Reading gives us someplace to go when we have to stay where we are.

After an operation on my knee a few days ago my sleeping pattern has been completely erratic – some days I’m fast asleep on the couch at 5pm only to be wide awake at midnight and lie awake all night only to fall fast asleep again as the birds start chirping at 5am. I feel groggy and out of sorts and not having anything on my agenda except to stay in bed and heal from my operation has made me feel even more exhausted. It’s like my body has become addicted to the adrenalin of having too much to do and not much time to do it and now it’s simply cutting out like an engine that won’t start because I have nowhere to be and nothing to do.

I usually sleep like a log…I even have an app which tells me I average 8.5 hours of sleep a night and right now that app is getting terribly frustrated with me because it doesn’t know if it should reward me with 5 stars for sleeping from 5am to 12pm or to be really mad at me. If that app was a real person right now I would give it my middle finger. When did we become so reliant on apps to tell us how to do things we were instinctively born to do, things that not even the most decorated surgeons and academics can figure out why we do it and yet we commit our souls to being kept in check by an app. Because those 5 stars and trumpeting cheers actually make us feel flippen fantastic for performing the most mundane tasks God designed us to perform in the first place.

I learned a long time ago that I become irritable, weepy, frustrated, easily angered and a royal b*yatch when I don’t get enough sleep or when my sleeping patterns are disrupted. Or maybe it’s simply that in my current state of having too much time I’m confronted with a racing mind spilling over with too many thoughts that are usually kept well tucked away, deep in the back of my mind, covered up by being permanently distracted by the insane business of the daily grind and then coming home late at night and being too exhausted to care.

Yesterday, for the first time in a long time I used my temporary insanity…or rather insomnia to escape into the pages of a book when I woke up at 3am. Now there’s something I’ve missed…reading for hours! On the couch, on the backseat of a car as a teenager before I could drive, on the bus, in the bath, on the loo. This morning when I woke up at an ungodly hour again I grabbed my book greedy to know what happens next. It reminded me of how, as a kid, a little obsessed with reading about Greek mythology – of all things – around the age of 9 or 10. We learned about Romulus and Remus in class and for some reason I wanted to know more about this fascinating, fantastical world. My gran would walk with me to the local library every 2 weeks to get my new stash of books. Sometimes we’d take a bus but often we would walk the 5 or 6 kms round trip without thinking about it and definitely without an app cheering us on.

After the Greek mythology phase I got hooked onto the Clan of the cave bear by Jean M Auel series. Yes this was the early 80s so use your math skills carefully my children. I recently received the 7th book in the series which was printed in 2011! Imagine writing a series of books for nearly 40 years that still captivates an audience. Oh to have such talent! The highlights of my illustrious writing career is marked by being called up by my std 3 (grade 5) teacher to read my composition to the entire class to my utter mortification, a few awards for English and history throughout my school years, thousands of too-long Facebook posts (not unlike this one) and my blog which is the equivalent of a dusty book stuck on the top shelf that noone ever reads. But I digress.

In my teens I found myself briefly ensnared by Danielle Steele, even though I was never one for the romance novel genre (I was born a cynic) but was deeply drawn to the places where these stories were written – London, Paris, New York! I was fascinated by the names of restaurants, theatres and famous landmarks, imagining myself in all these places living a story that only really happened in a book and never in real life. I never cared if the places actually existed…to me they were all real…like I’d actually like to know if the restaurant 21 which featured in many DS novels actually exists or not? I’ll have to Google that.

Enter the early adulthood and the self-help phase: the phenomenon of The Secret which was no secret but made someone a truck-load of cash, The Road less travelled, Deepak Oprah (sic) Choprah and then Oprah’s book club that got millions of people around the world reading again, including myself. I started reading Maya Angelou’s Sula, I know why the caged Bird sings and others – stories set in a time in America’s apartheid years that spoke of the struggles of black women I tried desperately to relate to but always felt like something was missing for me. Oh and let’s not forget Paulo Coelho. We were actually friends on Facebook for a while…me and a few hundred thousand other of Paulo’s bffs. But after a while I just got tired of only seeing him on my timeline so I had to unfriend him…sorry Paulo. Jodi Picoult’s books grabbed me before her movie renditions did but after too many days and nights tjanking snot en trane I decided that her stories were too emotionally heartwrenching for me to ever read one again or maybe not too often.

Lately my book choices are a lot more erratic – based on whatever lands on my desk at work cos even though I really love books and reading I somehow still find that either my budget or my conscience won’t accommodate spending R350 on a book I’ll finish reading in 2-4 days. Books in South Africa are quite expensive if I have to compare what I’ve had to pay in the US or Europe. Fortunately I have a job working for a media company which gives me access to books and the best book sales ever but unfortunately I rarely have the time nor am in the right headspace to sit down amd spend hours or days on end reading. But I still try and these days I enjoy a murder mystery (Girl on a train) but still love an epic saga that is drawn out over a span of years in a specific historical period. Two that stand out are Mornings in Jenin and the Blue between water and sky…books that had a profound effect on what I thought I knew about Israel, Palestine and terrorism.

I’m also now more drawn to African stories…they are more relatable and hit closer to home. The writer who wrote Americana and half of a yellow Sun…Chimamanda something something writes stories I can relate to.

I can go on and on about books and reading because I’ve been an addicted reader since I can remember. My Dad read the stories of Noddy and Pinocchio to me with amazing sound effects and now I always buy my nephews books and feel so good when I see them reading.

As i get older I yearn to know my history and read stories of my people, the Cape Coloureds, our history – our ancestors are an intersting blend of the Khoi San, African tribes like the Xhosas, Dutch, British, French, Indian, Malaysian, slaves collected from all along the Dutch East Indian trade routes and brought to Cape Town. There are not many stories of our people and history and yet our people love telling stories! I find that bizarre. What am I missing? Maybe along with our land and our identity, our confidence to tell our stories were also stolen? And I’m not looking for just a political story…I’ve read enough one-sided South African history books lauding the efforts of colonisation. Pffft.

And then that constantly nagging voice like a dripping tap saying “why don’t you write those stories” and I gasp for breath while I try to ignore it cos I’m not ready…when will I be?

If you have any great suggestions of local stories to read let me know. I have lots of time and nowhere to go. And now it’s time for me to go to sleep…its just after midday…my app’s gonna be so pissed.


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