With each new empty post I create, WordPress tells me to share my story, and today I thought I’d share my story about my relationship with books. Because I have one, and it might be a slightly obsessive one. Books are also the reason I started writing. Thinking about books and the words that authors string together to make beautiful sentences after beautiful sentences were among the many reasons I started writing seriously. So this may be a little dedication to all the books I’ve read, have yet to read, and hopefully someday may write.
Ever since I was a kid, I have been familiar around the written word. I remember going on summer holiday each year to a campsite in France or Italy with ten books in my bag (the maximum you could borrow from the local library) and halfway through the holiday, I’d have finished them all and yearning for more. I devoured them and the books didn’t seem to mind. Sometimes my mum would even borrow books for me on her library card so I could take more. “I know you are a fast reader, but this is ridiculous” – an exclamation my parents sigh even today. There was a time, this one time, when I had a silly argument with my parents and I decided to run away from home. Guess what was in bag… books. I never made it further than the end of the street.
At school, I felt overjoyed when we had to prepare a book presentation because I had so many books in my bookcase that I needed to share with my classmates. Note: a lot of my books then were about dolphins as I was completely fascinated by them. As I happily chatted away about this new favorite book and read one of the most exciting passages aloud, ending with a cliffhanger of course, I was already thinking of a new great book I should lay my hungry eyes upon and present to my (plainly bored) classmates. Yup, I was that kid. My writing started to develop as well. Little essays and amateuristic elementary school research projects were my playground. Homework that involved writing was never homework and at night I was writing in my diary – my first step into journaling and blogging. One of the first real stories I wrote was for my brother who was in the hospital and it was about 15 to 20 pages long. I am pretty sure it was not my finest work.
As I grew older I realized that somehow in a strange universe called adolescence, reading a lot of books wasn’t so cool anymore; in a time where being cool was obviously important. However, I always had one or two books on my nightstand. Though in that time I was reading less, I started writing more, mainly because I met some people who were writing down their teenage angst in puberty poems. For some reason, I kept it hidden in countless notebooks with scribbled words, plots, and poems. In my high school language classes, literature was never dull for me. English literature was especially interesting. Reading mandatory books? Yes, please! Many of my classmates never read the books and copy-pasted reports from the Internet (to be honest, I also copy-pasted, but I always read the books from beginning to end). Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Le Petit Prince, English poetry from Wordsworth to Sassoon’s World War I words, Kafka’s Die Verwandlung, and Mulisch’s Two Women – they sparked my interest in literature again. Then Christmas came around and hidden underneath the Christmas tree was a book written by my future favorite writer just waiting to be discovered. Haruki Murakami and Kafka on the Shore – my obsession with Murakami was born and continues even today (about a week ago I found a hardcover version of Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage for $5 in a thrift store. I let out a little scream when I found it, but apparently I already have it in Dutch). In my last year of high school, me and my friend decided to participate in a poetry competition called DoeMaarDichtMaar and surprisingly, a couple months later, I received an envelope inviting me to Groningen because one of my poems was amongst the top 100. My mum was so proud of me. A print of my poem still hangs in their… bathroom. Thanks, Mum! For me, this was the stepping stone in getting my work acknowledged and a little dream began to grow in my mind that I have been nurturing for the past five years (with ups and downs, of course).
I started being proud of filling my bookcase and when I moved to Rotterdam to study at the university, all my boxes had at least a couple of books. It has only grown from there. Several bookfairs and birthdays later, me and my parents had the heavy task of transporting all my books back home again (sorry, parents). It has not stopped there. My last visit to San Francisco consisted of going to many second-hand bookstores and thrift stores. In five weeks, I had accumulated about 30 books. This time (I’ve been here now for… five weeks) there are 25 new books stacked in my little corner, ranging from Joyce’s Dubliners, Guevara’s The Motorcycle Diaries, Jim Morrison’s The American Night, and a 1972 Fodor’s travel guide on Peking.
Of course, travelling means I cannot carry a lot of stuff (read: books) with me but the beauty of book exchange made me discover and read wonderful new books. Shantaram, The Book Thief, Eleven Minutes… Some books were very hard to let go but the thought of another well-read traveller picking up the book and hopefully enjoying it as much as I did makes me happy as well. There is something interesting about getting to know a country through its literature. I read Orwell’s Burmese Days while travelling in Myanmar and Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere after I visited the Philippines and it helped me understand parts of those countries’ cultures on a different level. Travelling also inspired me to start writing again. Journalling my experiences abroad has had a good and calming effect on me, including this blog. The sheer amount of experiences I’ve had and the people I’ve met helped my imagination bloom. If you need any travel advice from me: Always travel with a good book and a notebook.
There is so much out there for everyone. I haven’t read most of the classics; the Dickens, Prousts, Fitzgeralds, and Austens still remain a mystery to me. I have been exploring the wonderful world of words both in English and in Dutch and I have come far but there is more. More words I want to use, more stories I want to write, and more books I want to read. Hopefully, one day, there will be a book, beaten and battered, written by yours truly hanging out in your bookcase. Dream big and read big!