Have you always liked reading?

Yes. I couldn't wait to learn how to read (I was totally disgusted with kindergarten and learning my letters: I wanted words and I wanted them now) and once I began there was no stopping me. But reading was also pretty well the one thing I was much good at. I was a complete loss at maths and nearly so at all the sciences with a slightly honourable mention for biology in high school (I then took beginning biology in college which was a disaster when I refused to pith my frog; why did a frog have to die so that I could write up a lab report?) and history had all these facts you had to learn to pass the exams. (As I often tell school groups, no doubt to the dismay of listening teachers, there are, in my hierarchy, two kinds of facts. There are boring facts, which I merely wish to get away from as quickly as possible, and interesting facts, which I then wish to make up stories around and subvert as the plot demands. 'Learning' facts is not on the list.) And phys ed, shuuudder. No, I certainly wasn't athletic. (In the era of my school years long walks, with or without hellhounds, did not count. I would like to think this has changed. And I didnít go to the kind of schools that offered riding lessons.)

But by golly I could read (just so long as I didn't have to remember any facts). Till my mid thirties or so it was mostly fiction and a little poetry and history. As Iíve grown older and boringer and now in my mid fifties hardly ever wear black leather and rhinestones any more ( . . . er . . . well . . . ) I've begun to appreciate more and more non-fiction. Although I'm still not very good at facts. The answer to mental fact-loss is to own copies of all the books you want facts out of, dog-ear the pages (shock! Horror!), and then make notes to yourself in the margins (more shock! Worse horror!). Of course if you really can't remember anything about what you're trying to retrieve you may look at a lot of marginal notes, but it's a beginning.

Broadband has changed my attitude . . . somewhat. Iím still buying the annual volumes from Britannica, thus slowly but relentlessly increasing the shelf space necessary to the encyclopedia I bought . . . uh . . . thirty years ago, with Beautyís subrights paperback money. (There was enough left over to buy shelves to put it on.) Theyíre an anchor, a literal weight in the hand, and a comfort that you are not adrift in a malign immaterial universe, in these wireless days, when the answers you want really are hanging in the air just out of reach, like this afternoon, when my (plugged-in) broadband keeps crashing (ARRRRRGH). But when Iím on the computer (this, that or another computer) Iím also on line. And my home pages include Google and Wiki. And there would be a lot more mistakes on the blog if I hadnít learned the essential motions of the clicking finger.

And I still adore stories. I'm just fussierómake that, Iím afraid, a lot fussieróabout them than I used to be, and will only suspend my disbelief if I'm having a good time. When I was younger I tended to believe that writers had to be obeyed, like teachers or the police, even if their pronouncements were nonsensical. Now I look stories in the eye and say ĎProve ití.