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Happy Birthday, Neil... - budgie's squawks
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Happy Birthday, Neil...
It was Neil Gaiman's fiftieth birthday last Wednesday. Now I've known Neil for some years, and at first I couldn't think what to get him as a birthday present, but seeing as he's encouraged me and encouraged me and... well, nagged me on occasion, frankly... to write more, despite having just finished this year's fast fiction challenge, I wrote him a story.

I hadn't intended to put it up here, but Neil's said it's ok, so...

There Once Was A Child...

There once was a child who did not read.

It was not that he couldn’t read; he had read in the past. However, he told his parents, his friends and all who asked that he no longer read. And yet, the bookshelves of his bedroom were filled to overflowing with volumes of all kinds: hardback novels, paperback collections of long out of print stories, the occasional biography, and comic books by the hundred. And few of them did not show signs of use.

Nonetheless, contrary to the apparent evidence, he responded to all enquiries with the simple declaration that he did not read. And the child became angry when this assertion was challenged, despite many having seen him with an open book.

His parents, while puzzled at the fervour with which he maintained that He Did Not Read the books, were content to allow the child his eccentricity. After all, his father commented, he’ll grow out of it. His mother, however, worried.

His teachers were far less understanding and punished the child by assigning additional books to him. Within days, the child would return the book, commenting knowledgeably upon the contents, but insisting that he hadn’t read the book.

One day, it happened that an author was visiting the school, and in despair teachers begged him to meet the child.

So he sat with the child. And they talked.

“What is the word for when you lose yourself in wonder?” the child asked the writer. “It cannot be ‘reading’, for that is such a small word. And inside a book is so big. When I open a book, I am no longer myself. I am a sailor. Or a spy. Or a magical beast. Or...”

The child paused, and the writer was touched to see the child blush. “Or I am a boy wizard,” the child finished, quietly.

The writer was careful not to laugh, for he did not wish either to offend the child, or to patronise him.

And then he explained to the child something they both knew, but only the adult understood: that any word or phrase had only the weight and importance given to it by the one experiencing it at that moment.

“Do you believe reading is an end, of and for itself?” he asked the boy.

“No,” replied the child, “but everyone else seems to.”

“But we know they’re wrong, do we not?”

And then the child understood – reading was freedom to decide for yourself how much of yourself you gave to the experience; reading was the gateway to the world, to every world.

Reading was experience of everything.

There was once a child who did not read... or at least did not read for reading’s sake.

Let us hope there are many, many more.

'Appy 50th birthday, Neil. I hope it's a year full of joy, of love, and of wonders unimagined.
24 squawks in response or squawk at me
juniper_jungle From: juniper_jungle Date: November 17th, 2010 12:28 am (UTC) (Link)
I absolutely love this, I think it might be my favourite thing of yours that I've read.
budgie_uk From: budgie_uk Date: November 17th, 2010 04:07 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thanks! It's a tad longer than the fast fictions, but this was one story which was exactly as long as it needed to be.
From: ext_324165 Date: November 17th, 2010 12:32 am (UTC) (Link)
It's a great story. It made me cry. And wonder.

I liked the way it was written and told.

Congratulations to you and Neil...
budgie_uk From: budgie_uk Date: November 17th, 2010 04:07 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thank you so much for letting me know that it mattered to you.

Thanks again.
angelout2killme From: angelout2killme Date: November 17th, 2010 01:02 am (UTC) (Link)
What a terribly lovely gift. You are a wonderful friend.
budgie_uk From: budgie_uk Date: November 17th, 2010 04:08 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm grateful that others seem to have enjoyed it as much as Neil did.
shinyhappygoth From: shinyhappygoth Date: November 17th, 2010 02:28 am (UTC) (Link)
And at that moment, the child was enlightened.
budgie_uk From: budgie_uk Date: November 17th, 2010 04:08 pm (UTC) (Link)
He was indeed. Thanks for dropping by...
aubreym From: aubreym Date: November 17th, 2010 03:18 am (UTC) (Link)
That is a truly beautiful story. I have been that child. I still am.

And how wonderful to have other people who Get It.
budgie_uk From: budgie_uk Date: November 17th, 2010 04:08 pm (UTC) (Link)
It's something I feel strongly about, and I'm fortunate that events conspired to let me express it in a gift to a friend, and one of my favourite writers.
From: dewline Date: November 17th, 2010 04:09 am (UTC) (Link)
Good on him for the encouragement...or the nagging, if that's what it needs be called. And good on you for acting on it.

Best to both of yez!
budgie_uk From: budgie_uk Date: November 17th, 2010 04:09 pm (UTC) (Link)
Cheers, Dwight!
sorchas_swans From: sorchas_swans Date: November 17th, 2010 05:15 am (UTC) (Link)
Neil linked to this on his twitter, and I have to say this story is freaking adorable and I loved it. And I feel the same way, though I have accepted the word "read." ...I'm also rereading Harry Potter (midway through book 6, hurry hurry!) so I loved the "boy wizard" reference. It's short, sweet, and I'm glad he nags you.

- Person on the interwebs.
budgie_uk From: budgie_uk Date: November 17th, 2010 04:09 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thanks for dropping by and letting me know... glad you liked the story!
meilin_miranda From: meilin_miranda Date: November 17th, 2010 06:33 am (UTC) (Link)
I must tell you that I am now madly in love with you. I wish every child in the world could read this--or every educator, because this "end in itself" attitude is Why Johnny Won't Read. And every year, it gets worse.
budgie_uk From: budgie_uk Date: November 17th, 2010 04:09 pm (UTC) (Link)
You're very kind; thank you for enjoying the story so much...
kseenaa From: kseenaa Date: November 17th, 2010 06:53 am (UTC) (Link)
A very beautiful little story. *smiles*
budgie_uk From: budgie_uk Date: November 17th, 2010 04:10 pm (UTC) (Link)
Why, thank you!
From: snorkel_maiden Date: November 17th, 2010 09:16 am (UTC) (Link)
This is really lovely :)
budgie_uk From: budgie_uk Date: November 17th, 2010 04:10 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thanks, Theresa!
qwelogian From: qwelogian Date: November 17th, 2010 10:13 am (UTC) (Link)

There was a child.

Very nice, once again.

budgie_uk From: budgie_uk Date: November 17th, 2010 04:10 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: There was a child.

Cheers, Jim - thanks for letting me know...
From: (Anonymous) Date: November 17th, 2010 05:39 pm (UTC) (Link)

There Once Was a Child

This is such a lovely story. I am going to print it for my daughter to read. She is much like the boy in your story and will definitely "get it."
songcoyote From: songcoyote Date: November 24th, 2010 01:03 am (UTC) (Link)
Mr. Barnett,

A friend of mine pointed me at this link knowing my particular proclivities and I must say I am grateful to her. While I never claimed not to read, I have always thrown myself wholeheartedly into any story that grabbed me: crying at encountered pain, laughing at well-executed buffoonery, exalting at sudden beauty, and cheering for the hero's success against all odds, all within the confines of my own mind. Except when it escapes, of course, and my tears wet the pages or my shouts of rage at the world's injustice startle the cat.

And so this story, too, took me in and showed me once again the delight of learning, of sharing secrets, and of realizing that one is not alone, among other things. Thank you very kindly for sharing it, and for making today even better than it had been.

Peace be with you, and may love always be in your heart.

Light and laughter,
24 squawks in response or squawk at me