Travelling with book characters
I was inspired by Harriet Minter’s “Your journey begins at home” in the April issue. It took me back to a time when one of my friends enviously told me I should be making the most of my passport as I do not require visa to most countries and because I do not travel enough. My response to that was actually I do travel just differently, from the comfort of my bed and sometimes my sofa or a nearby coffee/book shop.
Nothing makes me happier than sitting comfortably reading. Whatever is on my mind disappears as soon as I open a book. I don’t have the luxury of globetrotting everywhere I please. However, I can say I’ve been to places, journeys with various characters from the books that I have read so far, and that list is relatively long and counting. My love for reading began at age seven if I remember correctly. I was made fun of prior to turning seven because I could not read properly in class. After school no one was interested in reading to or try to teach me. I did not grow up with parents/family reading to children. I took it upon myself to learn how to read!
I began reading street names/signs, then different names of businesses advertised on my way to and from school in Accra/Ghana. My school, although private did not have a library and the book collections (mainly Disney fairy tales) were in a pile in the headmistress’s office where I could sign out a maximum of three books at a time. Within two weeks or so I had managed to read half the pile and the headmistress became curious and asked me to review each book, a lesson in English comprehension in my opinion. My family then moved to Norway when I was about ten years old and that cultural shock was very challenging not to mention learning to speak and to read Norwegian. I found myself reading anything (mainly fiction) that I could find in English to the point where the librarians at this new Norwegian school would reserve all the new English books for me. If I was not interested, they would then put them on the shelves. Throughout the years, reading became my escape from reality. I was able to shy away from everything and everyone to travel with the book characters. Judy Blume’s Forever taught me about things I could not openly speak to the adults around me as did the women’s magazine Cosmopolitan. I chose English literature as an elective subject in secondary school and I came to know about Shakespeare, the Bronte sisters, Tom Hardy, Alfred Lord Tennyson and many others. One book in particular namely Angela’s ashes by Frank McCourt became a favourite. I think I was the only one in that class who read the book twice before it was due for review. I remember laughing out so loudly people would turn around and then crying silently hoping nobody would notice. The bittersweet memoirs of growing up in Limerick, Ireland as told by the young McCourt resonated with me in many ways. The book depicts the enchanting Irish countryside, the embarrassment of having an alcoholic father and having to beg charity for food, sometimes even steal so the family could survive all told from a child’s perspective was disheartening but also takes the reader on a journey where family was the centre despite the harsh circumstances endured. I began looking for other books set in different countries, so I could learn without having to travel. I’d be in rural Afghanistan and Kabul thanks to Khaled Hosseini’s a Thousand Splendid Suns & The Kite Runner one week then off to Shanghai/China by Tony Parson’s My favourite wife the next. I found gems from the universe in North African markets/Sahara with the Alchemist by Paulo Coelho for two weeks and then off to colourful India thanks to Arundhati Roy’s The God of small things and Julia Gregson’s East of The Sun. I allowed myself to travel, through the eyes of the book characters, some journeys were thought provoking, tearful and others triumphant.
I do know that one of these days, surely, I’ll find the luxury and my feet will be more than ready to carry me to experience first- hand what my mind already knows. I like to think that I know a little about everything, as a forever student I am open to learning. Anyway, I hope that I will be able to travel by the end of this year. First stop is to Marrakesh or to the ancient Jordanian city of Petra, who knows? Until then, I intend to enjoy travelling the way I know how to.
Photo credit: Dreamstime.com