My love affair with books began at a tender age. My brother and I were allocated a space along our parents’ bookshelf to stack our collection of books. I’d spend hours thumbing through them and dreaming myself into the pages before rearranging their order in a way I thought just. Come evening, I’d select one, climb onto my mother’s lap and listen to her read a story I’d heard a hundred times over.
Hansel and Gretel, Snow White, The Three Little Pigs, Jack and the Beanstalk. These were just some of the stories I had come to treasure. To the child in me, there was something spellbinding about the notion of a child-eating witch concealed behind an alluring house made from gingerbread and candy. It was frightening yet exciting at the same time and I couldn’t get enough.
Moreover, my cherished collection of fairytales helped to form some of the fondest of my childhood memories with my mother. Those moments snuggling up with her on the sofa and gazing at the pages as she turned them have become a part of me. And the essence of those stories has become the foundation for my own journey as a storyteller.
My childhood obsession with fantasy tales didn’t stop at books. Long before Netflix and other streaming options were available, free-to-air TV was exciting. We had a choice of four channels and that was it. Sounds extremely limited to the Netflix junkie, but at least we avoided choice paralysis, which is a phenomenon I regularly face nowadays.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve scrolled through Netflix and clicked through to read a few blurbs only to become overwhelmed by the decision. This might sound strange, but I don’t like the idea of wasting “watch time” on a shitty show. I might spend up to 20 minutes scrolling, clicking, reading and procrastinating before finally giving up to move onto another activity – one that doesn’t involve too many options on offer.
Free TV in Australia back in the ‘70s and come Sunday, I’d curl up on the lounge with my mum and watch movies like Tarzan or an Elvis flick. My mother loved Elvis. Who could blame her? The guy oozed charisma. The best part about those years were the times my folks allowed me to stay up a little later to watch reruns of movies like Hans Christian Andersen, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, or my favorites, the original Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The Wizard of Oz.
Miniature girls, flying cars, chocolate fountains and Oompa Loompas. Other worlds brimming with good and bad witches, talking brainless scarecrows, cowardly lions and a magic yellow brick road. Story heaven. That’s where I found myself while sprawled across the floor tangled in blankets and pillows before the telly way past my bedtime.
Midway through the movie I battled the tendrils of sleep clawing at me from behind my eyelids. I battled hard till the characters discovered their victorious resolutions and the credits scrolled across the screen. Then, I’d drop into bed feeling exhausted and satisfied, finally succumbing to sleep.
Looking back, I can see clearly how stories and books have played such an important role in my life. Stories have served as entertainment and inspiration. They have opened magical portals to unearthly realms and strengthened my imagination. They’ve taught me how to dream and about the beauty of love that exists in our world. They’ve also shown me the twisted depths of evil, vengeance and spite, as well as transporting me into the minds of characters I’ve come to love.
Stories demonstrate parts of the human condition we might otherwise miss because they stretch our perspectives, broaden our senses and nurture qualities such empathy and compassion. Following the journey of even a fictional character can impact us in unexpected ways, particularly when the story theme resonates.
The tween years saw me delving into the chirpy Sweet Valley High series. You know, the accounts of those gorgeous adolescent American twins Liz and Jessica? They had the most interesting life, what with their contrasting traits, boyfriends and other serious teenage dilemmas. For example, what to wear to the Prom night.
We don’t do Prom night here in Australia. We do the Formal. It’s probably something similar minus the corsage. My formal and I resembled an image not unlike Morticia – long black hair, red talons and a black velvety skin-tight mermaid style dress I bought in the city. Turned out, another girl wore the same dress. Oh, the drama! Not me, her. I couldn’t have cared less. She, on the other hand, took one look at me and ran into the bathroom crying. Lol!
Teenage dilemmas. Sweet Valley High eat your heart out.
I was drawn to the dramatic, dark works of Virginia Andrews during my later teenage years. I’d read each book in The Dollanganger series several times over; the same holds true for The Casteel series. Ah, Heaven and Dark Angels. If there be Thorns … Seeds of Yesterday. These stories are not of the feel-good variety that I enjoyed as a child, or a tween for that matter. They were satisfying nonetheless, even if they caused me to weep uncontrollably and feel an overwhelming sense of injustice and sorrow for the protagonists. How could Julian be such an ass?
Impact enough that I named my first born after one of the characters – and my Julian isn’t an ass. Well, most of the time. Nor is he a dancer as far as I know.
It wasn’t long before the racy and perverted pages of a Jackie Collins novel found itself in my hands. As in, all of them. I reread them a few times over too. God, how I loved Chances and Lovers and Gamblers. Gino Santangelo was like an Al Pacino in my mind … let’s not get into how much I love Pacino. He’s der bomb. Enough said.
“To live in the hearts we leave behind is not to die.”
- Harold Robbins from A Stone for Danny Fisher.
A Stone for Danny Fisher is a story that looks at the effect of the Great Depression on a lower-middle class Jewish family. It’s also a story that will stay with you long after you finish the last page.
Captivating. Heartbreaking. Interesting. Inspiring. Impacting.
Some of my most comforting memories belong to bookstores. Real books with real pages. I can think of nothing better than to step into a bookstore and blend into the aisles for some serious book hunting. Rarely can I resist walking past a bookstore. The low-key independent ones are particularly alluring. They seem to emit a sense of warmth with their overstuffed shelves and nooks and crannies existing among the smell of real books wafting through the air. Much like hippie shops that are crammed to the brim with interesting and exotic items as the scent of incense curls into your being while you’re browsing.
Hippie shops stock some great reads, too. Usually, it’s where I head first – to the book section at the back of the shop to flick through the works written by some of our most enlightened philosophers and spiritual teachers. The Tarot cards and crystals are cool to look at too.
Back to the traditional books and I have many authors to thank along my reading journey. Each book that has found me engrossed within its pages has laid the groundwork to create the writer I’ve become and the writer I will become as I continue to plow out my own writing career.
Authors like Anne Rice, David Baldacci, Sally Beaman, Dan Brown and Bryce Courtenay have made their mark, along with Thomas Harris, Jilliane Hoffman, John Grisham and Patricia Cornwell. I’ve enjoyed works by Julie Ellis, George R.R. Martin, Alice Sebold and Elie Wiesel. More recently, Elizabeth Hunter and Julie Kagawa. There are many more, but I’m afraid I might be here all day if I were to list all of them.
My reading tastes vary. I’ve never been one to stick with any genre. The same is true for my tastes in music and movies, although I am clear about my dislikes.
For instance, most American comedy flicks make me want to bang my head against a wall – it has to be pretty distinct and special from the standard to grab and keep me around. Which, let’s face it, rarely happens. I’m not into Bond movies and or anything that remotely resembles a Bond. And I don’t like Marvel movies much either (don’t hang me, Spiderman!).
I enjoy movies and stories that grip me, that make me feel something and that can keep my interest all the way to the end. I’m into stories that show me something different, entertain and teach me or stretch my perceptions in new ways. Mostly, I’m into stories that manage to etch a new memory I can’t forget.
Sometimes the memory is the story. Other times, it’s the moments in which the story is experienced. Either way, it becomes special.
Real books are like real people. You cannot replace the experience, the authenticity or the memories they create upon your life and imprint upon your soul.
What would we do without stories?