I taught myself to read when I was four years old. This is neither an exaggeration nor a joke. I was one of those kids who wanted one out of three books (very short ones, but still) read every single evening over and over and over again. Eventually, my grandparents and mom had enough and told me “you memorised all those books by now”. They were correct. I was smart enough to notice there was a connection between the written words and the ones my mom said out loud. I became a minor sensation in the neighbourhood, but I had no interest in fame and fortune. I just wanted to read, and once I was done with my three kids’ books I found out that there were hundreds of books in our house.
I started plundering through the adult library without anybody really noticing – how would a 4-year-old manage to read science-fiction or blood-dripping thrillers? In the beginning, the answer was “slowly”. When I got to school and we had to learn each letter separately, then read sentences along the lines of “Anna has a cat” I couldn’t figure out what all that was about. I decided that probably we had to memorise the texts, because otherwise what was the point? Once I memorised the two lines that were our homework, I went back to my Kir Bulychov books.
I remember being seven or eight, reading a book that had a sex scene of some sort in it, and being bewildered as to why someone would want to do ewww-y things like this – or even write about them. Hello? SENTIENT ROBOTS! Stop the stupid thing and tell me more about the murderous robots! Nobody noticed I went through my stepfather’s entire collection of thrillers, horrors, crime stories before turning 10. But then what books were suitable for my age back in the 1980s? Dumb ones, I decided, then went back to Stephen King.
Around the age of 13, I discovered the local library had THOUSANDS of books available. It was free, and you could borrow six books per person, or per library card. I got three cards – for my mom, my brother, and myself. That gave us a total of 18 books. Every month I would borrow 15 books for myself, three for my mom, and, er, my brother liked football. I didn’t go by genre, I went alphabetically section per section without paying much attention to the genre. I ate those books. Once I discovered Julio Cortazár’s Hopscotch I went to the librarian and asked innocently what would happen if someone, theoretically, of course, lost a book. The librarian somehow guessed that someone would be me and told me the person would immediately lose their access to the library.
What kind of hateful monster! (The book was, of course, out of print.)