#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.

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