A Book Review That Became An Essay

A Book Review That Became An Essay

A prelude to a possible series of essays on books and reading. 

I usually have bookmail delivered to my workplace, for there is no better way to break the dreariness of work, and it is always a delight when I see an email from the office mailroom titled “1 Package For You”. One afternoon, I saw one such email popping up in my Inbox and was most perplexed since I was not expecting any packages at all (it was nowhere close to my birthday or Christmas either). As I picked up the ubiquitous Amazon package from the mailroom, I was still trying very hard to remember if I ordered anything lately that I might have forgotten about. To my utter surprise and delight, I opened the package and saw this lovely bound hardback copy of I’d Rather Be Reading: The Delights and Dilemmas of the Reading Life by Anne Bogel. The book’s cover featured a beautiful rendition of a cosy reading spot, which I later discovered is a watercolour painting of Anne Bogel’s home library. Ah, so envious!

The most beautiful thing about this book was that it was a surprise gift from someone who I consider to be my book twin. While not being completely identical, with me being partial to science stuff which she dislikes and her penchant for Christian-fiction which admittedly I’ve never really tried, we are as close to book twins as one can possibly get. And without meeting each other in real life at all. For it is only a book twin who will buy this book for me, with absolute conviction that I will love it.

And I certainly did. I’ve not read as diversely as Anne Bogel did, and I don’t think I ever will.  I am trying to, even though science fiction and fantasy will always be my favourite, making up over half of the stuff I read. Regardless, all her endearing and honest essays resonated true and clear to me. Be it about reading as a child and growing up, or about how rereading old favourites can be daunting as one changes through life, or that overwhelming To Be Read that has more books and titles than we can possibly tackle in my lifetime, and lots more. But there was one in particular which made me most poignant.

My library books come into my house and go out again, leaving behind only memories and a jotted in a journal (if I’m lucky). I long for a list that captures these ephemeral reads – all the books I’ve borrowed in a lifetime of reading, from last week’s armful spanning back to when I was a seven-year old kid with my first library card.

I yearned to remember and relive the days when I was a child getting my first ever library card. Aside from what my father could afford to buy for me, I’ve exhausted all the books which could be borrowed from my relatives’ bookshelves.  Given my father’s modest income as a school teacher and being the sole breadwinner then, he decided to get me a library card. Safe to say that my library card alone was not enough as well. Between me and my brother, we used up the quota of both our own library cards as well as our parents. Those treasured memories of our trips to the library, squealing in delight as we pile on book after book on our small arms, tottering over to the check-out counter with heavy stacks and then awaiting eagerly to get home to dive into the wondrous worlds afforded by books. If only I had the presence of mind to record what I’ve read during those childhood years. Oh, how wonderful would it be to flip through an old notebook or diary, to recall all those books that have taken me to more places and introduced me to more friends than I could possibly imagine.

I started with the idea of writing a review of this lovely book but my rambling has become more of an essay of my own.  I think you get the idea of how Anne Bogel’s collection of essays evoked all these memories and emotions in me from being a reader for almost a lifetime. I say ‘almost’ because I sadly took a long hiatus from reading regularly after I graduated from university. Aside from being quite expensive, books were also not that accessible in my country back then. After paying for rent, transport, food and clothing, I didn’t have much left for books. The combination of pursuing a career and finding my feet around relationships also took me out of my usual reading habit for close to a decade. Oh, to think of all those books I could’ve read in that decade, time lost to me now.

I’ll also be perfectly honest here and say that my love for this book is also greatly influenced by the fact that this was a gift; one so thoughtfully given that I couldn’t separate my feelings from its content narrative and that act of giving. Thank you so much, dearest Celeste for this wonderful little book and, most of all, for being my book twin.

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