Friday, August 20, 2004

Reading with dad

The sun shines in through the window, through the mandarin-coloured voile curtain, bathing the room in warm, orange light. Dad is lying in his favourite chair, his feet up, engrossed in a novel. I am on the sofa, with a few pillows stacked behind my back. The room is quiet except the occasional buzz of a fly hitting the window pane. Once in a while a car rumbles by over the cobblestone street outside, otherwise all you hear is the crazy dog across the street barking, and birds in the chestnut tree outside. Suddenly Dad bursts out laughing. "What is it?" I ask, curiously. Dad has to get his giggles under control first. Then he starts reading me a passage from his novel that makes me snort my coffee through my nose.

“The Normington’s dog, doubtlessly aroused by the royal t-shirt,
developed a sudden passion for Tom’s left leg and was determined to violate it.
For a while, Tom ignored the humping under the table and just threw terrified
glances in my direction, which I accredited to the dinner party or the goulash
that had just been served to us; but finally, he’d had it. He got up and,
visible for everyone present, raised his leg – to which the dog was still
attached, humping the air.

Wendy Normington went into high gear. With a high-pitched scream she
jumped on the dog and forced the poor animal to a coitus interruptus by tearing
it off Tom’s leg and throwing it (still with a boner) out the door."

(from Cassandra Brooke's "All my worldly goods", sorry for the bumpy translation)

Things go quiet again. Once in a while you hear the papery rustle of a page being turned. I love those moments. They are old, and eternal. Dad has always done that, as long as I can remember. And as isolated in our own little worlds, as it sounds, it bonded us. It is something we share, we let the other one have a part in it. We are a family of bookworms. My grandpa, my grandma, dad.
I dunno from whom I got my writing madness. Grandpa, possibly. He has written books. I didn't even know that until recently. My great grandma (who is my grandma's mom, so I got it from both sides of the fam). But the reading, that was unavoidable. Dad got me my first library card when I was 6, and I have always read about 5 books at the same time. My teacher told me off in the reading class in elementary school because I had finished the story we were on early and had secretly moved on to other stories further on in the book. I’d read many of my parents’ books by the time I was 12. I’m still addicted to books today. I spend way too much money on them. I am absolutely buggered if I want to move again, cause I’ll have a van-load of books to move. I want to extend my life by 100 years and my day by 24 hours just so I can read more books. Hell, I bet you have never met such an uber-nerd as me.

A few months ago, we had a masterclass, in which our school's headmonkey interviewed Anthony Minghella, the director of "The English Patient", "The Talented Mr Ripley" and "Cold Mountain". And Anthony said something about reading that made me want to holler AMEN. He said, reading is a cinematographic experience – because if we had to explain to an alien the experience of reading, something which it sees only as us weird creatures staring at an object with hieroglyphs all over it, we’d have to say that somehow we absorb it, magically transform it into an inner adventure, things, images, stories, worlds you see with your inner eye. There is something magic about reading. Writing is a bit like playing God then. You create a new world. Reading is a lot like a religious experience. You learn without making the experience. You live without living in real life. You have adventures without ever setting a foot outside the door. In many respects, I found reading more enriching than the mediocre life I had, and it has saved me from losing my dreams.

I never understood people who hate reading. When I was little and my parents read to me, I could never get enough. Mom said, "One day you can read your own books. That's much more fun anyway." And boy, was she right. How can one miss out on that experience??
And there is more… reading changes you. Some experiences you don’t need to make firsthand to actually have them impact you.

Thinking of that, I remember when Bob noticed my morbidity. We were talking about Patricia Highsmith and her short story “The Terrapin” which terrified me. We had tortoises at the time, and I saw Gretel’s face in the place of the terrapin’s, her big black eyes and kind face, and it tore my heart out. But really, I think Patricia Highsmith is an amazing writer. I love her animal lover’s murder stories. But if you read that stuff when you are about 11, then it can truly turn you gaga.

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