One of my favourite things about my year in the UK was being able to buy books online from Amazon at much more affordable rates compared to books bought in Malaysia. Then I discovered Book Depository and found out BookXcess had expanded in the time I was away, much to my delight.
The other day as I was wrapping and flipping through a stack of recently-bought books, it struck me that since last year I have been able to afford buying books for myself - brand new, no less!
Even though I was an avid reader since 2 or 3 (my mum tells me the only way to get me to sit down for a meal or in the toilet was to put a book in front of me), books were privileges borrowed from libraries, passed down second-hand from older kids who had outgrown them, or, once a year, given brand-new by an aunt from England whenever she returned for summer holidays.
No book would pass through our household without being pored over, savoured, digested, or, even for the utterly boring ones, quickly skimmed through and then spat out.
Second-hand encyclopaedias from an uncle were my primers on folk tales, Greek mythology, and dog breeds from Papillons to Irish Setters.
Reader's Digest informed my general knowledge on the fact that a sneeze can carry germs up to as far as 15 feet and the meanings of and difference between the words opaque and translucent.
Biographies of great people like Helen Keller and Corrie Ten Boom seared the importance of kindness, love, and the beauty of the human spirit across my heart.
"The Chronicles of Narnia" captured my imagination and deepened my sense of mystery and wonder.
An old diet book of my mother's from her younger days taught me that self-control and discipline were the most important (and really, the only) diet tips any girl needs to know.
Tales of mice in flying baskets and sailor dogs ignited my passion for travel and discovery, and Usborne books made me aware of the sobering reality of the waste produced by commercialism.
Sean Covey's "7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens" prepped me for the challenges that I would face in the years to come but more importantly instilled in me great habits that keep me going even past my teens.
I read all this, mind you, before I'd even hit 13. I've barely touched any of the above books since but everything I've learned from them remain a part of who I've become today.
As a child, my parents were not able to give me many things, like brand new books (something so many of us take for granted). But they gave me a bigger gift - the gift of reading. Life - and possibilities - opened up for me through books. Books taught me that life is so much bigger than what I know and how to dream big and reach for my goals.
The fact that I can afford to buy a book today is a small reminder of the amazing journey that my life has been so far - a journey that would not exist if not fuelled by the imagination and passion while tempered by the eternal truths, wise lessons and lasting values I have encountered in my reading.
So the next time you hold a book in your hand, don't take the privilege for granted. Delve into it, engage with it, allow it to challenge and educate and inform and change you. Enter other people's worlds through their words, and watch your own world becoming bigger. Sit on the thoughts, ideas and ideals that someone has painstakingly stitched together for no other tangible purpose than to share them with you - mull over them, and let them become part of yourself.
If you want to live, truly live, read.
I wish that more Christians would read, and not just the Christian-life books and novels churned out by Christian publishing houses. I wish they would haunt used bookstores, delving into the thoughts, the poetry, the stories of yesterday and today. I wish they would fellowship with the world's great thinkers, with Christianity's most faithful workers and with the deepest imaginations and longings of our race. They might be surprised at how often they find God in the written word. C.S. Lewis said of books that "A young man who wishes to remain an atheist cannot be too careful of his reading."
I think he is right. In any case, by reading, I live my life more fully. On ink and paper I peruse the mind and soul of the human race, and even the mind and soul of God; I see their interactions clearly laid down; and I am challenged to interact with all my heart, soul and strength: to take my own life as a gift, to think about it, to enrich it with imagination, to live.
-Rachel Starr Thomson, Mind Soul Ink Paper