European Writers on Getting Dads Reading

European Writers on Getting Dads Reading
Posted 15 May 2014 by Robyn Evans

As part of our Get Dads Reading campaign, Book Trust sent me along to the European Literature Night at the British Library to talk to some of the continent's best writers about their experiences of reading as children ahead of the Get Dads Reading Hour tonight, 6pm-7pm.


The annual event, now in its sixth year, has become a highlight of the European literary calendar. Bringing together some of Europe's finest contemporary writers, it showcases the best work to emerge from the continent in English translation.


This year didn't disappoint, featuring a great blend of speakers whose reputations have spread beyond their native borders. With acclaimed journalist Rosie Goldsmith asking the questions, the writers spoke candidly about their work. Highlights included tales of Copenhagen's criminal underworld, harrowing stories of a childhood spent in foster care and some philosophical musings about Balkan dancing bears.


Get Dads Reading

Booktrust's Get Dads Reading campaign aims to address the worrying trend of young fathers lacking the confidence to read to their children. The Get Dads Reading Hour encourages Dads to share books with their children, an experience that can help boost literacy skills and build closer family bonds.


I asked some of the writers about their memories of being read stories as children.


Antoine LaurainAntoine Laurain is a French novelist, screenwriter and former antiques dealer. His latest work The Red Notebook will be released in English in 2015.


Was your father an active reader? If so, did this instill in you a love of books and reading?

My parents were very good readers, especially my mother. She used to read fairy tales to me when I was young and that was very important to me as a writer. To read in your childhood is very important for your imagination. It's a way to escape from reality.


What was your favourite story to be read at bedtime?

The Russian fairy tales illustrated by the great Russian painter Ivan Bilibin. I also had a book I loved a lot called Porculus by Arnold Lobel.


Danish author Jonas T. Bengtsson has written three novels: Amina's Letters, Submarino and A Fairy Tale.Jonas Bengtsson


Was your father an active reader? If so, did this instill in you a love of books and reading?

No, not really. I think my dad was a very active reader at the age of twelve and had read all of the big Russian writers, but I have no idea why he gave up on reading. He has read my books of course though!


What was your favourite story to be read at bedtime?

Like many young children, I loved Hans Christian Anderson. I also think I had The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien read to me.


What books do your read to your children?

I have a small son who is eight and we have recently started reading The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. I want to be able to have a steady income in twenty years' time so it's necessary to get him reading now!


Dimitri VerhulstDimitri Verhulst is a Belgian writer and poet. Much of his work is autobiographical and draws on a difficult childhood spent in foster homes since he was 12 years-old. His novels Problemski Hotel and The Misfortunates have received international recognition.


Was your father an active reader? If so, did this instill in you a love of books and reading?

There was no literature at home at all. My parents had four books in the library: one was pornographic; one was a picture book of Elvis Presley; one was about Belgian history; and the other one was something to do with a church. There was no art at all at home.


So how did you get access to books?

By television - somebody all of a sudden read poetry on the television and I loved it. I was fascinated by it. Strangely enough, I am saved by a medium that I don't like, namely television.


What books do your read to your children?

Very often parents read to their children when they go to bed. I think literature is to wake up to, not to fall asleep to.


witold szablowskiWitold Szablowski is a Polish journalist whose reportage explores places on the fringes of the European Union. His 2013 collection The Assassin from Apricot City investigates some of the issues facing Turkey in the contemporary world.


Was your father an active reader? If so, did this instill in you a love of books and reading?

My Father was addicted to reading, but only newspapers. After 1989 he began reading Gazeta Wyborcza, which had a weekly supplement featuring reportage. I fell in love with it and when I was twelve I knew exactly what I wanted to do in life: work for Gazeta Wyborcza. I didn't expect to have enough life experience until I was forty, but it came a bit earlier - I was twenty six when I started working for the newspaper.


What was your favourite story to be read at bedtime?

I remember two books from when I was a child. First of all, an amazing book for kids to teach them letters called Elementarza by Marian Falski. The second book is called The Good Soldier Švejk by Jaroslav Hašek, which I first read when I was sent to a sanatorium with my asthma at the age of eleven. It was my first literary discovery, which I love, admire and keep reading to this day.


What books do your read to your children?

My wife or I read to our children every night before they go to sleep. In the times of iPhones and iPads, we really want them to grow up around books and to have the habit of having a paper book in their hands.


Related links

Get Dads Reading - tips for reading


Get Dads Reading - Recommended reads


Find a dads' reading group near you


Translated fiction booklists


Independent Foreign Fiction Prize

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