Sunday February 17, 2013
Healing with words
By ABBY WONG
Battling colds, a flu, an ache or two? There, go there to a bookstore, a book is waiting.
YOU do know, don’t you, readers, that among the thousands of books on the bookshelves of any bookstore, magic awaits?
This magic, however, is uncanny, suspicious – and trivial in the eyes of those who have no love for books. We should tell these people yet to be spellbound by this magic, shouldn’t we, that if they sift through the shelves mindfully, they will unravel some great reads and experience the pleasures and excitement that you and I have all these years?
We mustn’t whisper, readers. The greatness of books should be made known to all in great voices, not just to those who eavesdrop. But how can I convince them to buy a book and experience for themselves the joy of reading? We can’t, you say? Yes, I can if I can tell them how wonderfully obsessed I am of late with Donna Tartt’s The Little Friend and how throughout the course of relishing it, I have for several times stared at it, completely awestruck by the magnetic power of fiction.
The Little Friend has provided me with comfort in my combat with a nasty viral infection, prevalent when summer and autumn indiscernibly swap their places here, Down Under. In the middle of the night when I wake with sweat gathered on my forehead despite the chill air, the sight of The Little Friend at my bedside table soothes, as it did last night when my temperature reached 39°C. And if I am sensible enough to ignore its temptation, the anticipation of reading it again when day breaks will lull me back to sleep.
The best way to chase away the worsening flu is to stay in bed and read, and I am doing just that. I want to know how Robin, the little nine-year-old boy, ends up hanging by the neck from a tree in his front garden and no one knows about it. The mystery needs to be unlocked, but Tartt loves to takes her time, filling us instead with suspenseful dribs and drabs that antagonise even as they entice. Her prose suits me, as it drowns me in suspense, allowing me to be excused from my household chores and to be a detective, albeit a rather unhealthy one.
Truly, I have gazed at the book several times, wishing the whole world knows what a wonderfully enticing story it contains within. The last time when I was sick it, too, it was Tartt’s book that healed me – The Secret History. It is only at my most vulnerable moments can I muster the courage to read something of my own choice. At other times, I read books that need to be read for the benefit of other readers and to vindicate the boundless joy books bring.
From the onset, I can tell straight away that Al Gore’s latest is a book every one of us must get our hands on. It is spot on in how it deals with the world’s emergent changes as well as a host of other converging changes that are taking place in our lifetimes. “We have gone through revolutionary periods of change before, but none as powerful or as pregnant with the fraternal twin – peril and opportunity – as the ones that are beginning to unfold,” muses Gore in the introduction (where I last stopped to combat the flu).
Thick but not at all indigestible and with every bit relevant, the book is in my study, luring me to it – in the same way Kishore Mahbubani is ensnaring me from one of the tables in my sitting room. A former Singaporean diplomat, Mahbubani thinks now is the best time for the “West And The Rest” (to quote from Niall Ferguson’s book title). His long-term optimism is not without challenges, but he offers solutions. But books of this sort need to be gnawed at slowly, and at time like this when my throat is sore and my head aches, it is best to indulge in fiction, don’t you think?
So, in bed now and resting again, I am back with my Little Friend. A hundred pages into it, not a sentence unimpressive, not a single description unmemorable, no character nondescript and not one turn of event expected. It is a wonderful book, more than wonderful enough to douse you in pleasure, my dear reader, if you have not already immersed yourself in reading it.
So let’s read. Books sing a paean to the beauty of the human character even as they epitomise its ugliness. In a contrived world where truth is fabricated, it is best to indulge in fiction where truth is blatant and unyielding, and to rub shoulders with nonfiction where erstwhile truth is told in future terms.
There, go there to a bookstore, a book is waiting. n While battling his flu, Abby’s son is reading Terry Deary’s Horrible Histories series about the frightful First World War. It is healing him, he says, though the ghost soldiers give me the creeps.