An entire household is mesmerised by books.
ON New Year’s Eve, while winding down to start anew, we decided to stay home to chill and relax, or, as my son says, “chillax”. It is great that a kid wants to be at home, and we were more than happy to stay in. Soup was steaming in the pot, windows were wide open, and the entire house was full of life. This, I guess, is what’s known as “living”.
The little wind chime pealed, the sound traversing from the garden into our living room, in which, strangely, the television was not switched on. Out there, shrouded in tranquillity and airiness, my mum was enjoying long moments of reading pleasure in my book nook.
She loves life in slow-paced Down Under with its laid-back living conditions and schizophrenic weather. Most of all, she loves our home, the garden and the books. “They are everywhere,” she said smilingly to my daughter, who was seated on a wooden bench nearby, trying to read one of the many books her brother had taken out to the garden to be consumed. He spends hours there after breakfast, lunch and then afternoon tea. That stack of books eventually inundated the hammock and the little bench right next to it, each having been thoroughly read yet again.
“No child should ever be without a book,” I once read. So, many times in place of games (which my kids do play on occasion), they turn to books, heaps of them.
A friend who had moved to Sydney for work reasons came to visit us at home on Christmas Eve with his bride. My mum was slow to emerge out of her room to greet them as she was totally engrossed in her reading. It runs in the family. We all read, making books a commonly treasured household item, and bookshelves, an “appliance” which, when broken, the man of the house is always quick to repair.
So when, in the middle of my birthday dinner three days after Christmas, my son bumped into one of the bookshelves, causing four rows of books to come tumbling down with a loud thud, the man of the house had it fixed right after dinner. “On the matriarch’s birthday, her everything has to be perfect, books and bookshelves especially.” That sent a wave of laughter across the dinner table, and each book on the bookshelves forming the backdrop to our dining area seemed to clap in consonance.
The fallen books had me conjuring up the image of a book half read and lost if left on the floor. That book would turn panicky, fearing separation from its owner and the sudden loss of affection. I chuckled, imagining a book’s contorted cover wailing for my attention, and soon enough came to the realisation that, hey, among all the books that I have, I did not, at that moment, have such a half-read, highly-cherished book that I feared losing. The two that I was halfway reading through are for reviews.
This kind of revelation happens all the time, and when it does, I usually go out to get myself a book I truly want to read for my own pleasure. Though review copies are generally interesting, the pleasures of buying a book of my own choice after much browsing and deciding is immense. The joy of stepping into a bookstore, of course, is equally riveting.
With that in mind, I decided to sift through the bookshelves of a bookstore near my house. Amidst a never-ending crowd of shoppers scouting for bargains after Christmas, I muscled my way through in great hopes of being thrilled by my own find.
And I was. That humble little bookstore usually has a clever selection that reflects the quirkiness of its smart merchandisers, and its ever-changing display of Penguin classics makes its gigantic wall of shelves a stage for a literary parade, where Hemingway, de Maurier, Hafez, Austen and Homer mingle, thrilled to be relevant and admired by all these 21st century Homo sapiens believing in literature, still.
The new Australian school curriculum has a renewed emphasis on literature. Hence, I was not surprised to find two articulate Asian teenagers next to me in the bookstore that day. One of them expressed her love for Albert Camus’ The Plague, calling it a play disguised as a novel. The other conceded to her choice, though he much preferred Bram Stoker’s Dracula, he said.
Their eloquence and enthusiasm made the bookstore all the more charming. I lingered, hoping to catch a glimpse of my younger self 25 years back in time when I too was as articulate and naively enthusiastic as these two.
Then I bought myself a Penguin Classic – Kiran Desai’s Inheritance Of Loss, a book I had never had the time to read until now. The beauty of Desai’s title strummed a joyous tune within me, as I marvelled at how quickly time flies, and felt awed by my book-loving household, and reaffirmed in my unflinching belief that books as well as reading can make mankind immortal.
In the (usually) benign summers Down Under, Abby Wong’s household emerges, books in hand, into a garden that is blessed with a myriad colours.