identify with Scout, aged 5, who horrifies her infant teacher with her precocious ability to read anything in sight:

As I read the alphabet a faint line appeared between her eyebrows and after making me read most of the My First Reader and the stock market quotations aloud, she discovered that I was literate. Miss Caroline told me to tell my father not to teach me anymore, it would interfere with my reading. I never deliberately learned to read… Reading was just something that came to me… Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.

I declared, aged 6 or so, to my head teacher that I had read all the books in the infant school. Where my school friends saw notches of ink on incomprehensible pages, I saw light, life, people. That was why I seemed distracted in reading lessons: I was always several pages ahead of the others reading laboriously aloud. On many occasions I had to be recalled to the here and now in order to take my turn.

Luckily Miss Bennett sympathised and managed to purloin some more challenging readers from the junior school. These did not enchant me as thoroughly as did the Narnia books or offer me friendships with characters as entertaining and complex as Alice, Anne (of Green Gables), Heidi or Pippi Longstocking, or even as fiercesome and ‘other’ as the boys stranded on Coral Island, Laura in her house on the prairie or the Family from One End Street. They did keep me semi-satisfied until I could return to my library books.

Words, stories, fascinated me, and I saw in them a key with which I could unlock a boundless world and safe haven.

Although I am becoming fonder of my e-reader this is largely because of its convenience. The greater the proliferation of electronic solutions to the problem of locating sufficient words to inhale, the more I seem to need the real thing.

I don’t think I am alone in feeling deeply romantic about books. I not only want to handle the books themselves – weigh them, smell them – I revel in the sense of cultural exchange while I’m doing it. If the context is right, then book buying delivers retail therapy like no other. We’re not just buying words and paper after all, we’re buying little pieces of humanity wrapped up in book form. That intimate experience often develops into a desire to discuss a book with other aficionados.

Fables teach us that we can absorb ideas and concepts through narrative, through stories, not through lessons or theoretical speeches. Characters must confront life and overcome obstacles; they are figures setting off on a journey of enrichment through exploits and revelations.

Everything is a tale. What we believe, what we know, what we remember, even what we dream. Everything is a story, a narrative, a sequence of events with characters communicating an emotional content.

We only accept as true what can be narrated.

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