From Catherine Cookson to Napoleon Hill.
I previously shared how I got into reading in Part 1 and mentioned some of the titles I started out with when I was a young reader. Here, I continue with my reading journey and show you how my book preferences and reading habits have changed over time.
When I was young I loved fiction and my selection of what to read was just random. My taste was dictated by what was available and so I enjoyed books by authors like Catherine Cookson, Sidney Sheldon, Jackie Collins, Eric van Lustbader, Dean Koontz, Nora Roberts, and Jonathan Kellerman, because they dominated our bookshelf.
There wasn’t much African fiction, they weren’t as available in libraries either. In addition to the two I previously mentioned, Marabi Dance and Kaffir Boy, I only remember Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom. The stories I fed on were therefore, predominantly American and British. The few books in my mother tongue, Setswana, were only accessible in the classroom.
When I reached high school I was introduced to Bessie Head’s Maru and George Orwell’s Animal Farm, the only prescribed reading material for English. I instantly fell in love with Head and to date, I’ve probably read Maru more than ten times.
Except for nursery rhymes (it is poetry), I only entered the world of poetry in high school. Mending Wall by Robert Frost and Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night by Dylan Thomas, were our staples. I hated poetry and I didn’t do well in it either.
I had my school reading and books at home but my curiosity about the world added other kinds of reading. I used to visit our public libraries to read the most random books and on the most random topics, such as studies on Haemophilia, the male reproductive system (don’t ask), social psychology and about scientists like Isaac Newton, Dmitri Mendeleev, John Dalton and Galileo Galilei. There was no research or school projects on these type of books and topics, but pure curiosity.
It was when I got to university that the world of books expanded for me. The UCT Library became my haven. By the third year, just before I dropped out, I was at the library instead of lectures. That was where I discovered a cornucopia of reading pleasures and in that, I finally found African books. I found Es’kia Mphahlele, Nadine Gordimer, Dambudzo Marechera, Chinua Achebe and Buchi Emecheta. I fell in love with African stories, finally. Why had I been deprived of these beautiful and rich literary texts before?
I already wanted to be a writer and had already dropped out of Accounting even though I was still showing up on campus, mainly for the library and the beer at the UCT Club. After dropping out and while sleeping on a friend’s couch, I met her roommate, a shitty English major student who ridiculed my lack of knowledge on English classics, which he referred to as “true and pure literature.” Fuck him! But as much as I hated the insecurity he planted in my head and wanted to dismiss it, I desperately went on a search for these books that I’d fail at becoming a writer if I didn’t read. The first were Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, followed by Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and then George Eliot’s Simon Marner.
I enjoyed them very much but the actual author who took my spark for writing and turned it into an intense flame, filling my head with passion and possibility was Fyodor Dostoevsky. When I first read Notes from Underground I knew I had found my path. Writing, books, and words were what I wanted to consume and produce, for the rest of my life. Then I read Crime and Punishment and the literary world became home.
While chasing my dream of becoming a fiction writer I also discovered poetry that would create a deep love for the genre. I read Miss Maya Angelou and I was hooked. She had me with Phenomenal Woman, I was sold. Then I read Tupac’s The Rose that Grew from Concrete and Langston Hughes’s poems. I fell in so deep that I tried my hand at it and published my own collection, Poetically Ghetto. Another topic for another day.
I was still reading strictly fiction and poetry until in my early twenties when I met my now husband, who only read non-fiction. We influenced each other’s preferences and shortly after we met he was reading David Baldacci and I was collecting a lot of books by the likes of Stephen Covey, Robert Kiyosaki, Robin Sharma, Robert Greene and Napoleon Hill.
And so began a vigorous journey into extensive reading, and intensive self-education.
“A teacher can kindle your mind and let you memorize information, but true education is often self-education.”
― Debasish Mridha