It’s World Book and Copyright Day again and for someone who claims to love and read books, I’m here just a little confused about what to write. Should I write about the fun I had as a child reading scary novels like Goosebumps, or the thrill and suspense of reading my favorite Dean Koontz and John Grisham novels, or the wisdom in my favorite inspirational books- The Power of the Plus Factor and The Measure of a Man, the most inspirational book I never read !
After much dilly-dallying, and for fear of failing at two things I claim to love and enjoy doing – reading and writing, I’ve decided to write a little about what books mean to me and I hope that somehow it resonates with you (I’m keeping my fingers crossed!).
As a child growing up in Abuja, the capital city of Nigeria, and in the kind of family I was born into, reading was not only natural to me as an inquisitive little girl or expected of me by parents who were voracious readers, it was often times my only escape from boredom (aren’t teenagers always bored?!).
Just like walking up the hilly streets of Asokoro on a beautiful rainy morning, charmed by the sweet fragrance of lush flowers and tickled by the rush of the cool breeze on my hair; when I read books it seemed I was transported to a new world! Enraptured and enchanted by each story, the characters were sometimes more real to me than my immediate surroundings. I touched them, I felt their pain, I smiled with them, I cried with them, I played with them, I shared their dreams. They were never fictional characters. To me they were friends, real children with real childlike issues- fear of monsters, fear of being whipped, the fun of building sand castles, the joy of a school free day and the longing for the holidays! For as long as my eyes were fixed to those pages, so was my heart attuned to theirs. For a moment or two, through those characters I lived a different life in a different country or even planet.
As I staggered through my teen years and began to read about historical novels and motivational books, my reading took another dimension. The characters in the books were not only real of course, but the depth of their reality inspired thoughts in me. They struck a chord and opened my eyes to the actual reality of life - discipline, failure, success, excellence, purpose, sorrow, poverty, religion, war, hope, empathy, love, suffering, the necessity of hard work and perseverance, the importance of attitude and sportsmanship, the temporality of life and the finality of death.
I began to see things more clearly and with greater insight. My quest for knowledge grew as I began to think, to ponder, to make sense of life and of all the stories I had once read as a child. Sadly, there was no escape as I had once thought. The illusion of a fairy tale ending conjured by my “princess diaries” were just that - an illusion, mere fantasy. There was no prince charming coming to whisk me away in my Cinderella dress, or to kiss me back to life when I sleep in beauty. The truth I realized was that contrary to my childish imaginations of a “happily ever after”, in the real world things fall apart and that more often than not, the center does not hold.
With the fantasy faded and euphoria ended by rude reality, I am myself no longer at ease. I am trapped in this “grown up” business. I can’t play in the rain anymore, can’t build sand castles - the thought of bills building up is more than enough building! But amidst my songs of lamentation, the gift of books is one I am still immensely grateful for, and in my mind I imagine that all lovers of books share this one thought - that if we can read, then we can still escape, even if for a little while.
But more than escaping, I find that books have the power to do these two phenomenal things – they open our minds to WONDER - to imagine, to aspire, to soar, to dream, and they teach us the WISDOM much needed to achieve most things. I say this because I truly believe that the importance of books cannot be overemphasized. What greater tool in the history of the world has ever been known to contain the most compelling, empowering, powerful, instrumental and most radical of facts, even the history of the world itself (before Google of course)? Aha, talking about history takes my mind to another powerful tool used across the globe to preserve both history and culture - language.
I’m from the Eastern part of Nigeria so that makes me Ibo and my language, Igbo. Although growing up I didn't speak it much so I am not fluent at it (don't judge me), I enjoyed a few good books written in my beautiful Igbo language (don’t ask me how!). I remember one titled ‘Nwata Bulie Nna ya elu’, it remains one of the very few novels written in indigenous Nigerian language. Ironically, most books about our culture and history are written in another man’s language. While we speak “turenchi” as the Hausa man would say, our language and culture wither.
So as we mark World Book and Copyright Day and celebrate writers all over the world, I hope somehow this humdrum piece of mine inspires you to read just a little more, as you let your hearts be charmed by the magic in stories, especially stories written in native languages.
Wow! So many memories are streaming back and I think I’m going to read one of my favorite plays; it’s a blast from the past - Ola Rotimi’s Our Husband Has Gone Mad Again ! I can’t wait to hear what you’ll be reading as well.
Now you know a little about my favorite books, so tell me… what books have inspired you the most? What does reading do for you? Escape? I wanna know so get in here and leave a comment!