My family loves books. We have them in almost every room, now even the kitchen has a shelf full. My daughter and I are fast readers. We can finish something light in a matter of hours, or the Millennium Trilogy (1853 pages) in less than a week. My husband takes his time.
We read all sorts.
(A Kindle can hold up to 1400 books.)
I only started reading in high school. Famous Five, Secret Seven, to begin with. Little Women, Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice (all abridged) before I encountered Daphne Du Maurier. No, no, not the famous (or infamous) Rebecca of Mandalay, I got to Jamaica Inn first. She became my favourite author, and since landing in England, I managed to track down all her work from local libraries and re-read them every few years.
In my younger days when I didn’t mind a bit of hard work, I ploughed through Hemingway, Steinbeck, Maugham, Lawrence, Eliot, Poe (names to impress!). Later I took interest in memoirs — Antoine de Saint Exupery, Liv Ullmann, Ingrid Bergman, Lillian Hellman, Helene Hanff, Richard Feynman, Lance Armstrong, Torey Hayden… — a long list from all walks of life. As if the ’embroidered words’ of day-to-day happenings not intriguing enough I finally picked up best-sellers. Anne Tyler, Carol Shields, Anita Shreve, Ian McEwan, Jodi Picoult, Amy Tan… Easy read is what I am enjoying now, although tackling Dickens has been on my mind for longer than twenty years. I’d very much like to begin with A Tale of Two Cities…
I used to read all my daughter’s story books, just like any ‘helicopter mums’ (you have met them, haven’t you? Hovering above their kids keeping tag of their every movement, and joining Facebook?! ). I kept pace until Harry Potter killed off Voldemort, I wouldn’t go on to Middle Earth for the Rings. Nor could I venture any further when she pulled out her father’s H G Wells, Anthony Burgess, Tolstoy, George Orwell, Arthur C Clarke…from the shelves. She easily appreciated One Hundred Years of Solitude, and Anna Karenina when I couldn’t. Her one other challenge, from her high school Classics teacher who believed they wouldn’t understand it, is Ulysses. We just have to get the book.
(The Kindle has more than a million free books.)
When I moved to England, a third of the boxes shipped were books. How did I know? The removal man pointed it out and remarked: “you’d save some money if you left these behind”. I didn’t listen to him. To me it’s a whole new world out there, speaking a different language, with a different culture and I had to try to blend in. There was no one else I knew. Scared was not even the word, to put it mildly. The only consolation was my husband had been in the country for nearly two decades and he’s there to help me cope, together. That made all the difference, him being there.
Still, I needed my books with the familiar Chinese characters, when he went away on business trips. It’s the familiarity of my past life I was clinging onto. The books I chose to read that shaped and defined ‘me’ ; the stories and words that once cheered me up/moved me to tears/inspired me then did it again and saw me through the first few years of my adopted new life. Holding and turning those familiar pages, some with paragraphs underlined, reflecting and remembering the mood I was in while reading, I found strength, comfort and solitude. Now these Chinese books are either gathering dust on the shelves, or packed away, you might have guessed that I finally settled down, after 24 years.
(Will the eBook kindle warmth to comfort the difficult and anxious days?)
Anxious days indeed when I had tennis elbow two years ago (I don’t play tennis, I watch — Nadal just won his record 7th French Open if you are interested). I feared the constant dull ache was there to stay. How depressing. I could not hold a cup of tea with one hand. Had to use both. I couldn’t read either. When I read I don’t put the book on the table; don’t put it on my lap; I hold it with my right hand — the one suffering. It is not the same holding it with my left, believe me. At that time I was going through Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything, hardback, 514 pages. I had to leave it. Now the pain is no longer active, but I have lost the bookmark.
(A Kindle weighs less than 170 grams.)
Mail has been a very important part of my life. Still is. But I have stopped writing letters. I send emails. If I have found the electronic messages more efficient and approved of the new technology, why am I still reluctant to leave the romanticizing of books behind and move forward? Is it just me, loving the touch of paper and the beautifully bound covers, and the hearty weight of everything intelligent and sentimental in between?
I don’t know. I don’t have a well thought through argument here. I like admiring our shelves overflowing with books. But I also like the idea of travelling light, especially on long haul flight, when there is a limited luggage allowance. I can’t make up my mind. I just cannot make up my mind. So this is absolutely not a hint to what to get me for my birthday, or Christmas, OK guys?