I don’t remember when it was that I started reading. I don’t mean putting words together and forming sentences.
No. I mean enjoying it. Reading short stories, poetry, and whole books.
I think that I must have been 10 years old or so.
I don’t even know why or how it started. All I remember is that from the get go I enjoyed reading. And I suspect that in the beginning I enjoyed it because I was reading mostly Mills & Boom, Sabrina, Bianca and the likes.
In school at that time there was very little required reading. We were not expected or required to read any major literary works back then.
Later on, when I was in high school, things shifted a little. By then, Shakespeare and Harper Lee became obligatory reading. Tennessee Williams and Scott Fitz Gerald became part of the curriculum.
Of course it didn’t help that I was still learning English at the time and that I ended up underlining most of the words and I would have to stop every five seconds to look them up in the dictionary.
Nevertheless, I was reading and learning and a whole new world started opening up to me.
To say that I was overwhelmed by all of that is an under statement. It was challenging and it was wonderful all at the same time.
You see when you read, something extraordinary happens. The world opens up to you. And by that I don’t mean that you travel the world without having to move physically anywhere, even though that can happen.
I mean literally!
Reading changes you. It challenges you.
You learn to experience the world differently.
Reading is empowering because even though it might not seem obvious to some people, when done properly it gives you tools to survive in this world. It gives you empathy. You gain perspective and so much. So much more!
Then I got to University. The reading paid off.
Apparently it paid off because at the humanities faculty registration day they told me that with the points I had I could pick and choose anything that I wanted. I could study whatever pleased me.
And I obliged. I picked all the things that had always fascinated me. English Literature — of course, Classics (Ancient Greek, Roman and African civilizations), philosophy, a bit of history, linguistics, media and society, huff!
When people would stop me on campus and ask what I was doing, they looked surprised and then they would ask:
So you read Shakespeare and stuff? And I would say:
Yes, but not right now.
Right now it’s earlier than that. I am reading Chaucer, which I am not even sure resembles English in any way.
And that is what I did. I read many subjects but I read English in particular.
Then, during my third year at UCT a professor walked into the lecture room and told us that we had never been taught how to read.
There we were, Senior University Students, English students at that and he told us to our faces that we had never been taught how to read.
That struck me. But it did not offend me. It intrigued me, and at that moment I decided to take one of his courses and I signed up soon after class was over.
It was in his seminars that I learned over again what it was, what it meant to read English in particular, and how to read any piece of literary work in general.
That was a very important time for me.
It was also while at University, during a philosophy course, that I was told that I should take time to think. To really start thinking analytically and that it would require work and effort and lots and lots of practice.
Was it ever easy? It sure seemed like it from the outside. But it was not. At least not for me.
Reading takes time, it takes care and patience and it is very solitary. You see reading is an act that you partake in and it is active not passive, and it is work. A different kind of work. the kind that is very hard for people on the outside to measure and to comprehend but it is hard and serious work. It takes time, patience, dedication and constant practice.
Hours and hours by yourself. And it was not like I was back to reading “easy” reading. Some of it was fairly easy but most of it was not. It was intense and time consuming and draining.
How much reading you might ask. A lot of reading. And as time went by, the prescribed reading only increased. The reading for research too. Not to mention all the reading that was assumed that we had already done. It was overwhelming! And as the years progressed the amount of reading only increased.
When people say to me that we have probably read the same amount of books
I am quick to say;
We probably have not.
I say that not because I want to make myself look better. But because it’s probably true.
And you should not feel offended because I don’t know as much about finances as my friends who studied it and no one ever dares to say to a doctor or and engeneer that they probably know as much about medicine or engineering as them.
I also have the people who tell me they don’t keep their books. That they like to give them away, that they don’t see the point of keeping a library. That it seems more ostentatious and show off than anything else.
These are probably different kind of people. They studied something else. And their interests lie elsewhere.
I have people who walk into my house, look at my book shelves and ask if we have read all of those books. I have read most but not all and there are many more that I should have read by now and many more that I will still have to read.
So then they ask if these are books that we really read or if they are there just to show off.
I read them!
You see; As a student of literature, history and philosophy. You never stop learning. You never stop reading.
And the reading is a back and forth process.
You have to go back to books that you have read in the past. For research, to read them anew and therefore understand it differently now that you are 33 from when you were 21 and life was different, your experiences or lack thereof were different.
The kind of reading that I do can be boring, extremely draining and time consuming.
I read in order to write and I read because I want to be better, do better. I read because it is active work. I read to keep myself in check. Because I like watching TV and Youtube and that is way too passive.
But I wonder and I feel guilty sometimes. All those hours locked up in my room or in my study, mostly reading and thinking. Because writing is faster. It does not take me that long to write.
It takes me a long time to start writing. Because of all the reading and thinking that I have to do before I can sit down to write.
And editing. That can take a long time as well.
Still I feel guilty about it because I am made to fell that it is pointless sometimes, especially when you think about world hunger and the ever lower oil prices, to spend so much time locked up writing and reading can seem a waist of time.
But it is important. And I have to keep reminding myself that it is as important as anything else and that it matters and that is why I choose to do it. And that is why I make myself do it.
I do not read as much as I should or as much as I would like. I should definitely be reading much more than I do and as a consequence I should be writing more than I currently do.
I realize that it takes time and discipline, but no matter how much or how little I do read or write at any one point…
Reading and writing, have been and will continue to be a very important and integral part of my being. And that is the one thing I want to pass on to people:
If you can, and if you care please read. You do not have to make it all of your life but make it part of your life and please do read as much and as often as you can. And to all of the people out there that resemble me in any way. To all the readers out there that feel like reading is their thing and want to read more, want to learn more, want to share what they read with other people;
Please take my advice and know that you can be a writer, a professor, a researcher, a journalist, a historian, a philosopher, a lawyer …. even a blogger when reading is the starting point. So keep reading!