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Sunday, May 19, 2013

My Long Affair With Books

Today, after giving my bedroom a good sweeping, I turned out the book cases- three of them. As I brought out each cherished book for dusting and careful mending with the ever present reliable gum; reflection sank in over how many of them - and in different genres- I'd accumulated over the years. Reading has been a huge part of me since I was a child.
My late father- Allah rest his soul- was mostly responsible for this. He was an avid reader himself and when he went to England to study, he became a huge fan of British culture; including their literature. The first English classics I came in contact with while going into his bookcase were Great Expectations and Sense & Sensibility. I didn't go far in the book except for a few pages back then (I was 8 and cared more for books with pictures) but after watching the movie adaptation  he rented, I got  interested in the story but it was several years before I read the full version- I read the simplified version after seeing the movie. But it wasn't the case with Jane Eyre  and Little  Women(I
liked the T.V versions so much) that I insisted on reading the actual versions and I found myself really enjoying each page. But those were a few exceptions- Alice in Wonderland  included. Dad did not want to rush us so until I got to secondary school, the classics I now enjoy in full version were the simplified ones- particularly Shakspeare (in the form of Lamb Tales from Shakspeare).

Primary school:  Aside from the books mentioned above- my reading  preferences were mostly Enid
Blyton's books,  Nigerian folktales  and non-african tales (Cinderella, Peter Pan, Beauty and the Beast etc.) including   Macmillian's Pacesstters series'. But once I got to secondary school- I entered the full length era ; African and Non African. Chiamanda Adichie's Purple Hibiscus & Half of a Yellow Sun didn't exist then but there was Flora Nwapa's Efuru and  Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart and I discovered the Nancy Drew books
(sometimes I secretly longed to be just  like her).

But there were also what I called the 'more grown up books' which I had to hide from my parents. Well actually, I didn't have to hide my first romance book ; Barbara Cartland's Love in the Clouds because it belonged to my mother, hence it was lying around for all to see. (Presently I have over 40 second hand Cartland novels).
The one I'm talking about is  the Mills & Boon & Mills & Boon Temptation  romance novels (more known as Harlequin these  days) and before you judge me for reading such stuff at the early age of 13; the girls in the senior class made me read my first Mills & Boon on a dare/bet. They heard that
I was a fast reader so they wanted to see if I could finish it by the next morning (I'm happy to say that I did) and I got a few more from them until I saved up my allowance to buy my own. In between there were also comics- mostly Beano, Whoopee & Chips, Superman, Batman, Tintin, Asterix and Archie. But comics were more to have a laugh and not actually while away the time (well, except Tintin & Asterix) so I stuck to books instead. Alas, against my better judgment I lent my classmates a lot of my precious Mills & Boon romance books and  never got them back. When  I began putting my foot down; my  books began disappearing from my school bag and no one came forward to expose the thief. It was one thing for my property  to be stolen from me but being ganged up against was simply foul. Embittered, I kept my books at home and stopped lending them (a regime I still practise today), in a bid to rebuild my library and show I will not be taken for a sucker again.

But I didn't limit myself to fiction; I discovered Greek myths in the World Books in the school library which in turn led me to The Iliad & The Odyssey much later and write a folktale based on one of them (which is  one of the stories in my own book- The Medicine Girl & other stories). I also paid more attention to Daddy's favorite magazine, Readers' Digest and one of his condensed books- Great Lives; Great Deeds where I read up on   very interesting people from the past, most especially Helen Keller. And I then discovered Danielle Steel through, (funny enough) the DSTV movie guide
when most of the adaptation of her novels were aired. Reading the summaries, I was not inclined to  read any of her books  since I felt most the plots were rather sad- Fine Things, Kaleidoscope, Heartbeat, Palomino) but I changed my mind after reading Jewels and I'm a huge D.S fan now.

Over the years, my library has grown bigger;  more classics (both English and American) and more up to date books like Dan Brown's Angels & Demons, The Da Vinci Code etc. The Harry Potter books of course and others like John Grisham, Barbara Taylor Bradford and I even dared to venture to the horror books- starting with Stoker's Dracula then Dean Koontz's Phantoms. When I began reading Stephen King's The Tommyknockers I was very bored so I discarded it, along with Dreamcatcher. But Misery, Pet Semetary, Skeleton Crew, Different Seasons, Green Mile proved more promising so I'm a King fan too.

I read mostly because I like stories and knowing more about people and it long inspired me to become a writer myself, (a picture of my two books are in this blog) and I'm currently working on my first novel. When I get depressed and feel I won't be a first rate novel; I pray and then I remember another writer whose dreams of becoming a journalist was never realized- Anne Frank- who kept a riveting diary the whole time her family were in hiding from the Nazis. I first came across her name in the World Book so I was happy to find her published diary in a book fair. If she could keep on writing the way she did in spite of living in fear every day; I should stop being such a whiner and keep trying- despite a certain non-supporter of my writing keeps saying!
When I was still a teacher, I did my best to make my students understand that they would get higher grades in English Language; especially in essay writing if they read more but unfortunately very few of them paid any attention and I was made out to be the bad guy. And some  people I know seem contemptuous when they see a book in my hand, making the word 'novel' seem like the word 'Hustler magazine'. What exactly is their problem; their lack of interest in books shouldn't be spread to others, should it? And alas, most kids in my country seem more inclined to read comics and watch movies instead of reading, even with this digital era of
e-books via Kindles. I don't own a Kindle by the way; hardcovers and paperbacks are more of my thing still.
 Sorting out my  books this morning, I gave a silent thanks to my Dad. He was not exactly an easy man to live with and hard to please but I'm glad he made us understand the pleasure of reading. If I wasn't an avid reader like him, I wouldn't be a writer today. Reading will always be a part of me. And my library will- God Willing-keep getting more additions. After all, one can never have enough books!

(except for the image of Nancy Drew  & the Kindle; all the  images of the books in this post are from my bookshelves)

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