Abby WONG ... On a bookish household
Abby Wong has this advice for single young women: men who read are not only attractive but also make great husbands.
REMEMBER THAT BOOKWORM I was enamoured of because he was reading in public? The one I wrote about in “Read, men!” (Book Nook, The Sunday Star, April 19, 2009)? Well, I am happy to share with you, dear reader, that bookish fate not only brought us together again but that we then chatted, dated, and are now husband and wife, living with two young children who are showing early signs of bookishness. Those who don’t love books might think my life with a bookworm would be boring. On the contrary. Though not as intense a reader as he was when I first laid eyes on him, Mr Bookworm still reads—and still isn’t satisfied with merely reading about things and places. He has to also see it, smell it, feel it, use it, observe it or even live it. And that, dear readers, certainly makes for an interesting life!
Once, a few years ago, mesmerised by the crowded and filthy [city of] Bombay (now Mumbai) that he read about in Suketu Mehta’s Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found, Mr Bookworm booked a flight to Bombay for the two of us—his curiosity about the city described in those pages would not let him rest until he had been there. So, with book in bag and camera in hand, we were soon standing on top of a hill overseeing the Indian city’s slums. Quietly observing, he paid little attention to the pungent smell that emanated from the garbage all around us, and was absolutely saddened by the filth the people had to live in.
Starring at his face, I knew then my life would never be boring with Mr Bookworm because, together, we would learn and experience the world through reading and travelling. It was our love for books that brought us together, and it is this love that has helped us build a beautiful home for our two young children. Not that our home is neat and tidy because books often lie around everywhere for various reasons.
Sitting in the garage these days is my copy of The Forever War by Dexter Filkins that I read whenever I am in there watching over my daughter as she plays. Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle—an old book from 1998 that I’m only reading now for some unfathomable reason—sits on our kitchen table amidst the clutter, ready for me to enjoy when I have my afternoon coffee and cookies. Randy Charles Epping’s interesting The 21st Century Economy is on the bedside table, weekly magazines are scattered in the bathroom, readily allowing us to catch up on worldly affairs during our own private moments.
But in the early days, Mr Bookworm would stare at me from the corners of his eyes and frown at the books I’d leave scattered everywhere at first, silently protesting my habit of cluttering up the house. It was not until a few years ago when we ran out of space on our bookshelves did he join me in my way of living. One day, to my pleasant surprise, Mr Bookworm placed bookends on some of the window sills in the house. “In this crazy world of hassling and bustling, a row of books in a window next to a potted fern can be highly effective in paring down our overly heightened senses,” Mr Bookworm pronounced. I could not agree more. And so, even our windows became cluttered with books. Though some of the potted ferns have disappeared, our home remains obstinately full of bookish charm. I think so, anyway.
Perhaps I feel this way because I did not grow up in a book-cluttered house. Neither Mr Shakespeare nor Mr Orwell nor other great literary names were housemates then. My obsession with books did not start until I was in my teens, when my habit of spying people reading officially became a fetish at my first workplace, a bookstore. What I did not experience in my childhood I do not want my children to miss. The best way, we figure, to make books their best friends is by creating a home in which books get in their way, in which books are often pronounced lost but later found in the most unexpected of places, in which books are like spices, bread, pencils, utensils, plants, constantly reminding our children of their importance—as well as unimportance in that they are an ordinary, not-to-be-remarked-upon part of life.
As my six-year-old son begins to take his first tiny steps into the magical world of Harry Potter, Mr Bookworm is scouting for a bigger house to make room for a bigger nook to accommodate the growing number of books and bookworms. “The ferns have to be outside this time,” he says, “but the bonsai stays in.” What can I say? Bonsai has become his new engrossment, thanks to a copy of Bonsai Basics he recently borrowed from the local library. As with Mumbai, he has to see it, smell it, feel it, use it, observe it, and live with it. My kind of guy.
Reproduced from the Sunday Star of August 23, 2009