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Saturday, December 07, 2013

The Reading Life: Agreeing with Neil Gaiman

Reading Neil Gaiman’s lecture on “Why our future depends on libraries, reading and daydreaming” just wanted me to write about my life as a reader. There’s something to be said about a life-long romance with books - worth it. And yes, there’s a future with it too….

Bookworm by Via, source: was not a prodigious reader. When I did start however, it was with a passionate hunger that I readily "devoured" whatever texts I could find. By my mother's account, I started to read books well before I even knew how to syllabicate. I would get my sister's kindergarten textbooks with the most pictures and text, and proceed to mimic reading to myself a story which my mother thought was real, until she saw that the book was turned upside down. 

When I learned to read, there was nothing that I would not read - flyers, newspapers, books, signage... name it. I would not rest until I've finished a book, even if done under the covers in the dimmest light when everyone else in the house is fast asleep. Before I turned seven, I began reading my father's daily newspaper tabloid. At first this was okay, until my father realized I was reading it from cover to cover. From then on, I always found the tabloid with missing pages. ;)

I really grew up reading. It was my first love and so far, has been most enduring. Ever since I can remember, I have always preferred the company of books over kids my age, spending happy productive hours in libraries. It was no surprise then when, by some twist of fate, I finished a library science degree, instead of my more obvious choices of computer science or journalism. However, since becoming an academic librarian five years ago, reading books for my own pleasure has been a kind of luxury. I read a lot, true, but the freedom to just curl up with a book in a comfortable, quiet corner somewhere and read to my heart's content was not there anymore. I've only returned to the habit these last five months, driven by my need for a refuge from the chaos of my own thoughts and feelings.

Gaiman called it "escapism", a term often seen as negative but which he justifies as a need to open a door to somewhere you are in control; books being something that "can also give you knowledge about the world and your predicament, give you weapons, give you armour: real things you can take back into your prison. Skills and knowledge and tools you can use to escape for real."

More than an escape, my renewed love affair with books has been a refuge. More importantly, it has been a renewal and a rediscovery. As I fought to reclaim my independence and my self-esteem, the wisdom of mentors who I sought came alive in the pages and affirmed me of what I already know - that answers readily await those who seek it out; that education is in one's own hands; that the boundaries of one's world is only limited by what one can imagine; that there is actually no box to break out from. Life is just a wide open blank space brimming with a million possibilities.

I have never yet read any of Neil Gaiman's books (yet count Coraline and Stardust as among my favorite movies) but with the things he has said in this lecture, he is now officially among my most favorite authors. I love how he has connected a love for reading fiction in developing a creative mindset that nurtures both innovation and empathy. I love how he has given a most convincing premise on the enduring importance of literacy, libraries, and librarians especially in this age of information glut.
He wrote that libraries are about freedom. From the confined space that I have found myself months before, diving again into books means taking back the freedom to again widen my
horizons, to teach myself by becoming an empty glass to the ideas found in the pages of books which has serendipitously found their way into my hands. Books like the Art of Possibility, Failing Forward, Have a little Faith, and Letters to a Young Poet all gave me "weapons" to rebuild my life from within and look forward to starting again. A different perspective, a sincere acknowledgement of one's vulnerability, a passionate declaration of one's own truth - these are things that can profoundly impact lives but are not easily accessed through personal interactions where trust takes time to build. Yet in books, these abound and readily awaits every reader.One need only have the courage to inspect one's vulnerabilities, and be open to acknowledging the words, the ideas that really resonate. 

Ours is a very noisy time and it is so easy to get lost in the triteness of things. One need not
crave to be distracted because it is already how our lives have come into being. But for those who longs for a more profound framework, for a deeper meaning, for space and for the quiet that enriches, there is always a perfect book for you.Share on Twitter Read up and let it take you where you need to be.

August Bernadette

kaigachi is a conjugation of the Japanese term "kigaicha" or crazy. It roughly translates as "crazy about something."

"One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light but by making the darkness conscious." - C.Jung

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