First published March 17, 2009 in IslamOnline.net’s Art & Culture section as an introductory article to a column titled “I’ve Been Reading Lately”.
I have a confession to make. I am a shameless, incorrigible, incurable bookworm. Actually, come to think of it, “worm” is a misnomer. I am really more of a monster than a worm. I mean, how can a tiny worm have my appetite for books?
If you were to put me on a deserted island and tell me that I can take food, drink, or books with me, I would choose books, hands down. I can eat sand. I can collect rainwater and drink that. If push comes to shove, I will even eat the books — after I have read them at least twice, of course.
Ever since I was a child, I used to hide in my room, pretending to be asleep, just to have a few hours of peaceful reading, away from the hustle and bustle of normal family life. My family used to think I slept so much that they started calling me “The Big Coma”. I endured that nickname for the sake of my reading.
My exasperated mother would tell me to please stop reading and do my homework. My teenaged self used to think she should consider herself lucky that my addiction was to books, rather than something else.
In university, I decided to major in literature because I loved books. Earlier in school, I decided that I wanted to become a writer because books gave me such absolute pleasure and satisfaction that nothing else could.
I am the kind of person who prefers to read the book rather than watch the movie. My idea of a perfect holiday would be to have an unlimited number of good books and the time and leisure to read them, no interruptions, please. I have spent entire weekends in my room, reading as much as I can, to make up for the days when I come home from work so tired I can barely keep my eyes open.
I can not resist bookstores. I am generally good at saving money, figuring out a monthly budget and sticking to it. But woe be it to the carefully planned budget should I ever step into a bookstore. I just cannot browse through all those delicious stacks of books and then turn my back to them and walk away. How cruel would that be? Those books are calling out, pleading, simply begging me to read them.
Later at home, I cannot stop myself from lovingly exploring each book I bought, savoring its cover, the fonts for the title and author, reading all the blurbs written on the back, the front, the flaps, and, yes, I admit, even smelling the paper.
When I read, the world of the book I am reading — whether it is a novel, or collection of poems or short stories, or even a non-fiction book — becomes more real to me than my own world. I cry unabashedly at the trials and tribulations of the characters, hiding my tears from my skeptical family. Some secret part of me does not really believe that fictional characters are not real.
I love big, fat books, because deep down inside, I wish all books would never end. When I finish reading a book, I feel this deep panicky sadness, as if I have just said goodbye to friends and family, and boarded a plane to some unknown destination.
Nicholas Basbanes, who wrote extensively about books and book lovers, aptly calls people like me “gently mad”, and it was only when I discovered this that I started to think of myself as not being alone in my madness.
A ray of light shone through all this madness when, one bright sunny day, my exasperated boss (almost everyone I know is exasperated by my “condition”) called me into his office to discuss my contract. I was explaining to him some changes I had suggested regarding the details of some of my tasks, when he (bless his soul) said, “Marwa, you read so much, why on earth don’t you write something about what you read?”
I think I heard bells ringing and birds singing. I almost expected a shower of flowers to rain down on me.
To cut a long, (gently) mad story short, I am starting a monthly column in which I write about what I have been reading that month. However, curious soul that I am, I would also like you to share with me and the rest of IOL’s visitors what you have been reading lately.
While you can expect my first article sometime around the end of this month, I would love to hear from all of you as soon as you finish reading this…