I was really interested to hear that veteran snooker player and multi world championship winner Steve Davis learnt to play the game by practicing with his father and closely following the book, ‘How I Play Snooker’ by Joe Davis (no relation). Steve commented that they referred to it like a bible. It taught him how to approach every different type of shot.
This story struck a chord with me. I firmly believe that it’s very possible to learn pretty much everything from a book (except possibly brain surgery!). Like most teachers, I don’t much enjoy being taught by others. I’ve attended several evening classes over the years but they just aren’t for me. I’d rather be at home, teaching myself from a self-help paperback. Nowadays you can also watch a YouTube video or two. The possibilities are endless.
Three years ago I read Adele Ramet’s book on creative writing. It helped me to complete my first novel, Aoife’s Chariot. Now I’ve got fifteen in my back catalogue, including a book for children. The advice was clear and straightforward. I was able to refer back to Ramet’s words at moments of uncertainty. It didn’t write the books for me, but it trained me in the fundamentals of the craft.
Steve Davis’ story also reminded me of my sister, who taught herself to draw from our mum’s guides to painting. She later learnt how to branch out into oil painting by using books. Technically speaking she is ‘untrained’ as an artist, having not attended an art school. But to me, her works are every bit as good. She has been a consultant artist on a feature film for heaven’s sake!
So why is it so important that books can teach us these skills? Crucially for me, it means that simply owning a library card can give a person access to the type of education and training that usually only those with wealth or privilege have access to. Snooker has always been a sport for all classes, not requiring expensive equipment or memberships to exclusive clubs. It’s not a sport played in public schools or by members of the royal family.
I remember very well the ‘teach yourself’ series of books which were popular in the 70s and 80s, offering comprehensive courses on everything from speed reading to playing golf.
My Dad didn’t have the opportunity to go to university, yet he is the most knowledgable person I know. Why? Because of books. At one point in the nineties, he had read just about every book available on the American Civil War and was often found correcting so-called ‘experts’ being interviewed on TV.
I wont be the only person who has a relative like this. Books have always been a great leveller. Those who have taught themselves that way are also more often than not self-starters, not spoon fed like overly educated types (like me!). They love knowledge for its own sake.
I stand by my claim that you can learn pretty much anything you want from a book. And just like the cover of Ramet’s book, it can open doors to an entirely new world of opportunity.