Old Friends and New
I went browsing in a secondhand bookshop for Enid Blyton books for a nephew who at 8 had never heard of The Famous Five. Then something magical happened. As I held a copy of Famous Five in my hand it teleported me back to smell, feel and the slow building excitement of lazy afternoons in the summer vacation. Of lying sprawled on a swing and removing myself from the world… to the familiar world of caves, smugglers and rolling downs and midnight jaunts. And the complete empowerment of pre-teens. Oh, the tingling sensation! Like a long-forgotten perfume, it evoked the same breatheless feeling that the saving of pocket for three months and buying a book and first smelling its raw pages did. Of a promised wonderland which I could enter at will.
That was then when books were our only escape. Today there is a plethora of channels offering strident entertainment. And what is to my mind predigested content. Unlike a book, they do not call for viewer participation. It is thrown at you. Take- that –you- idiot- you. Now a book is a different matter. It draws you into its pages gently, triggering your imagination. You imagine the characters deftly sketched in a few words. You follow them in their adventures often placing yourself in their shoes. You laugh, rejoice and cry with them. And they are all the more real to you because you have participated in their delineation. The hero perhaps reminds you of a favourite cousin so you embue him with qualities that the writer has not. The heroine may take on the features of a film star. It is you who are half creating them as you get into the secret recesses of their mind and heart.
Can any film no matter how great, allow you to enter into the feelings of another except superficially?
There are books that you stay up the night to finish because you cannot bear to put them down. A video film sends me to sleep in the first ten minutes. There are books you recall fondly like old friends. How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn is one I read as a six-year-old simply because it was the only large print in my Fathers library. Then I read it again. And again. Maybe 8 times. Now I am literally afraid to go back to it in case the magic it spun is ineffective on my blasé adult mind.
Some books leave you bereft when they end...so real...so close are the characters. I have spent hours wondering what happened to Jo of Little Women when the book Little Women ended. Even today I recall with a chuckle the stories of Father Brown and William. But I am afraid to go back and read them again. In case the feeling of complete reality is no more available to my adult eyes. My loss.
Not really. Because I had a wonderful childhood with my books. So much so that I did not need friends or outings or gadgets. Even meals were incidental. If my Mother wanted to punish me for some misdeameanour I was banned from reading for half a day. And I was the most torturous of punishments leaving me restless and fidgety and not knowing what to do with myself.
As my Father would say, inserting a finger to keep his page in a Wodehouse or Edgar Wallace book: “People who like to read are born lucky. Because what more can a person want?”
I know reading is a long lonely process.I know it cuts you off from reality. I know it is an escape. Maybe an addiction. But it is also respite and relaxation. And the opening up of universes that you can never visit in one lifetime or several. It gifts you understanding and empathy and a love for humanity that no religion can foster.
Let a million channels throw their content at me. A good book will always win the battle for my mind. And heart.
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