Words dance in front of my eyes, floating up from the page and forming a scene right there on the bus, or under a tree, or wherever I happen to be whilst inhaling this treasure trove of creation. A journey without a side helping of literature is a strange one indeed. From as far back as I can remember I have always had my ski-slope of a nose stuck in a book. Life without reading, I don’t even know what that is, nor do I want to imagine. In fact, if I go more than a few days without reading a book, I actually feel completely out of sync with myself and the world around me. It’s not that I use reading to escape from my life, on the contrary it’s the opposite. I read books to compliment the journey I’m on. Believe me when I say, that life in China is no short of one gigantic adventure, and I could happily while away my days thriving on the hilarity that ensues around every corner in this mad country, but I like being able to supplement the adventure with characters from other lands. Reading Murakami’s books in Japan, would of course be ideal, but in 2009 and 2010 I hungrily read almost all of his novels to date while commuting back and forth to my job in Guangzhou, and truly, his words were the perfect companion for my daily ride. I will forever associate his stories with the Guangzhou metro, and the way I would greedily try to grab a few extra pages while maneuvering through the daily crowds of white collars.
Growing up with Roald Dahl’s wacky imagination and reading his books on road trips with my family, or while curled up on my Granny’s sofa after school, I wouldn’t change that for the world. My Mum always said “Siobhan, this summer you should play outside more”, but I would worry…when would I have time to read all my books then? And so of course I just took my books with me and flopped down at the side of the park and read while the other kids played football. OK, that makes me sound extremely anti-social, but me and football…no (haha)! Then, later as a teenager, those long summer days spent contemplating Sylvia Plath and Bret Easton Ellis’s dark minds. Books hidden under my chair at work, stolen moments of a chapter or two while the boss wasn’t looking. Teenage love affairs where books sharpened and heightened all of those emotions, ten-fold. Just the way music does. Words are also like music, making each experience a new one depending on where you are and what you’re reading at the time, those memories lingering forever after. The time I went to work at a summer camp in West Virginia. Those feelings of being trapped inside a wooden cabin in the forest, with only Barbara Kingsolver there to save me from the overwhelming desire I had to run back to Africa. And moments now, where I read stories of faraway rural places of the country I find myself in, trying to figure out what makes this place tick, who are the people that make up this land and what is it they dream of, long for. Are they also just dreaming of a simple, happy life?
Every time a book is read, it’s a completely unique experience. I’m not sure if it would have been the same if I’d just read all those books while lying in bed. There’s something about taking literature out into the world and carrying it with you wherever you go that just makes it more real, giving it a life and an odyssey of its own. Books explore so many different themes and different kinds of people, it’s only fair that they too, get to embark alongside these different readers who are living all across this incredible planet.
Books don’t want to sit on your shelf gathering dust, or be left on your bed-side table, tea-stained and burnt by the lamp. They want to come with you to the beach and feel the sand between their pages. They want to climb to the top of the mountain with you and see the view of the scenes where their secret stories take place. Sometimes they might just want to cuddle up next to that big oak tree, while you picnic on your blanket nearby. They want little notes of gratitude or recommendation left inside, and they don’t mind creases or crinkles, because those are just wrinkles of love. They are even partial to a bit of dancing, so it’s OK if you forget to empty your bag and bring them along to go clubbing. Books want to be shared, and passed on for generations to come. That musky second-hand book scent is one of appreciation, a scent that arrives from knowing they have provided someone with a sense of joy, even if only for a single fleeting moment in time.
Now that the digital age is well and truly dominating, these poor books are getting dustier, overcome with neglect as they get left behind by all these people who prefer the ease of e-readers and lack of guilt at killing trees that they apparently feel from reading these digital books. The thing is, as long as people keep chopping down trees and making paper, books will continue to be printed. And if a tree had to die to make that novel, the least you can do is buy it and read it. Also, second-hand book shops are EVERYWHERE and I am going to continue giving them business because for me, finding that precious book at the back of a bookshop is something I get really excited about. I know it’d be so much easier to just log on to Amazon and click and buy, but seriously where is the fun in that? I enjoy a book so much more if it took a bit of time and effort to find. And then I can cherish it forever, or pass it on to people who I know will love it as much as I did, as opposed to letting it get lost on my hard drive, stuck inside my computer with no crinkles of love, no fingerprints of chocolate. No, I’m not OK with that. Even if they do stop making new books in actual book form, I will just read all the old books lurking around the world. And really, holding a real book in your hands is just so much better, coffee stains, strange smells and all. Don’t you think?
Here’s to books. Thank you for nourishing our minds and our souls, for making everyday more colourful and for sacrificing your original form to fulfil our imagination’s desires. We are forever grateful and promise to keep giving you the love and time you deserve.
p.s Are you reading anything lovely right now? I’d love to have some new recommendations. Happy reading!