At age 40, you don’t expect someone to pick up an Enid Blyton. Surely, I am too old for that?!? But as much as books mean stories, they also mean memories. Memories: lively, painful, colourful, haunting, bittersweet; memories that open the door to a time you feel you’ve left far behind, but is actually just one thought away.
I have memories of being introduced to my first ever library – the collection of books my aunt and my cousins had in their house. Stacked one on top of the other, the books were placed pell-mell in that disorganised, yet loving, manner that most book lovers (and hoarders) are so familiar with.
My first read was an Enid Blyton. Old, dog-eared, and well-thumbed, and you could tell it had passed many loving hands. My aunt entrusted the book to me and sent me off with this stern warning: “Keep the book for as long as you want, but don’t forget to return it when you’re done. And DON’T DESTROY THE BOOK!” – “Ma’am, Yes, Ma’am!”
As adults, we wonder about all the imagination that can be contained within a book, but my childish mind was not encumbered by any such thought. It seemed perfectly natural to me that entire worlds could be contained within a shabby book. With each page I turned, woodlands popped up before my eyes. Fairies pranced around the meadow and sunlight glittered over diamond-like water. What was impossible when you had a book in your hand?
Reading Enid Blyton brings back memories of a picnic I’d organized with my friend. I was so inspired by the way Blyton spoke about food – the delicious things that children would pack into their picnic baskets and set off for a nice sunny spot in the meadow or by a brook – that I decided to do the same. There were just a few hurdles. There were no lush meadows around my house nor a babbling brook with clear waters that chirruping birds would bathe in. My kitchen, fridge and pantry were completely devoid of all the yummy things that the Famous 5 were able to procure. No scones, no freshly baked chocolate cake, no ginger ale, and no ripe peaches or plums!
Not to be defeated by this lack of rations, I slathered a few slices of bread with jam, packed some bananas (the only fruit we seemed to have in abundance) and made a flask of some really watery orange squash. I dragged my friend off to the tiny park near my house and we proceeded to make merry like we had the most delicious spread laid out in front of us. Honestly, it was the best picnic two kids barely knee-high ever had.
I have memories of Sunday mornings when the entire house was sleeping in and I’d wake up early (well, if you can call 10 AM early) clutching the book I’d been reading the night before. I delighted in the thought that didn’t have to get up, brush my teeth or get ready for school. I was free to laze till beyond noon (which was about when the whole house would start stirring) and I chose to celebrate my freedom in the company of friends hiding within the pages of my book. And, curled up on my foldable bed, snug and cozy under a crisp cotton sheet, I’d start reading the moment my eyes were free of eye crispies and goop! And there I’d lie, blissfully undisturbed, devouring story after story on a lazy Sunday morning.
The right book can give you a lot of things, but it also takes things from you – snippets your life, a whiff of your emotions, echoes of your memories – tucking them all away among its pages. Perchance you pick up the book again someday, you will come across these bits of nostalgia, like a long-forgotten bookmark or a pressed flower, bringing forth a merry laugh on your lips or maybe a wistful smile. And you hold the book close to your heart, and, if you make the effort to hear, you’ll hear it sighing softly, a sigh of peace and contentment. Or is that you?