Skip to main content


December 27, 2011

Michael Lindsay-Hogg on Learning to Read

Posted by Katherine


Michael Lindsay-Hogg studied at Oxford before becoming a director of the 1960s British television rock series "Ready, Steady, Go!" On Broadway, he has directed "Whose Life Is It Anyway?," "Agnes of God," and "The Boys of Winter." His films include "Nasty Habits," "Frankie Starlight," "The Object of Beauty," and "Waiting for Godot." He lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Lisa. Here he talks about the pleasures of learning to read --- and how he was rewarded with the first book he ever received as a gift!


I could not read ‘til I was about eight and a half years old. It finally happened on a Sunday morning about 11 o'clock in my parents', or rather my stepfather and mother's, bedroom. They were in bed reading their bits of The New York Times and I was sitting on the floor looking at the Comics section of The Sunday News, which had about 10 pages of color comics.

The previous summer in Ireland, where my mother's parents and my father lived, I had been delivered three times a week to a small house in the Donnybrook neighborhood of Dublin, to spend an hour or so with a woman from the previous century. She was tiny, with bright white hair fashioned into a bun, wore a long dress and high-button boots. She was trying to help me learn to read and was gentle, her voice, with its sweet Irish brogue, so soft you had to lean in to hear, and she was extremely patient. In school in New York, the reader-helpers seemed perfunctory and were easily irritated by what they thought of as my --- what? --- stupidity. By the time we left Ireland in September for me to go back to school, I still couldn't read, but I had a sense that one day I would, and wasn't afraid, anymore, to try.

On that Sunday morning, in November 1948, I had begun, as I always did, by looking at the pictures and trying to figure out the stories by the changes from panel to panel. And then, as I was scanning the Jiggs and Maggie strip, not one I was usually interested in, the symbols in the bubbles morphed into words, separate and distinct, words which made sense. I started to read them aloud, and looked at the adults in bed and said, “I can read,” and my mother started to cry. The next time I felt such a sense of euphoria and possibilities was ten years later, when I lost my virginity.

But although when I couldn't read, the day before, say, I always loved books; they held in them what I most wished to understand: words and stories and thoughts. There was a large second hand bookstore on 86th Street and Third Avenue, near where we lived. I'd always ask my nurse, Mary, when we walked by if we could go in so I could “look” at the books. In the back of the large stuffed room was where the older books were, though not all of them expensive. I liked these books because they seemed to have more history to them, with their leather binding, some with cracked gold colored embossments. There was one I particularly liked holding, big with lots of pages, the letters with typography from the century before. 

“What's this one?” I asked Mary, handing it to her. She squinted through her glasses. THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO, she said. “And who wrote it?”

“Alexander Dumas,” she said, pronouncing it Du-mass. 

“That's a nice one,” I said, putting it back on the shelf.

So, I'd learned to read not long before Christmas and, as usual, had asked my parents for a Lionel train set. On Christmas morning, I went down early to look at the tree and was disappointed that there was nothing there which looked like a wrapped train set. They were quite expensive with an endless amount of extras --- barriers, different carriages, little station masters, so I guess my parents thought it a slippery slope. “Come on,” I shouted. "It's Christmas. Let's go.” My mother and stepfather, and Mary, came into the room. There were some presents I was very happy with, a box of soldiers, a new baseball glove, to be worked in with Neats foot oil by the spring. And then there was one in brown paper. I read the card:  With love from Mary. I unwrapped it and took out a book, the book. I read out loud, “THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO by Alexander Dumass.” “Du-mah,” my stepfather, who spoke French, corrected kindly. I held the book with pride.

I never read THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO. I suppose, because of having been starved, as it were, for so long, it was too rich a feast, with too many courses and recipes I was not used to. The Hardy Boys was an easier diet for me. But I kept THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO in my room for years on top of a rapidly filling bookshelf as a memento, a reminder, of something amazing I'd achieved.

Visit Michael Lindsay-Hogg on his Facebook page!/MichaelLindsayHogg