Books have always just been there. Loads of them, spilling over their allotted space on shelves, stored in the garage, the loft and the spare room in my family’s house.
My most intense memories of my mother are of her reading to me, which she did each night at bedtime when I was a child. I was number 4 so how she found time I don’t know. She read House at Pooh Corner, and did the voices. Somehow it was just understood that she was Kanga and I was Roo. When I had children of my own and read to them I found myself doing the same.
I remember learning to read with my dad, my finger underlining the words, struggling and failing to read ZEPHYR, and his explanation, telling me it was a kind of wind. Later he would creep down the stairs in the dead of night, cricket bat held aloft ready to bludgeon to death the burglar who had disturbed his sleep only to discover my sister in her nightie and spectacles, reading by the light of the fridge.
These days I have few books, I just don’t seem to need to keep many of them after I’ve read them. You could be forgiven for thinking I don’t care for books at all if you consider the condition of those I do keep. I love the comfortable crunch of bending back the spine of a new book in anticipation of a great read, folding corners, eating corners, reading in the bath till the pages corrugate. I love giving books away, leaving them on airplane seats for some other traveller to find, swapping them on holiday, fishing pages out of the pool.
As a teenager I would love to eat an apple and read under the covers with a torch long after lights out. Some might consider my habit of writing phone numbers, or a word to be looked up for definition in the fly leaf as undesirable.
When I think about why books are important to me and how they have influenced me though my life I realised how many memories and defining times are accompanied by books of some sort or another, from the magical and cherished stories of my childhood to teenage sex education with my peers in the school library at lunchtimes where we would giggle over the strange homunculus diagram with his giant hands and cock. In my later teens and twenties, alone with Nancy Friday and Anais Nin, the Delta of Venus was my bible. I tore through the pages of Red Dragon Trilogy in terror, the first time a book scared me half to death so I couldn’t turn the light off to go to sleep.
I learned what wasn’t taught to me in school about my country’s history, the story of the expansion of Europe and our crimes against other peoples. I satisfied my curiosity about the political history of the Middle East, and of Israel’s grotesque and complex relationship with USA and the west by reading Saed and Norman Finkelstein. How else could I have been educated by an Arab and a Jew? My father believed that the difference between not being able to read, and being able to read and not reading was..no difference. Reading is freedom. The books I have on my shelves now are the ones I never quite finish with. Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Women Who Run With Wolves, and Don Miguel Ruiz’s Four Agreements, for advice and comfort. To Kill A Mocking Bird, because I can re-read it and never get sick of it. A couple of James Thurbers, because he is funny and I like his weird little illustrations. Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar, because I might get around to reading it one day. And a hundred billion cookery books, their pages stuck together with scraps of dough and cake batter like well used porn mags.
Books have guided, comforted, distracted, amused, confused me. They have provided hot meals and hot sex and I have been illuminated, edified, terrified and comforted. I’ve left reading at busier times in my life but always always come back to curling up with a book . Reading is a solitary process, it is an important part of my relationship with myself and the time I create to live in my head and expand my universe.