Our Life As Readers

Born in February 1818, Frederick Douglas was one of the foremost leaders of the abolitionists’ movement which fought to end slavery within the US in the decades prior to the Civil War. One of his favorite quotes, and I quote him, “Once you learn how to read, you will be forever free.” To me, there is power in reading; there is also an undeniable power in knowledge that comes through reading.

I do not really know him or have any connection with him at all, but I totally can relate to that because as a young girl growing up in a remote town in Nigeria, Africa, one of the things that helped me to relive the pains I had to endure to help and guide me after my mother’s death was books, any kind of books, especially literature.

As a  child we did not have all the social amenities that people for the most part take for granted here in America (Well enough of that). We also did not have the luxury of having a television, especially growing up in a third world country at the time like I did. Having said that, I am not trying to impose my third world mentality on anyone; however, I do want to introduce you to one of my favorite books, Things Fall Apart. So if you have not read it, please do. If you have the chance, please do so.

The theme of that novel laid its roots on conflicts and tensions within the Igbo society as well as changes which were introduced by colonial rule and Christianity and the resistance that followed it. It was so funny because the main character, Okonkwo, struggled with this idea of changes that was very imminent, and he felt that change was not a good thing, and he resisted it from all aspects of his life.

My life would have gone in a different direction if not for the important lesson I learned from Things Fall Apart; especially, with all the changes that I had gone through in my life. Starting from 6 years old when my mother’s marriage fell apart and she had left through the time of her death, and the changes I had gone through from when I was in Africa and when I came here at the age of 26, and all the changes I had gone through with my career and raising kids, including too many changes that I have adapted to all along.

I began to read on my own at an early stage. Things began to change for me as the English language brought the simplicity that I had been waiting for a long time. Before the book Things Fall Apart, things were already complicated in our world. For Chinua Achebe to have been so creative with that title at that time portrayed everything. It meant so much to see how things began to unravel.

Initially it was even hard for me to speak about all the changes in my life. The book taught me to embrace changes and to accept every situation as if they are new, particularly the ones I could not change. I have always had that mentality since I was a child. Through The eyes of Chinua Achebe, I came to love the English language which has become part of my life now.

Our lives as readers can be very interesting and inspiring too because books such as those serve a big purpose in life. It creates a certain awareness that probably one wouldn`t have. It exposes one to this life of difficulties, pains and sorrows. Readers gain more too because the more one reads, the more one learns.

In life one cannot be a profound leader if he or she does not read books. In other words, how can you be able to retell a story if you have not read one yourself? Or how can you write one if you do not read books yourself? One of the most important things anyone could give a child is to introduce him or her to books (not designer boots). I always saw reading as one of the biggest investments of our lifetime, if you agree with me.

Books are written for the effects and emotions they bring; reading a book creates both sadness and joy. A well written book longs for joy and creates suspense, just like how movies use sound effects and intervals to communicate their messages. Oftentimes books use more communication skills, and for the most parts, they are more believable especially when you can feel and touch it which doesn`t happen with movies. You can even rip a page apart if you want to, which is also part of reading.

Do you know why authors invoke emotions in their writing? They just want to tell you that they are just like you and me. They cry and tear up like us. They are already heartbroken and wounded themselves. As a writer, most times you cannot write what you have not felt. That is why people like Chinua Achebe were able to create those emotions and actions that help us to understand the people of Nigeria and their culture.

Like I have always said before, everything that seems to be a disadvantage can become an advantage.

Why?

Because I came from a world where foreign writers were celebrated and still celebrated until today. I involved myself with reading books like Oliver Twist, Beyond Pardon, Pride and Prejudice, A Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations, just to name a few.

As a young girl reading a book, I could hear myself screaming and running out to tell people what was going on in a book and nobody would believe me (but only I will). I was always sad when bad things happened in the book and always happy when they were happy too.

Apart from things I learned from Things Fall Apart, I also learned a lot from the foreign authors too. From those books too was where I got my early lessons that made my transition from Africa to The States look easy. I was already reading and speaking the language; therefore, everything seemed at ease and familiar. I also learned a lot about falling in and out of love. That love is mystery which is important to tell our kids. I also learned that people can imagine and create their own love story too (which is weird).

In my 12 years of raising our four children, one of the things that have helped us in raising them was by introducing them to books. They all read in the car, in hospital waiting rooms, even in a lobby. It is even better while you are driving a car; at least you will not hear all the bickering and arguments that follow suit.

Oftentimes when we do not have money, which is all the time, my children will volunteer to stay at home, so that they will finish their books that they have already started. I even found it very fascinating that I did less explanations and talking to my kids because they had already read it from a book (if they chose the right books).

Because of their love for books, their librarian, Mrs. Prieve, is always introducing all kinds of books to them. They always come home with amazing books to read. Recently, she introduced my nine year old to the book Wonder by R J Palacio. My daughter could not do anything but just wonder at the book. The book has so many Rules about really Important Things in life.  What else can you ask for? To me she is just creating memories for them. Even when they grow up just like I did, they will forever cherish her hand work especially with the kind of book she is feeding them with.

Reading is fun; it is refreshing and will also educate your children on the things that are very important in life. As a mother of four children I will tell you that although I did not have the same opportunities my children had while growing up, because of where they were born or probably because I was there to help them, I had a better time in my days to have picked up books as a little child and fell in love with reading. I had no television, nothing at that time, but reading was a way of knowing that even though my mother died of a broken heart, she did not die in vain.

Books were my guiding angels because I learned that relationships can be hurtful, sad and damaging to our hearts. It also helped to shape who I am. I wouldn’t be here today if not for all the books I had read. In everything I did, books were one way of my connecting to both the dead and living (Ask me how, and I will tell you later).

Just like arts will capture all the memories, the landscape of a town, and all the sad moments ever created, books will also help one to reflect on things to come and things that had already passed.

Introduce a child to a book today, and I promise you that his or her life will never be the same.

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2 Responses

  1. I sincerely agree with you. Through reading you get to know the entire world, meet different types of characters and handle situations because you can appreciate all as the are identifiable in one or two books you have read. In Chinua Achebe’s vivid description of the countryside I can identify the footpath to my father’s compound, as Nwoye listens to her mother’s folktales, I feel his excitement becos so did I listen to my beloved mum’s folktales when I was young.

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