I’ve been spending what free time I have reading a lot this year and really getting into it. English books are a little hard to come by here – there’s just one guy who sells secondhand books from his house here. He’s a character – and not always particularly pleasant but his bigotry and short temper cracks me up more than offends. When you hear another foreign immigrant being racist to other people (who don’t live here), it kinds of shines a different light on things in some ways. Being English and white in this country is a double-edged sword – for me and for people judging me. It’s an unusual situation to be in.
One time I was sitting in his shop chatting with him when two early 20-year-olds, backpackers, had been browsing and brought two books to him to ask the price. They then spent what seemed like an eternity, but in reality was only about 30 seconds, discussing if they could buy both and carry both. I could see our bookseller getting more and more agitated and eventually he grabbed the books off them and shouted at them to stop wasting his time. He handed one book back and said ‘Give me 100 baht for this one and get out of my shop!’ I couldn’t stop laughing.
The girls were discussing whether they could afford to spend another couple of dollars or be bothered to carry two books instead of one. It was a very inconsequential decision that they just couldn’t arrive at. To have someone unable to make this decision when an extra 100 baht would really make a difference to this guy was obviously frustrating. They also weren’t to know that he was late to take care of a friend of a friend who was dying of cancer. Something done out the goodness of his heart. Humans are complicated.
Anyways, I’ve been stocking up books, trying to build a library of my own. Inspired by a friend’s room of books and old wooden shelves, which I always loved being in – to browse, to consider, to wonder, to breath in that mysterious air of hidden words. I once went into an antique bookshop in Albury and immediately told the owner that I wasn’t going to buy anything but I just wanted to look and smell the books. He was quite agreeable.
When moving from Oz to Thailand I grew accustomed to letting go of things that I had held with some regard. Of course, the things I held really dear I shipped over. It’s a good catharsis to sell or gift things that you own though. It’s not like we can keep them forever anyway.
I also remember a quote from a writer, maybe Marquez, along the lines of ‘one must die with a library of mostly unread books.’ Not sure my wife agrees with this philosophy but that’s probably why my office/library/man cave is in a room outside my house. I look through the books contemplating what I’m going to read next and can get excited with the possibilities. I turn my head as I’m sitting here and thinking about All Quiet On The Western Front, The Grapes of Wrath or Lord Jim?
On the iPad, which I use to read comics mostly, I’m thinking to start on Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses. It was the bookseller who got me interested in this as he mentioned it was banned in Thailand for some reason I forget now. He described the story a little bit to me and the idea seemed cool enough for me to give it a go. How can a country ban books these days when it’s so easy to transfer them digitally? I sent a copy of Animal Farm to a friend in China. Easy enough (and they’re still alive and free!).
The book I have been enjoying most is Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. I’m not sure where I saw a recommendation for this, though I’m guessing it was from The Daily Stoic. I’m guessing this because as I read it I see those philosophical themes throughout. The characters are fascinating in their different beliefs and ideas and Tolstoy makes you feel sympathetic with everyone of them.
I was never a big reader when I was younger and I was thinking that a younger me would have dismissed ever trying this book. Why would I want to try and understand about Russian aristocracy from over 100 years ago? What did that have to do with me and my life now? Ah, the stupidity of youth. I’m often envious of those who have found this beauty in the world at a younger age than myself. Why am I late to the wisdom table!?
I can only hope that in my teaching I can inspire the kids to get there quicker than I did. When I look at all the ‘trouble-makers’ in my class I only see my own stupid face reflected in their eyes. Ah, the stupidity of youth. But I wouldn’t really wish it any other way – and what would be the point?
“And so from school to the outside world these morals you will take…”
I am so happy and grateful for my dreams. I can meet old friends, people who are no longer in my life. They stay close to my thoughts and experience.