I’m a natural born insomniac. Right from the time I was a tiny baby. My poor mother, tiring of reading aloud to me, taught me to read. She and I were trying to figure out how old I was when I first learned to read and neither of us can recall. She did say that it was hard to keep me stocked with books, such was my voracious appetite. I learned early that books were my special best friend, books watched me grow, helped me, comforted me, informed me.
“You never want to come and play with me,” my sister bemoaned.
She, the antithesis of me, loved all kinds of sports, while I was the sort to be viciously assaulted by slamming tennis balls, or basketballs that knocked the wind right out of me.
“I’ll come and read outside while you play.” That was the best I could offer her.
We have countless photographs of my sister sitting next to me, bored beyond belief, staring off into the distance while I chewed my lip and frowned into my book.
Born in South Africa, I read every Enid Blyton I could find, and in that country, the range was vast. Noddy and his friend Big Ears, the Famous Five, Secret Seven, Faraway Tree. I loved them all. I can still recall the oily, inky smell of a new book, resplendent with glossy cover, virgin spine. Books were another world into which I could fall and find myself befriended by any number of infinitely interesting and exotic characters – and yet, the best part of all, I was invisible to them. I was a welcomed voyeur.
An aunt from Canada brought me copies Little House on the Prairie (Laura Ingalls Wilder) from which I learned about snow, maple syrup, and the pioneer heart of the prairie spirit. Next came Anne of Green Gables (L.M. Montgomery) and I tasted the words Nova Scotia, never dreaming I would become a regular visitor there.
I grew, and Francie Nolan in A Tree Grows In Brooklyn (Betty Smith) broke my heart. Forever Amber (Kathleen Windsor) seemed boldly sensual.
In the 80’s, I raced through an undergraduate degree, devouring books of all shapes and sizes. A course on speed-reading, taken for fun, told me they had nothing to offer me.
There were some books though, I simply could not find my way to. Middlemarch (George Eliot) for example. What a pity the entire midterm exam was about Middlemarch…. I wrote vaguely for a paragraph, and, with the astonishing arrogance of youth, still expected to pass the midterm. Note to self, must still get to Middlemarch.
Then there was my love affair with the Brontë sisters. I was convinced I was one of them, reincarnated. Which one, I didn’t care. I would wander the veldt of the old Transvaal in South Africa on my solid white pony, all the while imagining I was on a barren moor with a howling gale whistling about me. I carried my books in my head, the characters walked beside me. I chose books over people, and I still do. Why? Because they don’t ask me to converse back.
Talking… it’s so tiring… the endless repartee, the ball bouncing back and forth, that necessary rhythm of a conversation. I always end conversations abruptly. I don’t mean to, I just run out of things to say. Books have such lovely definite, neatly wrapped up endings. And they don’t ask a thing from me. They never ask me what I think or want me to come up with some witty anecdote that shows them how deeply I relate to what they’ve just said. They let me daydream, coming and going at will, no jacket required.
I’ve heard it repeated that a strong network of friends makes for a happy rich life. Well, in that case, I have hundreds of friends at home, each of them waiting to be the one to spend an evening or otherworldly moment at 3 a.m. with me. I welcome them all, the wild and the weird, the inspirational, the conservative, the fantastical, the horrific.
Books. . . BFF to this natural born insomniac.
Originally from South Africa, Lisa De Nikolits has been a Canadian citizen since 2003. She has lived and worked in the U.S.A., Sydney, and London. Visit www.lisadenikolitswriter.com for information about her new book The Hungry Mirror.
Watch her read a chapter from The Hungry Mirror (available to purchase at amazon.ca.