Friday, 22 August 2014

A Bookish Child

Someone recently commented on me not being that into reading as a kid. This statement baffled me as I think back and remember the countless books I got lost in. But I suppose it wasn’t always as obvious to everyone around me, simply because I was lost in the real world too.

Being raised by a bonafide Biblio-holic who stacked books in our childhood home pathologically, I grew up with a deep appreciation for the written word. (And possibly the reason behind my hoarder mentality.) Even though I was by no means a church-mouse who locked herself away with her nose in a book 24/7, I developed a reverence for the thousands of novels that lined our passageways, bedrooms, bookcases and even bathroom floor on occasion.

I am the kind of person who loves the world ‘out there’ with an adventurous spirit, chasing dreams and experiencing every waking moment I can. People and their stories fascinated me from a young age and I collected them like shelves of hardbacks. I was always keenly aware of my own story growing inside me too, one that I wanted to read and write everyday to see what happens next.

My grandmother, a fellow bookish creature, once told me that I would have to live a thousand lives to be a part of all the stories I chased, or I would simply have to become a writer, and the first step to writing is reading. I was constantly busy with these stories - chasing them both inside and outside of the printed page. Books didn’t always fit into my gregarious nature, but they did hold a special place right from the beginning, and were ever present.

Throughout the years, I was at any given time in the middle of reading a book. (Not to mention the pile of ‘to-read’s that grows on my bedside table like the leaning tower of pizza till Husband forces me to take them all back to the bookcase, and I’m left with just the one…)

It started before I can even remember, with my mother reading to me every night. As I got older and gathered more tangible memories of these special evenings, I was lost in a sea of my mothers words as she read steadily from The Hobbit, The Just William books, Jenny, Missee Lee, The Scarlet Pimpernel and many other great stories. Nothing like sharing the adventures of a female pirate or of a little boy trapped by magic in a cat’s body or a World War 2 child’s mischievous playground to make for a rich and full adolescence.

I spent rainy Saturday afternoons and sick days in bed listening to the Story Teller tapes, following along in the printouts that came with them and colouring in the pictures. Thousands of hours must have been dedicated to Gobbolino the Witch’s Cat, Thumbelina, The Marrog and Timbertwig. Stories endeared to me in vivid worlds of words, even though I wasn’t the one reading them.

The first real book I remember reading to myself was Naughty Amelia Jane. I loved the scrappy rag doll character and laughed at all the ridiculous situations she got herself into. After the formative Enid Blyton years, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and the full C.S. Lewis series, I read every Nancy Drew ever written. I had a reading spot up a tree where I would climb with a book and settle down in my nest for the afternoon. My world was lit up by Charley and the Chocolate Factory, and then brought back down again by James and the Giant Peach (never did like that one).

After a trip to the library where my then 4 siblings and I had the understanding that we would each take out a different one, the Asterix comic book series would be passed around our home as fast and furious as a contagious bout of gastro before the next library visit and we would exchange them for a whole new batch to share.

Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass made a regular appearance in many forms; picture books, abbreviated versions, the Disney adaptation and the full Lewis Caroll classic. I ventured, at some point, to write a 3rd novel to the series – my first (failed) attempt at fan fiction.

What child who doesn’t love books spends a summer vacation with her best friend, taking turns in reading chapters of the Anastasia Krupnik series to each other for weeks on end? That same best friend and I would swap copies of Scrambled Legs and even tried our hand at writing our own combined book as young teens. She was also the one who introduced me to my first (and last) Mills and Boon somewhere around puberty.

I grew up some more and started reading books behind my parents’ backs for fear of their disapproval. Some game books where you could choose your own ending, a few Judy Blumes and The Sweet Valley Twins books, much to my youngest brothers dismay. He started giving me different books to help balance out my appetites, and I tried. From Shogun (which took me about a year to read and I am not even convinced I ever did finish it - SO not my genre!) to The Terminator. I read the movie-based book with guilty hunger because I knew the film was banned in our home. My mother of course found it in my room, took it away from me, read it herself, and then gave it back with all the blasphemy and swear words blocked out in black ink. I was mortified!

English Lit was my favorite subject, and thanks to being home schooled, I got to read a few of my older siblings set work books and assigned poetry as well as my own grade, sitting in on their lessons when my mother dissected the words throughout my high school career. I loved the language, the story telling – Far From the Madding Crowd, Shakespeare, Charles Dickens and e e cummings quenched what every lettered thirst I had. Amongst them, one Afrikaans pearl shining in my purse of all time literary loves – Kringe In Die Bos.

At some point in my late teens I started to read only religious books. Even amongst those, my belletristic needs found a pick of beloveds. Christy, the original Catherine Marshal novel that was later made into a TV series, story of the young missionary girl in the great Smoky Mountains was and still is one of the most enchanting tales of love, friendship, combined worlds and death I have ever encountered. The story of Jim Eliot, as written by the wife who survived him, who was murdered by the Auca tribe he was going to preach to. Then more of her books, including Passion and Purity, giving advice to young ladies to become good, wholesome wives. Yes, I had drunk the coolaid back then.

(I feel it is only fair to mention here that my siblings and I were also all made to read the Bible every morning of our lives, and over the years, I have probably read the Bible in its entirety 5 or 6 times...possibly more.)

The only break from Christian literature that I can remember at that time was music lyrics. The words of Britney Spears, Madonna, Bon Jovi and Roxette twirled in my teenage head. Of course this can’t be claimed as reading any more than posting status updates on Facebook and tweeting can be claimed as writing… But the hours and hours spent pouring over Tori Amos lyrics, reading CD cover sleeves late into the night with esteemed devotion, and a sense of something wonderful happening inside me, can. To this day a good Tori Amos lyric can send me into the zone better than a bottle of wine!

After Bible College and a working trip to America, my steady husk-diet of religious reading felt stale and forced to me. One shining beacon of hope sparked up my innards again in the most significant series of books to break a reading drought - Harry Potter. This, of course, lasted for a few years and I eagerly awaited the releasing of the latest one with the rest of the Potterheads. In the interim, my little sister became my dealer and I started reading Terry Pratchett, her favorite author, finding the comedic prose refreshing and delightful. I began to borrow books from friends and boyfriends, thereby consuming a wider range of genre’s to find out what I really did like.

Early adult years were slow on the reading front while I worked, studied, dated and grew into myself, but I still managed to accumulate some front-running greats. Perfume. The Poisonwood Bible. The Devil Wears Prada. Memoirs of a Geisha. White Oleander. All the Marian Keyes books. The Bell Jar. Geek Love (which isn’t what you would think it is and therefore is brilliant.) Twenties Girl and the Sophie Kinsella Shopaholic series. A Vintage Affair.

Some less than stellar ones also cluttered my scattered reading hours; The Da Vinci Code (a religious cross-over which, at the time, read like a hangover.) Eat, Pray, Love (ugh.) 50 Shades of Grey (DOUBLE ugh.) And The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (which was a good book but was so brutal in some scenes that it made me cry and put me off the series for good.)

Now that I am a little older, have left the feverish 20’s behind me and acquired a Kindle e-reader, my world has been full to the brim with books again. Even though I get trapped by the occasional trending best-seller (Gone Girl anyone? Sigh. I want my money and time back for that one!) mostly I love every moment I get to read, and devour Indie publishers’ offerings and female fiction perpetually. Every sentence. Every word. I am so thankful that my mother showed me the way to become a bibliophile and fed my addiction till I was able to take over and start feeding myself.

If I didn’t read, how else would I now know that the perfect way to describe a hangover is to say I am feeling ‘rough as a badgers arse’? How else would I be able to run away from arguments and Facebook feuds to a lovely place where the characters don’t argue with me, don’t judge me and don’t doubt my true intentions. How else would I have ever experienced the tragedy of a missionary wife doubting her husbands work and having a heart wrenching love affair, tucked away in the gorgeous Vale of Kashmir, India, in 1939.  Or the despicable actions of the Capitol that Katniss Everdeen has to sacrifice herself to bring down. Or that Ender was a bit of a crybaby before he perfected the Game. How else would I know that there are a million and one ways to illuminate the sheer exhilaration that is buying a new pair of beautiful shoes?

I can say without a doubt that I have always been, and will continue to be, a Bookish Child till the day I die. I will disappear, book in hand, to the Great BookClub in the Sky for a nice long eternity of reading and drinking tea with my grandmother.

Love, lust and fairy-star-dust,
Cherry Blossom

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