paroxysms of laughter and copious tears

“My mother read to all three of us when we were children. I loved A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh stories, mostly because it fascinated me to see my mother tied up in paroxysms of laughter over words on a page. In particular I adored the bit when Piglet fell down the hole and was so terrified he mixed up his words, and cried out “Help help a Herrible Hoffalump,” etc.

“My older sister had German measles and scarlet fever when I was perhaps seven, and I was supposed to sit in the room with her so I would catch it, and therefore have had it, so I wouldn’t catch it later (this was the logic of the fifties). During that time my mother read aloud to us a novel set in Scotland called Lad with a Whistle, and we all wept copious tears. It was a wonderful book, and has now disappeared entirely from circulation. I did not catch scarlet fever or German measles.

“After I could write my name in cursive, I was allowed to search out my own books in the adult section of the library. One of my first discoveries was Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables in English translation. I read it, gripped in horror at the life of persecution which followed Jean Valjean’s theft of a loaf of bread. It certainly turned me off any thoughts I might have had of pursing a life of petty crime.”

Katherine Govier, from Everybody’s Favourites: Canadians talk about books that changed their lives (by Arlene Perly Rae; Viking, 1997)

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