When I think about books and my childhood, I see the cane bedside table on which all wonderful things were held: a portable radio, then later, a walkman, a jar of jelly crystals (for eating) and books. I was obsessed with memorising text from an early age and used to go to bed with Banjo Patterson’s ‘The Man from Snowy River’. I also remember trying to read the bible from cover to cover (it was a Good News Bible – I can see it now, the perky yellow text on the faded brown cover.) I also loved dogs. Daschounds and Basenjis in particular, and I had a picture book about dogs that I kept open on a certain page as if I could dream the dog into existence and have him sleeping at the foot of my bed by morning. I remember Joan Aiken’s The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, and Roadl Dahl’s Danny the Champion of the World.
But the book that I remember most is The Hobbit. We borrowed the audiocassettes from the Ringwood library and I’m not sure that we ever returned them. I can still hear Nicoll Williamson’s sonorous voice. Maybe it was because, like Bilbo Baggins, I had hairy toes. Or maybe it was because I liked underground houses, or maybe it was just the idea of Gandalf scratching a mark on a door and changing a person forever but the Hobbit remains for me the defining book of my childhood. I loved to pore over the maps and illustrations and imagine myself in Tolkien’s world. I dreamed about Rivendell. And for a while everything was kingdoms and adventure and it didn’t matter if you were a boy or a girl … I don’t know what happened to me though, because after the Hobbit, I just started reading Judy Blume and then Sweet Valley High books and then quite terrible airport novels by authors with outlandish names like June Flaum Singer.
Simmone’s latest book is Everything Beautiful (Pan Macmillan 2008). For more, try Simmone’s website or Tumblr. She also Twitters at @postteen.