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The Reading Torch
By Hilary Williamson, November 2000

Some of the best memories of my teenage years are of walking to the public library with my grandfather on Saturday mornings. He recommended many of his favourite books to me - written by authors like Rafael Sabatini, Jeffery Farnol, John Buchan, and Rider Haggard - and we discussed what we liked about the stories after I had read them. Now I do the same with my own children, sharing old favourites with them and finding new treasures through their discoveries. It is a wonderful experience for an adult to pass the torch of reading to a child, whether a family member, a young friend or a student.

Of course, stories can be shared nowadays in many different forms, other than the slightly tatty library copies that I used to carry home with such anticipation. Many classics are available free online, such as Pride and Prejudice or Captain Blood at Project Gutenberg. And newly released ebooks of varying degrees of quality are popping up for sale all over the net, for example Kenn Nesbitt's amusing collections of Poetry for Kids, just as entertaining for adults. There is a great deal of online reading material, with an abundance of folktales and mythology, such as Libby Hathorn's charming Wishing Cupboard. The quality does vary, but there is gold amongst the dross, if you can find it. Electronic texts can be read on home computers or downloaded into new ebook devices like the new RCA 1100 Ebook, to be released in December ... a suitable gift for the person who has everything else.

Audio books (whether in Cassette or CD format) are a great resource for long trips, or for older readers whose eyesight is failing. The scenario of a family playing an audio book in the car is our modern equivalent of the old days when one family member read aloud by candlelight ... and audio books don't have to be limited to travel times. Listening to them together allows the sharing of suspense, anticipation of the ending and discussion of the story as it progresses - a great way to reinforce shared values. For those of us whose eyesight is not as good as it used to be, or who want to read while doing a chore, the audio book is invaluable. Examples of great books available in audio format are Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Little Women, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Old Yeller.

My own family have recently enjoyed together old favourites in video format. A friend told me of Forester's Horatio Hornblower series, released in DVD and VHS format. This was a huge success with the kids and we've watched it several times now, and expect to do so again over the holidays. We found it such a pleasant pastime that we tried Ivanhoe, and have ordered The Scarlet Pimpernel. Another wonderful video series that I have enjoyed watching several times is BBC's Pride and Prejudice.

So if you're starting to think about gifts for the holidays, consider your favourite books (classics or recent reads), and tailor the format (traditional, audio, ebook or movie) to the recipient's needs. And if you spend some holiday time with younger friends or family, find out what they like reading, you might find something that inspires you (my sons have recently introduced me to Silverwing recent Star Wars releases and the wonderful cartoon series Calvin and Hobbes). And in this Olympic (and millennial) year, do pass on the reading torch to them, they won't forget it.
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