There is nothing better than a story well listened. Like a perfectly spun web with geometric precision and a waxy texture, it captures its listener inside its labyrinths. The words trap you with a wall of characters and the plot thickens its tentacles around its obedient audience. It’s the ultimate seduction, slow but addictive, with every flipping page. And with that comes the guilt of indulgence and a strange fear, for the end will come too soon. The real world will soon wake you up to its ordinariness. The tentacles will disappear back into those pages and insipid would have taken over the fantastical. Reality will slowly overcome fabrication. And with that insecurity you keep diving deeper into the pool of words. Words that mean nothing on their own but create beauty when juxtaposed correctly.
I don’t remember bedtime stories of my early years. Maybe they didn’t entangle me enough with their waxy words. Maybe I wasn’t permeable enough to letting go and relishing the entanglement. Maybe I still have them stored somewhere in my library only to be used in the time of need.
But, a little later in my life, I do remember growing up on a healthy doze of schoolbooks, comics and adventure novels. I read them with my own imagination, just like everyone else. There was something about finishing a story and running a visual in your mind. You could have your own set with your colors and your own faces. Each face would have a mole or a scar or an expression that was your own contribution to the character. You could make them look ugly or beautiful. Likeable or not. Big like a whale and small like a penny. They all fit in into your own little transitory world. And then you ran the plot from the book with your own inundation of twists and turns. It was like reading the recipe of how to make the most delicious cake and then adding magical ingredients that no one knew of. This was your cake and only your taste buds could relish it. It was almost like writing your own book. Albeit on a borrowed storyline peppered with a little bit of you.
I also remember our yearly doze of literature at school with a book called ‘Radiant Reader’. For a few years, I read these two words without knowing what they meant. To my impervious mind they were just two words that formed the name of the book because someone had to name it something. So instead of calling it ‘Luminous Literati’, why not call it ‘Radiant Reader’?
And so I read the books. Pages after pages and stories after stories. Year after year. Until I started getting it. Until I started fathoming the black ink and the in-betweens. That is when I went back to its cover and spent what seemed like eternity to know what it means. Revelation struck and then there was no looking back.
I started gulping words ferociously. And the hunger grew and I started reading anything I could get my hands on - comics of All kinds, Nancy Drews and Hardy Boys. Superheroes and women’s magazines. Sometimes I could sneak in a Mills & Boons from the neighbourhood library and relish the wet stuff. And to overcome my embarrassed machismo and an imminent dismembering of my male pride by my friends, I would sign up for 3 Hardy Boys, reading them like they were bible and hoping for redemption.
Then came Shakespeare. And David Copperfield. It was like a whole new world. Some of it I liked and some of it I thought was a bit much. But I savoured the story telling. I savoured the subtle ironies. Which remained not so subtle, thanks to the repeated and rigid explanations by my English professor. You should know that his second name was Rock.
Nevertheless, I survived the system and took away the good parts with some bad ones. Sure, I ridiculed Shakespearean story telling to the world outside because, you know, it was then fashionable to look down upon metaphorical verses. But I liked what he said. My only complaint was he took too long to say it. In a language that was like a one-night-stand with an exotic belly dancer from an unknown land - you couldn’t keep up with it for long. So I formed my own language for Shakespeare and funnily enough topped my school boards in English literature.
Therefore my dalliance with words weren’t, forgive the usage, strictly by the book. I would read them but not just the words on paper. I would read to myself the words I saw after reading the book. The textual highs experienced with my own stories were far better than those with ink. Those are the ones that formed the perfect web over an adolescent mind hungry for more. I still indulge in flirting with the imaginary and I often find myself caged in a web of wordy wax, never wanting to get out, never wanting to leave the ultimate seduction.
After all, I am the radiant reader. Are you?