Over the past week, I realised I have an unhealthy attachment to my books. I got incredibly anxious when a friend was about to leave for an overseas trip while still in custody of one of my favourite fantasy novels. The relief I felt when I got the book back was disproportionate to its worth, and reminded me of the times when I would write ‘property of Zoya Patel’ in the covers of all of my favourite novels as a child just to stop my siblings taking them into their rooms and out of my sight.
At a writers’ networking event recently, I spent ten minutes chatting to a girl who had the distinct quirkiness of an avid book nerd. We waded into the deep territory of favourite science fiction and fantasy novels, both of us recommending dozens of titles and giving cries of delight when we found a book in common.
When I got home that night, I immediately grabbed my copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and snuggled into bed, reading until I eventually fell asleep still holding the book. The next morning, my partner told me he wished he’d taken a photo – me, dead asleep with my hand curled around Harry Potter and our cat snuggled into the crook of my body. Classic book lover shot.
When I was a child, we didn’t have much money. My mum loved reading, but growing up in Fiji meant that she had slim pickings when she was a teenager. She would save her 50c pocket money each week until she could buy a Mills & Boon paperback at the newsagency, reading and re-reading each torrid romance.
Now, after 22 years in Australia, mum still reads voraciously, consuming fiction from all genres at a rate I find difficult to match.
She encouraged reading in me and all of my siblings, picking up books for us whenever we could afford it, and taking us to the library regularly. One weekend, at a jumble sale, she found a box of Sweet Valley Twins books. My sisters and I became so engrossed in the worlds of Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield, the Californian twins with the perfect blonde hair and wacky adventures, that we would sit inside reading constantly, unaware of when mum would call out to us or ask one of us to do something.
Eventually, in a fit of annoyance, mum confiscated the books back from us, and hid them so effectively I think we all forgot where they were and haven’t found them to this day. Books were both reward and consequence in our house – the pleasure of reading doubled as the punishment of no reading when we acted out.
In Year 2 at school, I won an Academic Achievement award for performing above my grade level. As a reward, my parents took me to a book store and told me I could choose any book I wanted.
A brand new book – a luxury I rarely had. It was the first time I was unleashed on a book store, and I felt overwhelmed by choice. I carefully combed each aisle of the children’s section, reading spines, checking blurbs. When my mum found me after almost half an hour of waiting, I was clutching two books with tears in my eyes, so anxious at the thought of choosing that I was completely immobilised.
I remember mum laughing affectionately at my distress. ‘You can have them both,’ she said.
Years later, when our small business was yielding good profits and the budget wasn’t so tight, I came home to a stack of new books on my bed – a gift from my mum and a nod to never having to choose between reads again.
I love loving books. I love that my friends and family love books. I love that books still have a special place in academia, in education, and in our imaginations. I don’t care how I read books either – kindle, hardcopy, iPad – as long as it’s portable, I’m never alone.
I keep an eye on my ever-growing bookshelf, and mark out the favourites I want to share with nieces and nephews, and perhaps my own children one day. It’s a curated path of growth, adventure, and learning that is essential to an extraordinary life.
Image Credit: Chris via Flickr