Nick Hornby wrote about how to be good, and while I am not quite so concerned with my moral standing nor bothered with Hornby’s post-About A Boy writing; I’m stuck on the title of his book. I can see the yellow hardback in my mind’s eye and rather than focus on the entirety of the title, I keep coming back to these three heartslowlying important words: how to be.
I’m not sure why I’m sitting here, just over two weeks from my twenty seventh (!) birthday, asking myself how I came to be here. How I came to be this person. This girl who flits across countries and somehow, can’t seem to stop even though she is tired and questioning this … transience. How did I come to speak of myself in the third person, as though it allows me some space and time to inspect my life through some objective microscope with a checklist of things to tick and things to cross out at every milestone reached and conquest made. How did I end up here- slightly unhappy, mostly lonely, holding on to the dregs of my self-belief, and yearning for people who probably don’t even remember my name?
Every year I set myself an impossible goal- to read 52 books a year. Books that are not required reading for work, books that aren’t ‘fluff reading’, books that are meaningful, books that take me outside my ‘dev-aid’ bubble of jadedness and slightly sneered cynicism, books that force me to marvel at words and prose and skill and make me laugh out loud- or more likely, cry into the collar of my t-shirt.
And every year, I fail. It’s sort of the point: to push myself to make time to read and savour and wrap myself up in these books that break my heart and make me feel too much.
I’ve had a lot going on this year so I’m well behind my target- it’s as though I’m not even trying. I spent Wednesday night reading Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane’, and then spent this weekend immersed in Adichie’s short story collection ‘The Thing Around Your Neck’. I was enthralled by the writing, the emotion they’re both able to evoke so skilfully. Particularly with Adichie, I was overcome by how she was able to touch on things that were so familiar to me, that wrapped themselves around me- her mention of a neem tree, a breeze that sends the scent of neem wafting through the open windows, the Nivea cream for faces chapped by a harsh sun. She touched a part of me I’d forgotten about- how much I’d once loved dissecting a book, an author; pouring over words to understand why they’d picked this one over another: what was the exact meaning they’d wanted it to be?
Before I did anything in Development, before I did anything about feminism, before I did anything at all; I was a Lit student. I loved it with all my being. It came, dare I say it, so easily to me- I didn’t even have to try. My professors would chuck a new term at us about some book we were reading and almost instantly, I’d know exactly which device was used where: it just made sense in my head before I even began to reason it out.
I loved it and I took it for granted and I never wondered about whether I should try a little bit harder at it, give it a chance, let it be more. I just let it be something I could do easily and something I loved that I assumed would always be around.
So, I sit here now, just over two weeks from my twenty seventh birthday and I ask myself how I came to be here, so without this love of Literature in my life.
And I ask myself how to be.