The Greatest Gift
Tuesday April 23rd is World Book and Copyright Day. This date has been chosen by UNESCO to encourage people across the world to discover the joy of reading. World Book and Copyright Day pays tribute to books and authors, simultaneously encouraging readers to understand and appreciate copyright laws and intellectual property.
JustHere reader and Qatar resident Shelley Knipe writes about how books have enriched her life, and the legacy she passes on to her daughter now.
My mother always reminds me that when I was a few months old my parents would put a comic book in my cot and I would be indefinitely preoccupied with it. I remember being six, seven and eight years old, doing a weekly trip to the library with my grandmother. I was drawn more to the bright and colourful book covers, than the contents inside them. She would help me decide which books I wanted, once I’d made my choice, she would find a table and chair for me to sit and browse. Then she’d disappear for a few moments to choose her own. When we’d get home, I would be bored. She’d say, “Why don’t you read the books you chose at the library?” My response was, “I read them while I was waiting for you.” She could never seem to get over this. It would exasperate her to no end.
Now that I am a parent, the luxury of reading a book for my own personal edification is a rare and limited event.
It may seem a silly, trivial memory that I have of her, but it’s important to me because she is one of the few adults in my childhood who bestowed a love of books and reading on me. A spare bedroom in her home held a large, dark wooden bookcase, many shelves caving under the weight of all sorts of books; novels, textbooks, recipe books, gardening books, books with pictures, books with words I couldn’t decipher or didn’t have the patience to. But I spent hours there.
As a teenager my best moments were roaming the main library in my hometown, Cape Town. I’d often miss the train home after school just to spend an hour or two breathing in the smell of musty pages, discovering books on all subjects, thoughts, opinions, histories, magnificent and tall stories, intimate sentiments, scientific experiments and instructions. Books that travelled the world to be rehomed side-by-side in one building. Here I met the works of authors such as Maya Angelou and Toni Morrison, whose writing left impressions on me that moulded my thinking and opinions during challenging adolescent years.
Now that I am a parent, the luxury of reading a book for my own personal edification is a rare and limited event. Between the crazy mornings of preparing for the day, getting to grips with daily Doha, the afternoon school run, play dates, dinner time, bath time and simply attempting to decipher the thoughts and deeds of a three year old, I sometimes feel as if I’ve vanished through a black hole into a parallel universe.
But somewhere in the toddler universe there is story time, and the most precious of this is the bedtime story ritual. This is the moment where my husband and I tag along with my daughter to the most fantastical worlds. It is difficult to override her story choice, so sometimes we take creative licence and develop a somewhat different storyline (come on, I can’t tell her exactly what happened to the giant who chased Jack all the way back down the beanstalk!). Or we find ourselves yawning all the way through ‘Dr Seuss’s Sleep Book’ (it works to put us to sleep – not her), or it may be the fourth night in a row that we’re reading ‘Hairy Maclary’s Rumpus at the Vet’ – and it just isn’t funny nor entertaining anymore. But her desire to hear the story, to look at the words spread over the page, her attempts at identifying those words and using her imagination to take her right inside the heart of story is inspiring. This is what reminds me of the people in my life who took the time to read to and with me, who gave me one of the greatest gifts that helped me navigate this crazy world, the gift of reading. If I can help her along the way, I know I am setting her forth on a journey that will take her to wherever she wants to go, and to imprint on her that she can be whoever she wants to be. Her life in itself will be a story worth reading.
Shelley is an award-winning radio producer and scriptwriter, specialising in documentaries that bring about positive change. A seasoned traveller, she enjoys nothing better than discovering new places and meeting interesting personalities around the world – although her 3-year old daughter is still, by far, the most interesting personality she has ever met.