The first book I ever owned was Hans Christian Andersen’s Emperor and the Nightingale ; I would have been about 5 or 6 years old and I remember the exact moment my white-haired great-aunt handed it to me saying, ‘I heard you like to read’, and the awe and sense of wonderment with which I examined the front and then the back of the brightly colored book before gently opening it.
My love for books and the stories held therein, was thus born early and I spent half my childhood with my nose stuck in a book. (The other half I spent rioting; I was a tom-boy, and classroom monitors learned quickly that the best way to get me to pipe down and stop making trouble was to give me a book – there were times I acted up intentionally, just to get that precious book in my hands.)
I remember vividly now the sense of desolation and deep disappointment I felt when a class teacher confiscated by beautiful Black Beauty, crying through a version of Tom Sawyer, stumbling over the word ‘cosy’ in an Enid Blyton (where else would you find such a comforting word!) and trying desperately to understand what was going on in Richmal Crompton’s William when I was less than 10 and far too young to read William, although I was such a fan of that terrible boy.
I couldn’t eat without a book, I couldn’t poop without smuggling a book to the bathroom with me, and I stayed up nights reading furtively in the light that filtered into the dark room of my childhood. But none of these achievement are out of the ordinary to the truly passionate child reader; young and impressionable, our imaginations are set afire by the stories painted with words and we escape time and time again into worlds of own and the authors making.
I don’t know what exactly happens when we get older, but the way in which we are impacted by a book is much less – or, at the very least, this fact is true in my case. As a child I would and could remember sentence-for-sentence, dialogues that took place within the holy confines of a story, and could recall the smallest detail with little to no prompting. But now, no sooner than I have put down a book and picked up the next I have forgotten the plot of the first beyond the most basic sketch.
And no, this is not because I read boring books now, coz I don’t. It’s just how it is. I read George Orwell’s Keep the Aspidatra Flying some years back and I remember distinctly that it impacted me deeply at that point, and yet, today, I don’t remember what it was about, save it had something to do with tenacity, and a plant that grows everywhere. The same can be said of Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle that I read a few months ago – I loved it from the word go, but if someone were to ask me what took place in the book, I would be like errr, for a while.
(I’m still errrr..ing btw)
So, what happened then; are we no longer impacted by stories in a meaningful way? Or is this just me?