When you walk past a bookstore, do you ever feel this overwhelming compulsion to go inside? Oh, only to browse and enjoy the ambience, vowing not to buy anything.
I do, almost every time. I have an even greater weakness toward old second-hand bookstores.
Used and vintage books have a charm all their own. More so if it had been written by a wordsmith, by a master of the craft. Older books have ‘character.’ Even vintage slapstick romantic fiction counts. The handwritten inscription on the title page is a short story in itself. I’ve often said, “you can lock me up inside for the night, I only need water and something to eat. With an armchair and thousands of volumes to keep me company, I’m all set.”
Picture this: you are drawn (by an invisible hand) to go inside, as if ‘instructed,’ to push open the door and hear the ‘ting’ of the door chime—granting you access, allowing you to enter this parallel world. Enter a world of stories and dreams, of make-belief and realities, of possibilities, of desires, of love and longing, of wars and victories, of losses, disasters, and heartaches, of inventions and discoveries and of despair and hope. You greet the shop assistant (or owner), decline any help and set off on your private journey and exploration.
Answer this short questionnaire about your first reaction when you encounter a bookstore or a book sale:
- I experience no desire or need to go inside. I don’t care about books.
- Bookstores? Too much of a bother—I buy online. Can’t stand that book-mold smell
- I can’t say. I don’t read much
- I am somewhat drawn to go inside—it’s tempting at times
- Yes, I absolutely have to get inside! Those books call my name; obeying is not optional.
I’m always a five—a sucker for a good story.
Reading books: it’s more than an escape, it’s more than an addiction—it’s a revelation, and it takes place in stages—page by page by page. And, it’s not really an “escape,” it’s an “immersion!”
With me, it all started with reading. With “Janet and John” books when I was five, and “Sus en Daan gaan na die plaas” books at six. (Afrikaans for, Sis and Dan visits the farm.) This foundation was laid in Zambia, many decades ago. The real breakthrough for me (I didn’t know it at the time), came two short years later when we moved south, to Johannesburg. There was real city library with thousands of books. Beyond glorious.
The library allowed two cards per member. I have four siblings. Of my three younger siblings, only the older one was in grade one, which often gave me access to eight or ten library cards. (I realize now, that was a bit selfish. This is a public confession.) Each Friday afternoon would find me leaving the library with a fresh stack of books. This is what I did for the next five years—went to school, did my home work, did my chores—and read. And daydreamed. A hardcore book nerd if there ever was one.
We moved again when I was in high school. I opted to attend a school outside our catchment area, took the bus the first day, got lost, and took an oath—never again on a school bus! I committed to cycling the 15 kilometers Monday to Friday for the next four years. Many an afternoon, cycling home, was done during the famous “Highveld thunderstorms”—enough to soak you to the skin, with a uniform that had to be dried for the next school day. That left me with less time for reading, but the love remained—and, I learned resilience.
University was 500 kilometers from home, and I soon took to writing 1,500-word letters once a month. The letters apparently did the rounds among the respective family members “back home.” My goal with those was to entertain—elicit a chuckle—positive feedback often reinforces a practice. But as we progressed to fifth and sixth-year Med students, time for leisure-reading became a luxury—it was work, work, work and study, study study.
I got married. Soon 900 days of military service followed—two years with the rest scattered. Books remained a constant companion. A diploma in Anesthesia was next, which involved some studying. Two years later I committed to specializing in Anesthesia and work and study, once more, became a priority. Reading and more reading—but only nonfiction subject matter. Our two daughters arrived, with a private medical practice in between—leaving mere morsels of time for leisure reading.
How does one find (more) material to write about? You emigrate. But it is not for the timid, even at the wise age forty-plus. It is not easy for those who leave, or for those who stay behind—unless the entire village comes along. For the bystander, it has the appearance of “a romantic thing to do,” filled with glamor, excitement, and learning about new places. That it does, but it is also about severing a vital body part, leaving scars and wounds that can take a lifetime to heal.
I now had enough material for fifty books—but it would be another ten years before I started writing.
Why did I leave my fatherland? I have completed a manuscript to answer this question. My goal—to help me find peace and healing. It hasn’t been published. The plan is to rewrite it as a proper memoir—a project I’ve scheduled for the second part of 2017. I believe, the human mind and soul, often need time to digest experiences—distill experiences, especially the bitter ones and the hurts—find clearer perspectives; and only then, to put it in print.
It also takes time to develop courage. Courage is required for great writing. But, if we write the truth (and truthfully), without making provision for redemption, restitution, and mercy—it will indeed be a life not worth living—one without hope. I do not believe it was all in vain. Although despair comes to us easier, choosing hope is the harder, but the stronger option.
Five decades of living has given one time for much thinking—observing, listening, and learning about the world we live in. Take freedom of speech for instance. What does it mean in practical terms—for Joe Public, for ordinary people? What we read, listen to and watch—in books, newspapers, and journals, interviews, videos and TV. How much is truth, how much is fable? How much information is withheld or distorted? Who makes those decisions? Why are whistleblowers so unpopular if we seek the truth? (Especially when lives are at stake?)
Perhaps that’s why many stick to fiction—reading or writing it—it’s safer (and easier on a certain level.)
We live in a digital era, where everyone with access to the internet can publish their writing. There is this freedom. But with greater freedom, comes great responsibility—or should. Freedom without borders, without guidelines of any kind, ceases to be freedom, and can become a new tyranny (often in disguise.) Our writing should not only point out the darkness and what is broken, (for this we need to become brave souls), but also point toward the light and how hope can be found.
What am I hoping to achieve with my writing? I write to inform, to challenge, and to expose. In doing so, I also preach to myself.
I further write to entertain, to inspire, to amuse, and to take you along on a flight of imagination, and encourage you to dream. Dream big. There’s a time to be serious, and there’s a time to be light hearted. We should make time for both.
My journey about how I started blogging, can be found in my 22 February 2016 post.
Books are my friends. You don’t just throw them away—discard them. True, some books make one wonder how they ever got printed. And yet, it is one of the hardest things for me to throw a book away. It’s almost a sin. Yes, technology change—we can now have hundreds of thousands and more, entire libraries, stored on our handheld electronic readers.
Perhaps this is why I surround myself with books—they don’t talk back. Well, only some do. And they’re loyal. They’re more patient with me.
But we need people.
We need people to be a friend for, friends with. We need people who can write and tell stories and people to read and listen to stories. A book is only a book. Knowledge is only knowledge. Never throw away, neglect the people, who care about you. After all, without people, we will have so little to write about.
Next time that you come across a bookstore or a book sale—please go in, drop by—peruse. It’s okay to vow not to buy anything. I challenge you. You may just stumble upon a copy, a volume, an edition that may change your life.
Happy reading, and happy writing!
What are you reading at present? Which books have had the greatest impact on your life?