I miss reading. I miss the opportunity to be totally consumed by a story, absorbed in the lives of characters, to finish a book in a day, to read in bed, or curled up on the couch, or in the rocking chair with no interruptions, and no other cares or worries in the world.
I am a regular reader of O magazine and regardless of where I am in the world I try to get my hands on the current issue. This time I was able to buy it directly in the USA as I am here for a couple of weeks. I was introduced to the magazine by my best friend while I was studying in the states for my masters degree. She had given me a subscription for my birthday and since then I have been reading the magazine cover to cover absorbing the good advice and its nurturing spirit. One of my favorite columns is the ‘Books that made a difference to ——‘ series. I have often thought of the books that have left the greatest impressions on me and thought I would reflect on my five books.
I didn’t always enjoy reading. As a kid, growing up bilingual, I had trouble focusing and difficulty with imagery and comprehension. My mother solved this problem by reading aloud to my brother and I from young adult books. We would read one chapter every night before bed. This became a wonderful tradition, one I hope I can share with my kids. We read great books together, transported to far away places, on adventures, saddened when the book came to an end and the characters would leave and no longer be a part of me and my everyday. Reading instantly became more fun. In the beginning I could enjoy the book, the story, the characters, without the hassle of working on the reading myself. Later, once I learned that books were quite exciting I became an avid reader, devouring books, reading late into the night, on metro rides, on long trips, in the car, while waiting in line, while sipping coffee. It was essential that I always have a good book in my bag to pull out and read whenever I got a moment, I would count minutes as wasted if I didn’t have a book at hand….
I love reading and have an endless wish-list that I will never be able to read through in this lifetime. Now, as a mother of two, and no longer commuting to work by public transportation, I read a lot less. Instead of novels, I read things in short snippets since I have less time to devote to a book. Magazine articles, newpapers, short stories and kids’ books are on my current reading list. It usually takes me a good few months now just to read one novel.
Books are so precious. My parents always had shelfs and shelfs of books around the house and when the shelfs were bulging the books would pile up in stacks on the floor. In my three decades of life, with my travels and international experiences there are a few books, adventures and characters that have marked me, inspired me, pushed me. These are the five books that have made a difference to me.
To Kill A Mocking Bird by Harper Lee
I read this classic in the 7th grade while I was living in Tokyo. This was the first book that I read that made such an impression on me with life lessons. Of course reading this book for class I was apprehensive to any good that it could do me. It wasn’t till a few chapters into the book that things started to change and I began to enjoy the story and the lessons. It was an eye opener to learn about things like racism, injustice, and the golden rule. How your actions speak louder than words, how people can influence you, your community can shape your beliefs, that you can be different and your own person and stand up for what you believe in. This book taught me about respect, character, forgiveness, friendships and trust, about being and doing good and about treating people the way you want to be treated.
Dereck Walcott Collected Poems, 1948-1984
An English teacher lent me a copy of this book when I was a senior living in Paris. Before being introduced to this collection of poems I had always hated poetry and just ‘never got it’. Walcott’s poem “Codicil” touched a real cord, because I could relate to his ‘cultural schizophrenia’, of the issues of identity and where we feel most at home. I was born in the USA to a Canadian mother and a French father and have spent a significant part of my childhood living in Tokyo, Paris, Rowayton, Nashua and Rio de Janeiro. I have two passports declaring two nationalities, my heart is a quarter japanese, a quarter brazilian, a quarter french and a quarter american. My English is better than my French, though once it was the other way around. When I was studying in New Hampshire back in 2001, I got the chance to hear Walcott read in Massachusetts and it was a mesmerizing experience. Walcott’s poetry helped me to realize that it is OK to feel like we belong to more than one group, that it is normal to be ‘torn’ and ‘angry’ with peoples reactions or lack of interest, and yes, we can be at home in two places and that we are better people for it.
The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje
This is another striking book and my absolute favorite. Ondaatje’s prose is poetry in itself. He writes of love, loss, sadness and betrayals. Of how, with certain circumstances, we are drawn to people. Different events or surroundings lead us to different types of people, that perhaps under ‘normal’ circumstances we would not choose to be with. I love and hate the idea of how Almasy is mistaken to be English simply because he speaks English with a British accent. Is it a paper that proclaims my nationality, a place of birth, or is it my heart, or perhaps it is the country in-which I have lived the most years, or the languages I speak or simply how I feel and who I choose to be? I love the imagery of the vast desert, with no boundaries or borders, no expectations, no limits, with freedom in the grandeur of all that sand, all that sky, all those stars, lost and comfortable with our definition of our true self, and not someone else’s. I have been in that desert, both physically and metaphorically. The encounter is profound, and reassuring. Ondaatje weaves several stories within the bigger one and shows us that somehow we are all connected – to different people, from different times, different pasts, and that these connections, and maybe even meetings, though ephemeral are necessary, and though brief, leave lasting impressions.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
I recently read this book. I wasn’t always a fan of Jane Austen whose prose I found uninteresting and hard to read. However, with Pride and Prejudice I love the freshness and fun in the story and Elizabeth’s wit. First impressions are not always the best and are often incorrect. I like the idea that things are not always as they seem, and of how judging people can lead to the wrong conclusions. We are often influenced by the people around us, wrongly or not. I find that with all the places I have been to, traveled to, lived in, it is paramount to not judge too quickly or make conclusions too absolutely. Plus, this is just a great love story !
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
This is a story of a family who moves to Belgian Congo. Events are related through the eyes of each of the five family members; a father’s attempts to change the Congolese ‘for their betterment’, and a wife and daughters attempt to adapt their lives to Africa. Each of their experiences and viewpoints are believable. I have lived in four different continents and traveled to over 20 countries. I have learned to adapt and that there are several ways to do the same thing. This book was incredible because it reflected on just that. How a culture and way of life can impact us. It’s all about being able to make connections with the culture and the community, being able to relate or not to the people. This book also shows the drawbacks of trying to change people who are happy as they are. Who are we to say who is right and who is wrong; who is better? We can learn much by humbling ourselves to the cultures, societies and ways different from our own. I am not saying we have to agree with it or even like it, but we must not be blind in acknowledging that differences exist.
What five books made a difference to you?