When I look back on life, books have always played a pivotal role while growing up, through the good days and the bad, and in sickness and in health.
If it were not for the many hours spent with my nose tucked deep in books in the downstairs library in our apartment, my life would not be the same today.
Life would similarly not have been the same had my mum not let me ‘read’ our world atlas so many times, that its spine became battered and bruised, every page fell out as if Boudica herself had rampaged through them.
Years later and by now living in Ireland, books continue to be my backbone and have often saved me from emotional distress before or after surgeries, diagnoses and retiring from work. Some were a hard rock to hold on to while trying to stand firm against unwanted medical test results that would change the course of my life. Some were a ‘do not disturb’ sign while others became the perfect antidote to something called ‘uncertain days’.
Today, the topics of the books I read are as varied as the Atlantic Ocean is wide, yet they instantly turn into a self-induced holistic treatment that prevents chronic pain from over-analysing itself. The smell of new books is still the best drugs money can buy. Books and reading help me to get off my case, as it were, and into someone else’s head.
“I cannot sleep unless I am surrounded by books.”
(Jorge Luis Borges)
My eyesight is a testimony to how much I have read and continue to read. Many times I leave the eye clinic in hospital after hearing that I need to rest my eyes more. I agree to some extent because we often joke about being unable to catch an as tall, as strong and as out-of-reach Mr Darcy because of defective eyes.
I am far from being as blind as a bat, so perhaps I should let him chase me just in case my eyes do deceive me.
All joking aside, I cannot even begin to count the number of books that passed through my hands since childhood, including those while working in a library.
Books become part of life, a friend I will remember forever, a gateway or hiding place where distraction reigns. Touching them, turning page after page, waiting to be explored, conquered, talked about and put on a shelf waiting to be reinterpreted again, they have their own circle of life.
And so the cycle begins again.
Deceptive or upbeat storylines, hard to stomach subjects, ugly book covers, good or bad endings, they all add to my entire story of what the book means. The past few years, I’ve gone through philosophy’s greatest, from Spinoza and Schopenhauer to Nietzsche.
Books like these demand a notebook and pen to copy things I want to remember. They can be an inherent challenge, a sad moment, a new insight, a peculiar view of a culture or language. When I forced myself reading books in English in school, dictionary at hand, I never imagined I would dream, think and write in English.
It might not always be pretty, but it is definitely a tried and tested way of challenging myself.
It is therefore no surprise that I chose Ireland as my nesting ground, for it is inside Ireland’s written heritage that I find emotional and mental peace from being chronically ill. James Joyce’s Ulysses, a magnum opus in every sense of the word, is set on one particular day – June 16, 1904 – in Dublin. Because of its grammar, events, setup and history, the book gives me ample time to stop me from thinking of gnawing facial pain or left side nerve pain.
It is also the people behind or within the author. I stood at William Butler Yeats’s grave in Drumcliffe near Ben Bulben, County Sligo. My feet near his feet, knowing that, while he had turned into dust by now, the author I had been dreaming of for years was just inches away.
W.B. Yeats and James Joyce to me are what the Kardashians are to others. With four Irish authors having won a Nobel Prize for Literature last century, the Kardashians have some way to go before reaching similar heights (W.B. Yeats in 1923; George Bernard Shaw in 1925; Samuel Beckett in 1969 and Seamus Heaney in 1995).
Libraries and bookshops are a lifeline. When I saw The Long Room in the Old Library at Trinity College for the first time, I gasped for air and cried. When I saw a limited first edition of James Joyce’s Ulysses – asking price €45,000 or $57,000 – in Cathach, one of Dublin’s small books shops, I wanted to rob the bank around the corner and return to buy the limited first edition.
Silly, I know.
“Books are the quietest and most constant of friends;
they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors,
and the most patient of teachers.”
(Charles William Eliot)
To me, books have always been a safe place; you can call it escapism if you like. The perfect travel guide through life with MS. Seeing life through the eyes of someone else puts your life in perspective.
Three months ago, I finally succumbed to reading digital books on my tablet. Now, I wonder why I resisted so long. You see, I read a minimum of six or seven books at a time, a legacy of working in a library and needing to know all about the latest editions. Now that I embraced Google Books, I can download all the books I want, read them offline, and carry them all in my handbag at the same time.
No more heavy handbags to carry around.
I do miss touching pages, covers and randomly opening up a page and see if I can connect the many dots that are waiting to be connected.
© Willeke Van Eeckhoutte and Ireland, Multiple Sclerosis & Me, 2011-2016. Unauthorised use and duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner are strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Willeke Van Eeckhoutte and Ireland, Multiple Sclerosis & Me with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.