Unit 6.
The Pleasure of Reading


Treading for Discussion

48. A. Look at the title of the text, the picture and the key phrases and try to guess what the text is going to be about.

Key phrases:

  • to read books from cover to cover
  • to know as many words as most grown-ups
  • to be noisy chatterbox
  • to teach oneself to read by studying newspapers
  • to walk to the public library
  • to travel all over the world while sitting in the armchair

B. Read the text. Listen to the first part of it carefully, 32, and say if your guess was right.

The Reader of Books

(After Roald Dahl)

Matildas brother Michael was a perfectly normal boy, but his sister was something to make your eyes pop. By the age of one and a half her speech was perfect, and she knew as many words as most grown-ups. The parents, instead of applauding her, called her a noisy chatterbox and told her angrily that small girls should be seen and not heard. By the time she was three, Matilda had taught herself to read by studying newspapers and magazines that lay around the house. At the age of four, she could read fast and well. The only book in the whole of this educated household was something called Easy Cooking1 belonging to her mother, and when she had read this from cover to cover and had learned all the recipes2 by heart, she decided she wanted something more interesting.

Daddy, she said, do you think you could buy me a book?

A book? he said. Whats wrong with the telly, for heavens sake?3 Weve got a lovely telly and now you come asking for a book! Youre getting spoiled, my girl!

1 Easy Cooking
2 a recipe
3 for heavens sake

Nearly every weekday afternoon Matilda was left alone in the house. So on the afternoon of the day when her father had refused to buy her a book, Matilda decided to walk to the public library in the village all by herself. When she arrived, she introduced herself to the librarian, Mrs Phelps [felpsj. She asked if she could sit for a while and read a book. Mrs Phelps was taken aback when she saw that such a tiny girl had arrived at the library without a parent, but told her she was very welcome.

Where are the childrens books, please? Matilda asked.

Theyre over there on those lower shelves, Mrs Phelps told her. Would you like me to help you find a nice one with lots of pictures in it?

No, thank you, Matilda said. Im sure I can manage.

From then on, every afternoon, Matilda came to the library. The walk took her only ten minutes and this allowed her two wonderful hours in the library where she sat quietly by herself in a cosy corner devouring one book after another. When she had read all childrens books in the place, she started searching for something else.

Mrs Phelps, who had been watching her with fascination for the past few weeks, now got up from her desk and went over to her. Can I help you, Matilda? she asked.

Im wondering what to read next, Matilda said. Ive finished all the childrens books.

You mean youve looked at the pictures?

Yes, but Ive read the books as well. I thought some were very poor, Matilda said, but others were lovely. I liked the Secret Garden best of all. It was full of mystery. The mystery of the room behind the closed door and the mystery of the garden behind the big wall.

Mrs Phelps was taken aback, but she did not show it.

What sort of a book would you like to read next? she asked. Matilda said, I would like a really good one that grown-ups read. A famous one. I dont know any names.

Mrs Phelps looked along the shelves, taking her time. She didnt quite know what to bring out. How, she asked herself, does one choose a famous grown-up book for a four-year-old girl? Her first thought was to pick a young teenagers romance1 of the kind that is written for fifteen-year-old schoolgirls, but for some reason she walked past that particular shelf.

1 a romance

Try this, she said at last. Its very famous and very good. If it is too long for you, just let me know and Ill find something shorter and a bit easier.

"Great Expectations, Matilda read, by Charles Dickens. Id love to try it.

Over the next few afternoons Matilda sat reading in the big armchair at the far end of the room with a book on her lap. She was totally absorbed in the wonderful adventures of Pip and old Miss Havisham in her house and the spell of magic that Dickens, the great storyteller, had created with his words.

Within a week, Matilda had finished Great Expectations which in that edition contained four hundred and eleven pages. I loved it, she said to Mrs Phelps.

Has Mr Dickens written any others?

A great number, said Mrs Phelps. Shall I choose you another? Over the next six months under Mrs Phelpss watchful eye, Matilda read the following books: Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bront, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, Tess of the DUrbervilles by Thomas Hardy, Kim by Rudyard Kipling, The Invisible Man by H. G. Wells, The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway, The Good Companions by J. B. Priestley, Brighton Rock by Graham Greene, Animal Farm by George Orwell.

It was an impressive list. Once Mrs Phelps said, Did you know that public libraries like this allow you to borrow books and take them home?

I didnt know that, Matilda said. Could I do it?

Of course, Mrs Phelps said.

When you have chosen the book you want, bring it to me so I can make a note of it and its yours for two weeks. You can take more than one if you wish.

From then on, Matilda would visit the library only once a week in order to take out new books and return the old ones. Her own small bedroom now became her reading room and there she sat reading most afternoons, often with a mug1 of hot chocolate beside her. It was pleasant to take a hot drink up to her room and have it beside her as she sat in her silent room reading in the empty house in the afternoon.

The books transported her into new worlds and introduced her to wonderful people who lived exciting lives. She went on old sailing ships with Joseph Conrad.2 She went to Africa with Ernest Hemingway and to India with Rudyard Kipling. She travelled all over the world while sitting in her little room in an English village.

1 a mug .
2 Joseph Conrad, a British novelist of Polish origin. His books, which include Heart of Darkness, Lord Jim and Nostromo, are about foreign setting, sea life and how it feels to be an outsider.

49. Match the phrases in English with their Russian equivalents. Find the sentences with them in the text and read them out.

1. spell of magic
2. from then on
3. to take ones time
4. for some reason
5. let me know
6. in (on) ones lap
7. totally absorbed

d) ,
e) ,
f) -

50. Look through the text again and find out:

A. Who said it?

  1. Whats wrong with the telly?
  2. Would you like me to help you find a nice one with lots of pictures in it?
  3. Ive finished all the childrens books.
  4. If its too long for you, just let me know.
  5. Did you know that public libraries allow you to borrow books and take them home?

B. Who did it?

  1. Could read fast and well at the age of four.
  2. Was left alone in the house nearly every weekday afternoon.
  3. Gave Matilda advice about choosing books.
  4. Asked Matilda about her impression of the books.
  5. Began to borrow books from the library. 6. Travelled all over the world with the help of reading.

C. Choose the right item.

  1. Matilda had an elder ... .

    a) brother
    b) sister

  2. The only book Matildas parents had was a ... .

    a) travel book
    b) cookbook

  3. Mrs Phelps was a ... .

    a) teacher
    b) librarian

  4. At first Matilda read ... books,

    a) childrens
    b) popular

  5. Matilda liked ... the books she read,

    a) some of
    b) all

  6. Mrs Phelps thought that Dickens was ... for Matilda,

    a) too difficult
    b) just right

  7. The first book by Dickens that Matilda read was ... .

    a) Oliver Twist
    b) Great Expectations

  8. When Matilda began to borrow books from the library she turned her ... into a reading room.

    a) living room
    b) bedroom

  9. She liked to drink ... when she was reading,

    a) tea
    b) chocolate