Hello and hope you are well and keeping safe in these last days of 2020.
One question I get asked quite often is what sparked my love for books and reading. In sharing that story so I thought I might as well share the story in a blog post.
I will be sharing how my love for reading started,how I lost it for quite a while and how I gradually got my reading mojo back. It is bit too long for one blog post so it will be split in two parts.
I grew up around books. Both my parents were voracious readers. At a time when most homes had various decorative items in their living room cabinets(its was the 80’s when minimalism wasn’t a thing) ours was filled with Encyclopaedia Brittanica. My dad was a mixed bag of ideological ideas and beliefs that spanning being very progressive on some issues and very conservative on others. I believe this was largely due to how broadly he read.
My mum often joked that she should have known my Dad was always going to be non-conformist. This was because in University he spent all of his bursaries and stipends on book volumes when everyone else was buying record players.
Some of my fondest memories of primary school involved going to the school library to check out Ladybird & Enid Blyton books.By the time I was 9, I had read almost every book that Enid Blyton had ever written.Growing up in Nigeria in the 1980/1990’s was a time when of squeezed disposable incomes which meant taking vacations abroad was not something that was readily accessible to the average family.Despite this,I had travelled the world through the books and stories that I constantly had my head buried in.My mum also travelled a lot due to nature of her job/business and my souvenir of choice from her trips was more books.This appetite for books and reading was evident in how I interacted with the world both socially and academically. Academically my vocabulary and verbal aptitude developed quite rapidly.
Socially,I was that child who went to parties with a book .I would play with the other children and even won quite a lot of dancing competitions along the way. But if the opportunity presented itself,I would sneak off to read my book. I can now see how even then my personality was such a contradiction. Most people think of children who love burying their heads in books as children content being by themselves. Not me though! I loved talking,dancing,meeting people but was also content being by myself as long as I had a book in hand.
Due to my talkative nature and love of reading,the clear career path as in most Nigerian families was the Law.Being a book lover meant that I could cope with the big volumes that are invariably part of studying law. I could also argue my point well in any debate and was also really good in the humanities.I also had a dad who continually impressed on me on that I could reach the heights of any career I chose. He always used to tell me that he saw a SAN in me (Senior Advocate of Nigeria similar to a QC in the UK). Oyinda the SAN was due to be unleashed to the world.
However,Oyinda wrote her SSCE exams (GCSE equivalent) and did not get the required grade in Maths required to study Law in university. I was really unhappy and it was agreed that I would resit my maths papers and take the university entrance exams (JAMB) again. That said,my grades were sufficient to get a place to study English. I took the place but always saw it as a stop gap till I got to study what I always thought was my true career path,Law.
In my first year of university, I got introduced to an even wider range of literary genres and thematic thrusts. I got exposed to literary greats from Shakespeare to Wole Soyinka, John Keats, Nawal El Sadaawi, Lorraine Hansberry, Toni Morrison and so many others.This exposure further deepened my love for stories and words. I also got the privilege to be part of a theatre production that was premiered at the Muson Centre,one of the premier arts venues in Lagos,Nigeria.I remember how accomplished I felt being part of something that brought a story to life.
In the midst of university life, I still found the time to resit my exams and this time I got the required grades and was able to gain admission to the University of Ibadan to study law. At this point I was in my second year of my degree in English and it meant I would have to start all over again on the 5 year law degree program. Now I am not sure what had really changed but by this time I had began to have second thoughts about whether or not I truly loved the law.Had I fallen in love with idea of what it meant to be a lawyer(thank you Matlock and Ally Mcbeall)? After all it had been what I had been told I would be all my life.
I discussed my second thoughts with my mum. We tried to weigh the pros and cons but decided to proceed with my dad ringing the bell for Law being a more ‘professional’ course.So I started my registration for the law course.During one of our visits to Ibadan I had a heart to heart discussion with my mums friend who was also a lawyer.That discussion and a couple of other things finally made me change my mind and I decided to carry on with my degree in English.
As you can guess my dad was not too thrilled with this decision. That said my dad believed a lot in personal responsibility and he finally agreed that I was the best person to make this decision as invariably I would be the one to bear the consequences.
I must admit I still wonder if I made the right decision. What if I had just stayed back got the year and got on to my law course? How different would my life be right now if I had become a lawyer? I guess that’s what life is about. The sum total of our present is a result of decisions made in the past and the future is a sum total of the decisions we are making now. I look back now and try not to wallow in regrets. Like I said earlier I am really thankful for the breadth and length of stories,ideas and writing that I got exposed to as a result of the academic work that I had to undertake as part of my degree. And who knows,the law might still be in my future.I now know that the path of life is not necessarily linear.
Studying English introduced me to a diversity of thought that extensive reading exposes you to.I remember writing my dissertation on Feminism in Islam and how passionate and excited I felt about researching the topic and the contradictions of the two ideologies. Reading and walking through stories really opens up the mind to different perspectives.
Malorie Blackman says that “Reading is an exercise in empathy; an exercise in walking in someone else’s shoes for a while.” and i totally agree. Reading stories allows you to view life through another person’s lenses.The irony that this what my blog is named is not lost on me.
The quote below by Scott Fitzgerald is another one that totally captures why I love literature and in turn reading books
“ That is part of the beauty of all literature. You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you’re not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong.”
I believe my love for words and stories was cemented in that phase of my life .Or so I thought! I soon left university and adulting realities kicked in. This took me through a phase when I didn’t read or finish a book in 5 years.
In part 2 ,I will be sharing how I lost and found my reading mojo and how you can too.
Thank you so much for reading.