NUMBER 518 • 1 JUNE • READING
Probably the earliest works of literature that strongly influenced me were fairy tales, as first told by my mother, and then read by myself; but I do not consciously recall that these tales exercised a formative impact on me. However, they must have done so, because otherwise I would not, late in life, have spent years trying to understand their psychological meaning for children, an undertaking which I found most rewarding, not least because it entailed a careful rereading and contemplation of many fairy tales of various lands. Just why and how fairy tales became so important to me I can no longer fathom, although I am pretty sure that the reason is that they were mainly told to me by my mother. Thus we see that how and by whom works of literature are mediated to us can account for the depth of meaning they acquire. As I have written elsewhere, parents who want to deepen their relationship with their child can do so by reading to the child, but of course their interest in this activity must be genuine. We also see that poems read aloud by the poet often make a much deeper impression than when read silently to one-self. Similarly, fiction read aloud can become much more meaningful to the listener than when read silently
It makes a great deal of difference whether a work of literature is experienced also as an event between people, for instance between parent and child; also, there is a difference in the impact of a drama seen on the stage and that of one read silently Some of the books which influenced me most deeply were read and appreciated at the same time by close friends with whom I discussed them at great length. Thus, whether or not reading a book is an interpersonal experience can become decisive for the impact it makes.
Like most people, I read a great deal that was somehow useful to me, without such reading influencing my life in a particular way Even during my childhood I was a voracious reader, but then mostly of escapist literature. Historical novels permitted me to escape into the distant past, while other books, such as those of Karl May, gave me a chance to escape into the faraway Wild West; some Utopian literature, the science fiction of those days, allowed escape into the distant future. All these books helped me to escape the distressing reality of the years of the First World War, from 1914 to 1918. For a Viennese boy who up to the begin-ning of the war had lived a very sheltered existence and a life of greatest ease and comfort, the war came as a very rude awakening to the hard-ships of life, for which nothing had prepared me. Escapist literature permitted me to forget for long periods of time how difficult life had become for me, so I learned at an early age what great relief books can provide.
Bettelheim, B.(1990). Essential books of one's life, In Recollections and reflections London: Thames and Hudson Ltd. pp 103-104