#65 In love with books – Joan De La Haye

April 21, 2011 in Sonder kategorie

What made you fall in love with books – and how did it happen?
 
I come from a family of book lovers. The family home has bookshelves in practically every room and all those shelves are filled with both old and new books, even a few first editions.

My sister decided to teach me how to read when I was about four or five. To make sure it wasn’t too boring for her she decided that we’d start with the Famous Five and Nancy Drew. We skipped Dr Zeus and went straight to the good stuff. I’ve never gone a day, since then, without a pile of books next to my bed.

What’s your favourite line from a book, play or poem?

My favourite play is Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand. I fell in love with it when I was thirteen. Here’s one of  my favourite lines from it:

“Oh, don’t take it so hard. I drove into this madness. Every woman needs a little madness in her life.”

Cyrano de Bergerac, Act 4

#64 In love with books – Gérard Rudolf

April 21, 2011 in Sonder kategorie

Where fish are blind – or: Why I like books

I was blessed to have been born into a household where there were books on shelves but, like most people, I suppose, I can’t quite recall how I developed my deep love for books. Let’s face it, just the mere fact that some of us grew up in houses with books on shelves is not a sure-fire guarantee that a love affair will blossom. For me it happened too long ago to recall clearly, but it feels to me as if I have never been without a book somewhere near me.

You see, I am a dreamer and I have never fully woken up. Although I live firmly in The World as all of us are forced to I have always, like so many others, searched for the escape hatch. Books (like my other passion, films) are time machines that have the capacity to transport us anywhere we wish to travel and I guess it is this aspect of books and of reading I instinctively understood the moment I received the gift of literacy.

In my boyhood books took me off to once-upon-a-time places where beautiful princesses fell into mysterious comas and were saved decades later by beefy princes … and they always lived happily ever after, lucky bastards. There were the nightmarish tales of talking serpents, mad plagues, burning bushes and magic tricks that turned water into wine, parted oceans and fed thousands with little more than a couple of fishes and a few loaves of bread and cured wretched individuals called “lepers” of a dreaded disease that made their extremities drop off. And there were giants too, epic floods and dead men walking again! Fire, blood, brimstone and God’s wrath kept me awake at night. Later I could smell the stink of pirate ships, feel the thrilling weight of stolen gold in the palms of my hands. I could sit and get drunk and smoke pipes in dingy harbour taverns long before I was allowed anywhere near booze or tobacco. I was even marooned on an island with a guy called Friday.

Later, as a pimply, shy and rather horny teenager, I could casually gamble away fortunes in Mediterranean casinos, eat fine food, pull pussy galore and imagine racing armed and dangerous through the bright capitals and dark backwaters of the planet in shiny sports cars, licensed to kill anybody who pissed me off – while looking pretty damned sharp in a Saville Row suit, naturally.

Sadly, though, I never had a Dead Poets Society moment. I have no tales to tell of a dedicated and passionate high school literature teacher who declaimed passages from classic works from desktops. I just had run-of-the-mill individuals who nearly killed my fledgling passion for words by making Shakespeare sound like a slow cement mixer and who read poetry and prose as if they were clubbing baby seals to death.

Luckily I had friends who read and passed on books that would never have made it on to our school reading lists during the eighties in Jo’burg. Books like Heller’s hilarious and sad Catch-22, Golding’s Lord of the Flies, Asimov’s I, Robot, Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country, Brink’s A Dry White Season, Coetzee’s The Life and Times of Michael K, Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye (still one of my favourite books of all time), the poems of Wally Serote, Breyten Breytenbach and Pessoa, plays such as Zakes Mda’s We Shall Sing for the Fatherland and Fugard’s People are Living There … The list is long and varied and I did not quite “get” everything I read, but it was here, during my teens, when the reading bug really sank its teeth in.

During my twenties my addiction got more serious and fearless. I grew my hair pretentiously long and laboured through volumes by the usual suspects: Nietzsche, Engels, Camus, Handke, “The Russians”, Germaine Greer, Bukowski, Conrad, The Beat Poets, Voltaire, Baudelaire, Italo Calvino, the essays of Steve Biko, Umberto Eco, Milan Kundera, my beloved Sam Shepard, the young British upstarts like Hanif Kureishi (who could forget The Buddha of Suburbia?) and Will Self. I still didn’t “get” half of what I was reading, but I didn’t care. The fire inside me was well and truly out of control.

And this is the magic of some books: they wait patiently, sometimes for decades, on shelves, in libraries, in bookshops, in a friend’s shoulder bag or on a lover’s bedside table for us to mature, for us to bring our lives and experiences to them before they give up their timely lessons. It still floors me every time how the same book read years or decades apart can speak to us in such diverse ways.

But all of this is neither here nor there. What we choose to read or not read during our lives, like everything else in life, is entirely down to personal choice. What fires me up is not necessarily going to fire up the next person, and vice versa. I’ve tried reading fantasy novels and sci-fi epics but they never really lured me in. I’ve even tried to get through a Mills & Boon or two in my time, a few Jeffrey Archers, etc, but I never really liked their words. Some people do not want or need to be “confronted” by or reminded of the darkness in the world when they choose a book to read. They simply want to go on a holiday when they open a book, solve a murder or be entertained. Fair enough.

As for my confused middle-aged self, well, I need books that can illuminate life for me on some level. Whether it is in the form of a novel, a collection of essays or poetry or a biography is immaterial. It is hard to explain, but I simply want the words I read to come directly out of a writer’s life experience. I want to be able to feel the words blow through me like bullets and somehow to feel changed or altered by the experience – and perhaps not so alone. This is probably why I have developed an obsession with contemporary writers such as James Salter, Jeanette Winterson, Roberto Bolaño, Kazuo Ishiguru, Don DeLillo, Damon Galgut, Michael Ondaatje, Antjie Krog, James Baldwin, Updike, Philip Roth, Rodney Hall and my numero uno literary hero, Cormac McCarthy. They, among countless other contemporary writers, have a talent for diving deep below the surface of life to places where fish are blind. This is where I personally need to swim.

What’s your favourite line from a book, play or poem?

So then, what is my favourite line or passage from a book? If pressed I’ll have to go for the poignant final paragraphs of A Month in the Country by JL Carr:

We can ask and ask but we can’t have again what once seemed ours forever – the way things looked, that church alone in the fields, a bed on a belfry floor, a remembered voice, the touch of a hand, a loved face. They’ve gone and you can only wait for the pain to pass. […] So, in memory, it stays as I left it, a sealed room furnished by the past, airless, still, ink long dry on a put-down pen.

But this is something I knew nothing of as I closed the gate and set off across the meadow.

I realise many of the books and writers I mentioned are not everybody’s cup of tea. Indeed, I would argue they are cups of strong coffee. And “strong coffee” is exactly what I need from a book because I am a dreamer – and although the chances are pretty slim I hope to wake up before I close the gate and set off across the meadow.

#63 In love with books – Michiel Heyns

April 20, 2011 in Sonder kategorie

What made you fall in love with books – and how did it happen?
 
What made me fall in love with books? I think I was looking for something to fall in love with, and books were the most available objects of desire. I spent my afternoons in the library, first in Kimberley and then in Grahamstown, oases of vicarious experience in two fairly featureless cities (and I was lucky, in that both cities, thanks to their colonial past, had excellent libraries – not just shelves with books, but reading rooms with leather armchairs and fireplaces). I pride myself on having discovered James Bond in the Kimberley library before everyone was reading him; on discovering for myself The Catcher in the Rye in the Grahamstown library before I knew it was a cult classic; and on somewhat precociously stumbling upon Tennessee Williams in the drama shelves after I’d exhausted, or so I thought, the fiction shelves. I suspect I may be one of the few readers who enjoyed Enid Blyton and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at the same time. Between the two of them they have a lot to answer for.

What’s your favourite line from a book, play or poem?

Chaucer three times uses the line “Pitee renneth soone in gentil herte”, with varying degrees of irony. Gentil here means “noble”, and would in the first place have referred to the kind of conduct expected (not always successfully) from noble men and women. It may have been wishful thinking: given the power that noblemen had in the Middle Ages, pity was the only check on the wholesale carnage they were capable of. Nowadays, the line would just mean that soft-hearted people are easily inclined to pity; a bit more self-evidently true than in Chaucer’s day.

For compactness I have not come across anything to rival this line from Thackeray’s Vanity Fair, at the conclusion of the Battle of Waterloo: “Darkness came down on the field and the city; and Amelia was praying for George, who was lying on his face, dead, with a bullet through his heart.”

#62 In love with books – Lauren Beukes

April 20, 2011 in Sonder kategorie

What made you fall in love with books – and how did it happen?
 
No matter how many times I opened and closed my damn wardrobe as a kid, it never opened on to the magical snow-filled kingdom I felt I’d been promised by that rat bastard CS Lewis. My fragile young hopes crushed (at least until I was old enough to go to NASA for astronaut training or stumbled on a wormhole through time in some ancient temple I would discover as intrepid archaeology adventurer) I travelled to other worlds the only way I knew how. Books were the doorway then and now – not just to other places, but into other people’s heads. Story is everything. It’s how we make sense of the world – and how we unravel it.

What’s your favourite line from a book, play or poem?

I really don’t have a favourite line. I don’t remember lines.

I can tell you my favourite moment in a story?

In the final panels of Watchmen (the graphic novel) where everything clicks into place, including the bizarre pirate horror comic, and it’s the most devastating and provocative ending you never saw coming.

#61 In love with books – Dawn Garisch

April 20, 2011 in Sonder kategorie

What made you fall in love with books – and how did it happen?

Art and the Truth

It was not until (man) had learnt something about the facts of climate and the seasons … that he could know how to use these to his own advantage and avoid being destroyed by them. But there were not only external facts he had to know. There were internal facts, facts of his own impulses and conflicting desires, and it was here that the poet was the pioneer  … often, by not realising the nature and strength of their own desires, men have been wrecked by them.

I am a doctor by default, passively following my sister into medicine because my family decided that it was the best thing for me to do. I do not regret this. It is a real job, where there is plenty of opportunity to make interventions that help others. It is also a privilege, in that you are invited into the lives of strangers, and get to hear their stories. Medicine has also allowed me an economic freedom that many people do not have. I have worked part-time for twenty-five years, giving me the space to bring up my kids and to pursue my passion.

My first love was always the written word – books opened their arms to me, offering me shelter, a haven, a place to discover a new way of thinking and being. At a young age I read books that my parents tried to hide from me, like The Old Man and The Sea, and stumbled upon authors at the library, like Krishnamurti, and realised that not everyone construed the world the way my parents did.

Later I read Nexus and understood that to be a good writer one has to be able to write from the position of the anti-hero. On reading the Martha Quest novels I woke up to my own body through Doris Lessing’s powerful writing.

I wanted to be close to books, to the smell of libraries, with their rows of closed stories waiting with folded arms for me to reach out and take a volume, and open it, and thereby open myself.

If I had had the courage of my passion, I might have become a librarian, or a copywriter, when I left school. I am so pleased that life had other plans for me. Through doing medicine I have had to work hard with this split between art and science. I have had to heal myself. Becoming a doctor prepared me to write this book.

Extract from forthcoming non-fiction work: Words and Flesh, Travels in the Eloquent Body, about art, science and the truth, publisher: Modjaji Books.

Milner, Marion. An Experiment in Leisure. Virago Press Ltd. 1986. Pp 133–4.

#60 In love with books – Ian Roberts

April 20, 2011 in Sonder kategorie

What made you fall in love with books – and how did it happen?

When you ask me “What do books mean to you?” that’s almost like asking me “What does life mean to you?” The whole issue is immeasurably vast, as books have been such an important part of my life. I have been deeply affected by different books which I have read at vital stages of my life. From John Fowles’s The Magus to so many others I can’t even begin to speak of. If I ever have a day to myself, I decide to take the whole day off to read. I still remember the wonderful experience when I first went to university and realised, as I walked into the library, that this was my sole purpose at this place: to read. It was the most enlightening feeling I’ve ever had.

What’s your favourite line from a book, play or poem?

The lines I’ve chosen come from William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Shakespeare was beyond a genius. He saw human behaviour from above the goalposts, from way up there, almost as if alongside a deity. Viva to all those writers who attempt to shed light on us so that we can see more clearly, if only for a little while. This passage is about the human condition, of creating illusions and living them out. It is the most brilliant piece of dialogue and goes with me everywhere to detox delusion. This passage comes straight after Mercutio’s rant about Queen Mab. Romeo answers him and says:

Romeo: Peace, peace, Mercutio, peace!
Thou talk’st of nothing.

Mercutio: True, I talk of dreams,
Which are the children of an idle brain,
Begot of nothing but vain fantasy,
Which is as thin of substance as the air
And more inconstant than the wind, who wooes
Even now the frozen bosom of the north,
And, being anger’d, puffs away from thence,
Turning his face to the dew-dropping south.

#59 In love with books – Michelle Botes

April 20, 2011 in Sonder kategorie

What made you fall in love with books – and how did it happen?

I fell in love with books at the age of seven – for me they bridged the gap between earth and the sky – and the discovery that I could be in another time and reality while negotiating this life had me ecstatic! To this day books can do that – favourite authors become my mentors, shaping my life, feeding my humour and curiosity and giving  me total freedom to explore.

What’s your favourite line from a book, play or poem?

“The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are” (Joseph Campbell).   

And concepts:

Carrie Fisher’s idea of “wanting to fumigate my DNA” and realising that for some “It is a long walk from the innermost soul to the public persona.”
 
The concept of “archetypes” thanks to Carl Jung  and Carolyn Myss.

And the essence of being a woman as experienced and shared by Leslie Kenton and Clarissa Pinkola Estes.

And Mark Russell: “The scientific theory I like best is that the rings of Saturn are composed entirely of lost airline luggage.”

And not forgetting the dictionary: “‘Authentic’ … it describes a woman who ‘acts independently’ and is ‘author of her own destiny.’”

#58 In love with books – Colleen Higgs

April 20, 2011 in Sonder kategorie

What made you fall in love with books – and how did it happen?

I love books and reading, I can’t say how this passion and abiding love started, but it is as though I was born with it.

Two memories:

My mother lying on her bed reading, and when I ask her something, she doesn’t answer. Only if I persist, raise my voice, she eventually comes back from where she is and looks at me as though she has to work out who she is talking to. “What? What do you want?” I repeat my question.

The library in Maseru is a small house with wooden floors. Behind the librarian’s desk to her left is the children’s library, one room. The shelves reach higher up than I can reach. Even when I stand on the small wooden step box I can’t reach the highest shelves. I pull books out of the shelves and sit on the floor and read. The librarian comes in. “The library will be closing in five minutes. Come along dear.”

What’s your favourite line from a book, play or poem?

Here is one tiny bit from a long poem by Anne Carson called “The Glass Essay” (Carson’s love of Emily Brontë is a central thread in the poem):

… My mother speaks suddenly.
That psychotherapy’s not doing you much good is it?
You aren’t getting over him.

My mother has a way of summing things up.
She never liked Law much
but she liked the idea of me having a man and getting on with life.

Well he’s a taker and you’re a giver I hope it works out,
was all she said after she met him.
Give and take were just words to me

at the time. I had not been in love before.
It was like a wheel rolling downhill.
But early this morning while mother slept

and I was downstairs reading the part in Wuthering Heights
where Heathcliff clings at the lattice in the storm sobbing
Come in! Come in! to the ghost of his heart’s darling,

I fell on my knees on the rug and sobbed too.
She knows how to hang puppies,
that Emily.
It isn’t like taking an aspirin you know, I answer feebly.
Dr Haw says grief is a long process.
She frowns. What does it accomplish

all that raking up the past?
Oh – I spread my hands –
I prevail! I look her in the eye. She grins. Yes you do.

#58 In love with books – Colleen Higgs

April 20, 2011 in Sonder kategorie

What made you fall in love with books – and how did it happen?

I love books and reading, I can’t say how this passion and abiding love started, but it is as though I was born with it.

Two memories:

My mother lying on her bed reading, and when I ask her something, she doesn’t answer. Only if I persist, raise my voice, she eventually comes back from where she is and looks at me as though she has to work out who she is talking to. “What? What do you want?” I repeat my question.

The library in Maseru is a small house with wooden floors. Behind the librarian’s desk to her left is the children’s library, one room. The shelves reach higher up than I can reach. Even when I stand on the small wooden step box I can’t reach the highest shelves. I pull books out of the shelves and sit on the floor and read. The librarian comes in. “The library will be closing in five minutes. Come along dear.”

What’s your favourite line from a book, play or poem?

Here is one tiny bit from a long poem by Anne Carson called “The Glass Essay” (Carson’s love of Emily Brontë is a central thread in the poem):

… My mother speaks suddenly.
That psychotherapy’s not doing you much good is it?
You aren’t getting over him.

My mother has a way of summing things up.
She never liked Law much
but she liked the idea of me having a man and getting on with life.

Well he’s a taker and you’re a giver I hope it works out,
was all she said after she met him.
Give and take were just words to me

at the time. I had not been in love before.
It was like a wheel rolling downhill.
But early this morning while mother slept

and I was downstairs reading the part in Wuthering Heights
where Heathcliff clings at the lattice in the storm sobbing
Come in! Come in! to the ghost of his heart’s darling,

I fell on my knees on the rug and sobbed too.
She knows how to hang puppies,
that Emily.
It isn’t like taking an aspirin you know, I answer feebly.
Dr Haw says grief is a long process.
She frowns. What does it accomplish

all that raking up the past?
Oh – I spread my hands –
I prevail! I look her in the eye. She grins. Yes you do.

#57 In love with books – Joanne Hichens

April 19, 2011 in Sonder kategorie

What made you fall in love with books – and how did it happen?
 
My name is Joanne Hichens, and I am an addict …

The stage of life I became a book lover is so clear to me that I can’t ignore the truth: I was empty inside. I was small and sad with thick glasses and tight plaits which pulled at my forehead, I sported a perpetual sulk and couldn’t shake a sister I was jealous of. My skin was not a happy place to be in, and inside there was this hole in me, a cavern, a gaping place I needed to fill. This was a time before temporary Tourette’s syndrome or obsessive obnoxious disorder, a time before naughty boys were diagnosed as attention deficit, a time before “depression” was recognised in little girls like me.

Adjusting to living in Ottawa, Canada, having spent my first school years in Pretoria, where I was teacher’s pet and got secret thrills kissing boys on the mouth, was traumatic for me. I remember once my brother came to fetch me from my strange new school in his lime-green Sunbird sports car. Nifty and cute little car. He was sixteen and had just got his driver’s licence. I was, let me see, around nine years old. A small nine. A runty nine. An anxious nine, and he’d come to fetch me because I had a migraine headache. That says something, doesn’t it? To be suffering like a woman before even hitting double digits! I got in the front, and on the way home I held my head out of the window and released my snack, of juice and standard peanut butter sandwich and one fruit, down the side of the passenger door.

Through the heat of blackfly-infested Canadian summers, and the bitter cold of icy, snow-engulfed winters – during which I came to endure summer camp and making paper flowers, and frostbitten toes in ski boots and frozen tears – my mother’s addiction to soap operas was entrenched, and I got hooked on books.

Books gave me a respite from being stuck in my own life. Books. Turning the pages. The smell of them. I craved to be in another’s shoes, in another story. I had found a means to escape – although I don’t think I realised then that I was self-medicating.

Regular as clockwork we as a family would head to the down-town Ottawa library and it was this exposure that I blame. The children’s section of the library was in the basement lit by fluorescent lights. Tripping down the steps and into that protected space was like delving under the covers, reading with a torch. Like being in the womb. Probably the place I wanted to go back to. The place I had left too early as a mewling premature baby. I needed to get out of my real world, a world where I didn’t feel safe, where I didn’t belong. Therapy was not something that (thankfully) happened to children back then, so it had to be something else and so I became a book junkie.

I remain an addict.

Without books – the White Mountains, the Owl Service, the Girl of the Limberlost are a few of the obscure titles I remember from childhood – I’d have been more of a nervous wreck than I was. Today, I’d be a pill-popping vein-injecting junkie. At least immersing myself in stories took the edge off.

Still does.

Especially as the dead of the night looms and I know that as I post-mortem my day for wakeful hours on end – Jesus, I paid five hundred bucks for this kak haircut, and I haven’t paid the rates, and did I wash the school dresses – and my fictional characters start up with their demands – You’re hardly paying attention to me, me, me! – the night in my head will be fraught. I either need a good book, or I need a sleeping pill. (No contest. Sleeping pill wins every time! Ha, ha! I’m joking! Or am I?)

I pick up a book at night and read a few pages – at least I hope it is that many – and before I know it I am comatose. This is the power of reading. I wake up at two am, or three sometimes, with fur on my teeth and the bedside light still on. Both I and the ball ‘n chain better known as Bob are lying with mouths agape, our books dropped from our hands. I confess. I can’t get to sleep without turning a few pages of a book. What I absorb from those pages is another matter.

What’s your favourite line from a book?

As far as a memorable line is concerned? Too many to remember, and anyway, my brain is a sieve. But the feeling that reading provides above escape and exhilaration? Relief.