BOYS ... there were plenty of them. There were some good boys and some bad boys. There were a few I fancied and some I wished I went to school with because of the cool science experiments they performed. I enjoyed every moment I spent with them.
I preferred Julius Caesar to Romeo and Juliet. In Virginia Andrews's works I learnt how tough life can be for children, even boys, long before I met Virginia Woolf and learnt that sometimes life with boys can be tough.
I also learnt that some boys can drive some women to madness.
And that some of the most beautiful poetry written by boys was inspired by women.
Some boys died for love. Others started wars to fight for girls they loved – and even more boys were killed in those wars.
I had all these boys – to help me through my teenage years.
And I met most of these boys in the books I found in a stuffy and dark garage filled with old furniture, old clothes and boxes.
With my uncle's old maroon Beetle glistening under the hot Mamelodi sun, it was clear the room was never built to house a car, but to be a storage room for much more precious goods.
In the garage I found a room of my own, where I read. This room kept me from trouble. It sheltered me through the most difficult years of being a teenager.
In the boxes and trunks which belong to uncles and aunts I found textbooks from an era when reaching your "JC" (junior certificate) was an achievement.
I spent hours in my grandmother's garage paging through magazines, some of which were as old as I was.
I had gone through all the magazines when I started looking at the novels.
I was taken to a new world of words the first time I opened a novel, which was outside the school curriculum.
It was Andrews's Flowers in the Attic. It took me less than a week to finish the book.
I went to the library to find the sequel, Petals on the Wind. Before long I had read most of her books at the library.
In one of the trunks I also found Ed McBain, I went to the library to find more of him.
My life changed when I picked up Katherine Neville's The Eight. I travelled around the world, I learnt about chess, I knew all the chess pieces and their movements long before I learnt to play the game.
When I learnt to play the game from a boy I met in my late teens, he was impressed that I knew so much about a game I didn't even know how to play yet.
I read all the books I could find.
But for the children who will go through my collection, they find in my pile the likes of Zakes Mda, Tsitsi Dangarembga, Ellen Banda-Aaku, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, JM Coetzee and Nelson Mandela.
As American author Mary Ellen Chase said: "There is no substitute for books in the life of a child."
I encourage every child to read. It doesn't really matter what you start with.
It could be a magazine, the inside of a Chappies wrapper, the free newspaper delivered on your doorstep every week.
There is a wonderful world out there and books are the cheapest and easiest way to access it. Books allow you to dream, to imagine.
Read, not only to dream, but to see the world, to experience the world of others and to open your eyes to a new way of looking at your world.
Phumla Matjila is a columnist and the acting features and opinion editor at Sowetan. She has worked as a sub-editor and columnist for the Times. She is still working on her novel, which she was writing in her blog, "Novel Idea” on timeslive.co.za