Of books and all they bear
One of my first books that I reread often as a child was a children’s reader entitled, Bala on The Moon.
It marked the start of a tradition of Christmas and birthday presents that almost always consisted of at least one book.
It was one of the last gifts I received from both of my parents before my mother passed away shortly after my seventh birthday.
It preordained my lifelong love affair with reading, an obsession with collecting (especially children’s) books, and an unforgiving stance against those who dog ear or break the spines of books!
It marked the start of a journey into an ever-widening, wonderful world of words that I’ve traversed in my chosen path as a writer.
But what was so alluring about the story of a boy astronaut who flies to the moon and collects moon rocks?
For one, the protagonist bore a name that was similar to some of my playmates’. For the benefit of non-Asian readers, Bala is a name – sometimes even the short form of longer names – that is common amongst south Indian males.
Bala looked like me and spoke English like me. This reader was after all produced by the Singapore Ministry of Education, and Singapore like Malaysia, boasted a multicultural makeup in its population.
Besides, I’d always been fascinated by the moon, and growing up in a rubber estate that lay miles away from the town centre back in 1970s Malaysia, the book was an escape from reality to aspire to.
Decades later when I visited NASA in Houston, Texas and had the privilege to touch and feel a real moon rock, I was transported back to the days of reading Bala on the Moon, curled up in a nook under my father’s office desk.
This is but an example of how much a book means to me. It’s not just a story; it’s part of the arc of my life to date.
The works of beloved British author, Enid Blyton, would eventually form the bulk of my childhood reading – and the basis of much of my early imagination. For instance, the Faraway Tree series remains deeply etched in my psyche, and every time I discover a new German forest in which to hike post-COVID, I instinctively seek out trees that could flesh out my vision of the Faraway Tree.
Coincidentally, it was another British author who would eventually get me into the habit of journaling and as a consequence, writing about my life’s experiences.
Sue Townsend’s teenage protagonist, Adrian Mole’s observations and angst spoke to me as an awkward teen who was often at odds with a phase of life where physical, emotional and mental change was a constant. Writing proved cathartic, and remains so today.
Naturally my tastes evolved and expanded in tandem with time, age, mood, and worldview. Historical biographies, dystopian fiction, travel tales, chick lit, murder mysteries, Bridget Jones to Harry Potter and lesser known yet no-less-inspiring protagonists in between.
My recent preference is for stories 'narrated' by animals – be they bears (both polar and brown), battery hens (which I’d read in one sitting through a night while sobbing uncontrollably), foxes, or my favourite, cats.
Last December, I’d read a book called Seven Lives and One Great Love – Memoirs of a Cat by Lena Divani. That story’s ending somewhat presaged, and prepared me for, the passing of my own beloved cat a few days later. I had known her end was near, and reading the fictional memoir of cat and of its goodbye to its humans, helped somewhat dull the pain of losing a four-legged companion of 12 years.
I’ve yet to read any material ‘by dogs’ though, and perhaps there’s a niche for bereavement dog observations from our own Star and Skye who currently provide much needed comfort to those who’ve recently lost loved ones. While it may sound like a laughable idea to some, it may indeed prove therapeutic for others.
I’m convinced that every book I’ve read – even the odd ones I’d forced myself to plough through – contains some lesson or has the potential to ignite new thoughts or views.
Books have at various times provided me with solace, inspiration, escape, and entertainment. Post-COVID 19, they’ve also increasingly become a welcome distraction from distressing, depressing news.
Immersing yourself in a good book could be the perfect antidote to all that you’ve had to abstain from post-pandemic or for which you didn’t have the time prior: travel, food, camaraderie, adventure, discovery, self-awareness.
And just sometimes those story arcs go full circle, like when I thought of Bala on The Moon while touching a real moon rock, and smiling at how life eventually pans out.
*The month of September is designated as "Read A New Book" month. If a new book has made an impact on you, recommend it to us and other readers in the comment section below. We'd love to hear from you!