from Making It Up by Penelope Lively

From Making It Up by Penelope Lively:

I did not go to any school until I was twelve years old; until then, my home-based education centered entirely upon reading — pretty well anything that came to hand, prose, poetry, good, bad, indifferent, any page was better than no page. At a barbaric boarding school, where the authorities saw a taste for unfettered reading as a sign of latent perversion, I went underground and read furtively, hiding books like other girls hid Mars bars or toffees. At university, there was that great swath of required reading, which was fine, but I liked to read off-piste, shooting into English literature, which was not supposed to be my subject, and into areas of history ignored by the syllabus. There was never enough time. Grown-up life — syllabus-free, exam-free — came as a relief; now, there was the day job, but also the opportunity for unbridled reading. I became a public library addict, dropping in several times a week for my fix, and this continued into married life and motherhood, when I read my way through the small branch library of our Swansea suburb, pushing the pram there with the baby in one end and the books in the other.

You write out of experience, and a large part of that experience is the life of the spirit; reading is the liberation into the minds of others. When I was a child, reading released me from my own prosaic world into fabulous antiquity; by way of Andrew Lang’s Tales of Troy and Greece; when I was a housebound young mother, I began to read history all over again, but differently, freed from the constraints of a degree course, and I discovered also Henry James, and Ivy Compton-Burnett, and Evelyn Waugh, and Henry Green, and William Golding, and so many others — and became fascinated by the possibilities of fiction. It seems to me that writing is an extension of reading — a step that not every obsessive reader is impelled to take, but, for those who do so, one that springs from serendipitous reading. Books beget books.


A house that contains books has concealed power. Many homes are bookless, or virtually so, as any house hunter discovers. And then suddenly there is a place that is loaded — shelf upon shelf of the things — and the mysterious charge is felt. This house has ballast; never mind the content, it is the weight that counts — all that solid, silent reference to other matters, to wider concerns, to a world beyond these walls. There is a presence here — confident, impregnable.

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2 Responses to from Making It Up by Penelope Lively

  1. Susan says:

    I like Penelope Lively and what she has to say. I like comment that writing is an extension of reading. I never quite thought of it like that — and it’s awesome!