I am a bibliophile. The first signs of this appeared when I was very young. There were few childrens’ books in my home and those we had were treasured beyond belief. Reading became a magical form of escapism for me. Once I had worked through the tiny library of my primary school, I would look forward to the arrival of the Provincial Library Services van that would periodically replenish the stock of books in the minute public library (it consisted of two cupboards) of the small mining village I grew up in. Moving to senior school with its much larger library to explore was the beginning of an adventure that has never stopped.
As a child I often devoured books (and lemons) while sitting in the comfortable branches of an enormous rough skin lemon tree at home, happily hidden from view. On our farm I found a comfortable mango tree. A very large white mulberry tree also provided a cool haven for reading undisturbed. Not only did this mean I could escape into the world of the book I was reading, but such hidey-holes saved me from the inevitable teasing from my brothers, who would laugh at the sight of tears running down my cheeks. “It’s only a story!” they would sometimes jeer while I keened over the events held fast between the covers on my lap.
I have always been drawn to book sales and find the bookshop in any shopping mall is a natural place to wait for someone. I have stayed in places with a small library of books where travellers are welcome to take one to continue their journey with, providing they leave one behind. Difficult as it is to part with a friend, it is great to make a new one along the way.
Moving house with an ever-expanding collection of books has meant building shelves to accommodate them – and more shelves – and more shelves, until I sometimes think if we add one more book the whole house will collapse. We now have books in the lounge, the dining room, the passages, the landing and in various rooms throughout our home. Despite the shelves, books still pile up on tables and on the floor.
I discovered very early on that once the reading bug bites one has a companion for life. For some it is biographies, others prefer thrillers, many enjoy non-fiction, and there are others who give themselves up to magic realism or romance. One of the aspects of travelling I enjoy is seeing what books people bring with them to read at airports and while camping.
These days I usually alternate between reading fiction and non-fiction. The two genres are often linked. Last year, for example, I read a fascinating novel by Thomas Keneally, The Daughters of Mars, which dealt with the role Australian nurses fulfilled during the First World War. I was so intrigued by the detail he went into – learning a lot in the process – that I am now reading an historical account of nurses on the Western Front. The Roses of No Man’s Land by Lyn Macdonald is a must-read!
Shelved rows of books warm and brighten the starkest room, and scattered single volumes reveal mental processes in progress – books in the act of consumption, abandoned but readily resumable, tomorrow or next year. John Updike, writer (1932-2009).