I need to be between the covers when I am between the covers. Which isn’t as ambiguous or as salacious as it sounds. Put in words so simple that even a 5-year-old would get it (another trope I will take up, down this page), I need to read. In bed, bus, waiting room, café, field…
Were I to see a psychiatrist, this is how it would pan out: ‘I have an addictive personality, Doctor,’ I’d say.
‘And how does that make you feel?’ she would say, as all psychologists do.
‘You didn’t ask what I’m addicted to, Doc,’ I whine. ‘Books!’
‘And how does that make you feel?’
‘Starving if there isn’t one around. Semi-conscious during the lockdown when the libraries were shut. Delirious when they reopened.’
‘And how does that …’
‘When I slide in between the covers of a book, mists rise, I’m swept in, unseeing (of the kid chewing on his own shoe), unhearing (of the pressure cooker’s 15 whistles till it collapses), unconscious (of pain, annoying people, the 21 reasons I don’t want to face the world).’
‘And how …’
All of you who recognise your own spells of oblivion. All of you who don’t read will at this point, switch over to TikTok or something that’s simple enough for a 5-year-old.
Please don’t do that to a 5-year-old.
Let’s give our children back their books. Resist their rolling, screeching tantrums for the iPad, wean them off ‘Papa’s phone if you stop crying’. Give them a companion to see them through any lonely spells that will ever hit them, at any point in life.
Meditation, it’s said, takes your mind away from your body. You can sit on a bed of nails if your mind is far away. (Disclaimer: Beds of nails aren’t as easily available as you’d imagine.)
Books are a quicker way to get there. If you’re as addicted as I am, when you slip between the covers, your mind takes off on a jaunt. To the icy Yukon valley, a humid house in Assam, a cactus-lined ride along Route 66, a misty monastery in Kyoto, the remote village of Ndotsheni (and it’s more than a dot on the map).
To actually get your child to get hooked and booked, let them loose on stories that are grand or crazy or kind or funny. Books that will get them yearning to explore the world or their minds. Stories of animals. Of strange beings. Perhaps when you test them on the flags and capitals of countries, they will then teach you how the different people who live all over have the same fears and dreams under their anoraks or abayas, kurtas or kimonos. You will be gifting empathy, kindness and imagination to your youngest. Imagine that. And the gift of never being alone again.
Escaping to anywhere, falling hopelessly in love, reading a line that will make you think for days and stay with you for years. And that’s still not why I read. As anyone in my tribe would tell you, ‘It’s such fun.’ And that, Doc, is how it makes me feel.
– Jane De Suza