From Cereal Boxes to Kafka, a Dyslexic's Journey to Becoming a Voracious Reader
Passionate readers spring out at you from far and wide. Andrew Edwards is one such person. From Colne Engaine in the UK, he’s the head cook at the very popular vegetarian Bob’s Kitchen in Paris, a place I often visit to take away lunch. One day, I’m not quite sure how, Andrew discovered my work consisted of writing about books. His eyes shining, while leaping nimbly behind the counter dishing out veggie stew and shoving carrots into a juicer, he explained that as a 30-something, he had just started to read in a serious manner, having been dyslexic as a child, and asked, could I recommend any books?
In fact, Andrew didn’t need me at all. He had already Googled the 100 best books to read, and had consulted and cross referenced several lists. He had read through much of George Orwell and was reading William Burroughs’ Naked Lunch. As a recovering addict from all mind-altering substances, Andrew said off-handedly, he could relate. And as a dyslexic who had never read narrative fiction before, he had set the bar terrifically high—no lowbrow stuff for him.
The next time I went to Bob’s Kitchen Andrew announced he had started to read James Joyce’s Ulysses.
I sat down with Andrew after his shift to talk to him about his quest to read narrative fiction. Following are a few insights about his journey towards reading, and a short list of recent books he has read. Next time, if I can get a word in edgewise, I might suggest some Bookwitty reading lists to him.
“As a child, my dyslexia wasn’t caught until age 12 or 13, and I couldn’t read to any effective standard. I couldn’t continue the narrative through a chapter.”
“I had an enormous vocabulary, could understand the meaning of a word, but I couldn’t spell it or structure it in an academic sense.”
“I watched a lot of films on television, music was a big thing in our house, I was detrimentally curious, and I talked a lot.”
“I read cereal boxes. It was short little bits, blurbs, and thoughts. It was straightforward marketing and I enjoyed the process of eating and reading.”
“Much later I turned into a Tai Chi Hitler. I devoured all self-help religious and meditation books. I annoyed a lot of people. Then I discovered Qi Gong, which healed my body, and at that moment I had space in my mind to read. I still have symptoms of dyslexia but I can relax and stay focused now.”
“My relationship with narrative fiction began when I moved to Paris. The first books I tackled were George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London, then Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast. I decided then that I’d like to have an understanding of what great writing is.”
“I read [Franz] Kafka’s Metamorphosis and The Trial and I loved them both. Growing up I had a huge libido but no one found me sexually attractive. Kafka was physically weak, but he had a huge libido. That was fucking me. I knew I’d be mates with Kafka.”
"I read Hunter Thomson, starting with Hell’s Angels. It was an autobiography. I fucking love him but wouldn’t want him to be my dad.”
"Then I read [William Burroughs’] Naked Lunch. Going from The Trial and then 1984 and then to Naked Lunch my head exploded. They are so dark and so well laid out, it’s not fantastical to believe those things. The description of addiction in Naked Lunch was totally amazing.”
"I’m reading Ulysses by James Joyce. It’s beautifully written and there are gems of descriptions and nothing is wasted, it’s so pungent and imaginary. But I still don’t know what the fuck is going on.”
"I like diaries, I really, really love first person accounts. I want another Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, I want another Down and Out. But I found Jack Kerouac’s On the Road flabby and a bit annoying. I loved the context and the descriptions but you could cut a third of it.”
“I’ve now read through Kafka, Hemingway, Shakespeare, Pinter, Chekhov, Hunter Thompson, and Orwell. I’m going to do Steinbeck. And Tolstoy.”
“Reading is now a massive part of my life. I read sporadically; I go through phases. A Moveable Feast I read in three hours.”