pile of books, with a dim lamp on the side

When reading a book changes your life

I read Half of a Yellow Sun, and Americanah, and I feel as if the ground has shifted beneath my feet. It’s not as if I have discovered Adiche for the first time, no, I read Purple Hibiscus years ago when I was still in high school. But back then I went through books like a juggernaut. I was relentless in my pursuit of deliciously carved out stories, and exquisite worlds built and manipulated for our pleasure.

I wasn’t very discerning in my complete immersion in the words created by authors, I wanted to read, and I did. I’ve read so many books in my short lifetime a lot of them are a forgotten blur I’m unlikely ever to remember. When exactly my obsession with reading began, I’m not entirely sure. Perhaps it was when I was 8 years old, and loved to borrow books from the library. I particularly remember, when we lived in Bindura as a child, borrowing a particular book with lots of coloured pictures and big print. I loved that book…Beauty and the Beast.

I also remember rushing to my bedroom after school intent on retrieving that book from my wardrobe, wanting to pack it into my school satchel so I wouldn’t forget it again. I walked in on my uncle having sex…in my room, on my bed. Perhaps that’s why I still remember the cover of that book. I’m not sure if I told my mother, he was a distant young uncle, but one I liked nevertheless. I’m also puzzled how I knew, at the age of 7 or 8, that it was sex that they were having. Do 8 year olds normally recognise that act for what it is?

Maybe that obsession crystallized when I was 10. I recall stealing my mother’s Mills and Boon novels from her bookshelf and locking my bedroom door to read them in secret. I closed my bedroom curtains to ensure nobody would peak, and know, as if I knew I shouldn’t have been reading them at 10. These Millies weren’t the new glossy type; these fluffy romances with stiflingly predictable storylines and characters. These new kind with a lazy kind of writing that I find difficult to swallow, and haven’t been able to for years now.

Maybe I don’t want light reads anymore, maybe I don’t have enough stress to desire the cottony, easy escape they provide. I don’t know, all I know is the old ones were better. They were beautifully written, more layered, and the storylines, even though similar, were more nuanced. From all my Millie reading, the old ones are the ones I remember best. Maybe one day I’ll start collecting them, see if I can read them again.

But those were not the only books I was reading. I indulged myself in the Sydney Sheldon titles my mother owned, I read the Pelican Brief (John Grisham), and whatever else I could find on her bookshelf. I am forever grateful Eaglesvale Primary had a well-endowed library because it wasn’t long before I moved from my mother’s bookshelf, to the hundreds of books lining the shelves of the school library. By this time my anti-social habit had swallowed me. I blazed through as many books as I could, the library was my new paradise.

Writing about it now I’m filled with a strange nostalgia, wishing I could go back to that time when my world revolved around the library, sports ground, and whoever I had a blistering crush on at the time. I recall reading this particular series from that library, The Wheel of Time. The smallest book must have had about 600 pages. I barely ate, or slept, completely consumed by the series. That’s how I read novels, with a single minded intensity. I read whilst eating, walking, during conversation, by candlelight and sometimes even by moonlight. Reading novels and books was my addiction, an addiction I wore proudly and without shame.

However, I’m not sure any of them fundamentally changed me, at least not a single one in its individual capacity. I feel altered. I cannot describe this feeling, it’s too puzzling, too monumental, but I know that I’m different. There’s an itchy excitedness under my skin and I don’t know what it means. Are books supposed to alter you like this? Novels mind you, not non-fiction or self-help book, novels. Her writing, and storytelling is so beautiful it leaves me breathless. If I had any doubts about writing fiction I’m fairly certain they have been swept away.

READ: What’s really holding you back, honestly?

I want to scream at the top of my lungs, I want to dance and sing, and talk about this freaking novel. At this point, that’s all I want to do honestly, but I can only do so with those who’ve read it, all of it, otherwise I’ll start to bore people with zero interest in it. As a writer, I’m inspired, awed. As a young woman I feel liberated. It’s as if Adichie’s writing and her characters have liberated me, they have given me permission to just be exactly as I want to be, even though I didn’t think I needed any permission.

I want to write like Adichie, to construct context as if I’m world building (sci-fi writers often construct entirely new worlds) and when it’s done right, it’s magnificent. She has given me permission to write what I want to, however I want to, without the doubts and fears about audience and genres and prizes and maybe bestseller lists too. Her characters allowed me to be easy on myself, now I know it’s okay that I’m not thinking about marriage, or worrying about it. At almost 24 I started to wonder if I something was wrong with me for not being worried or too concerned about marriage. If my lack of urgency or fear was natural. Now I don’t care, I’m designing my life, and I’ll design it how I want it.

I have so much to say, but it’s all jumbled and messy and maybe irrelevant as well, so I’ll leave it here. My hands are shaking from emotion that I don’t know what to do with. A book, a film, an encounter, maybe even a song can change your whole being, sometimes in a moment, sometimes over time when you least expect it.

Comments? Tell me about a book, a film or encounter that altered your world.

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