My boyfriend is getting annoyed. Every week I bring home more books to add to the ever expanding piles and every week he sighs. We both know that I’ll never have the time to read them before I buy more but I can’t stop. It’s not quite an addiction, though there is comfort in having stacks of unread (and potentially unreadable) material around, a hangover from childhood.
I grew up in a household where books were everywhere. I thought my sister had terrible bowel issues until I realised that she was spending half an hour just reading on the toilet. Thank goodness we were blessed with two loos. Equally stocked with daft, easily digestible publications about awful mothers-in-law, sex, old people sex (as a young and impressionable child, being told that an erection is “just a knee” confused me for quite some time) and other witty repartee, I couldn’t escape reading. Not that I wanted to.
I taught myself to read because I was jealous of my sister in the bunk bed above me being so independent in her nightly routine. Puddle Lane began my love affair (I still have a soft spot for them) before I moved on to more serious stuff. Mum took us to the library regularly, we went to authors’ talks and had books signed, and we adored going to bed because it meant time devoted to stories. By the time I started school I was way ahead of things, looking forward to the termly book fairs (having saved my pocket money specially) and I had a bookcase all of my own. (I recently cleared out said bookcase and kept a few favourites with which I couldn’t bear to part: The Gollywhopper Egg by Anne Randall, Jam by Margaret Mahy and Dilly the Dinosaur by Tony Bradman, whose 150-mile-per-hour super scream spoke to me on so many levels!)
I eventually graduated to teen fiction where I discovered Adrian Mole. At thirteen, I didn’t understand the nuances, subtleties and satire of Townsend’s writing and took it at face value. I still loved it. I read those diaries over and over, ignoring other books but still accumulating them, attempted to write my own journal (my propensity for laziness winning, the journal forlorn and left to gather dust under my bed) and fell in love with the speccy, spotty, geeky antihero. I devoured every Mole related writing, eventually understanding the true wit and sarcastic genius of the author. I cried when she died and I wept at the end of the final chapter of the last Mole book.
My sister discovered fantasy, retreating into a world that was not her own. Pratchett’s Discworld, Eddings’ Redwall and others gave her comfort. They still do. Her three-bedroomed house has two libraries, her sprawling, ever expanding collection taking over. Mother has always preferred literary fiction and enjoys her monthly book club while father leans towards naval history; well-thumbed Patrick O’Briens can be found in most rooms. My parents are proud of how many books they own and why shouldn’t they be? Each opens a door to fire the imagination, challenge the norms, give meaning to life, expand the mind and increase the vocabulary.
Meanwhile, back in New Zealand, mountains of meaning lie jumbled on my bedroom floor. Classics that I’ve been meaning to get around to all my life, epics that require effort, poetry to aid and inspire my own, modern books whose covers sang to me (I know, I know) and more just waiting for the right time. And, no doubt, others will be added before a single one of them is opened. But, that’s how I like it, even if my boyfriend doesn’t.