My sisters and I used to call my grandmother Mrs Cottonreel. She was a ferocious reader, gobbling up 3 books a week, even when in her 80s she suffered from failing eyesight. When she passed away, my mother and I cleared her house, a home of four decades. Imagine our horror when, sorting out her bookshelves, we discovered about 2 dozen library books which were between 5 and 10 years overdue! I will never forget the look on my mother’s face as she did the mental calculation and realised that we would probably have to re-mortgage our own house to pay the pending fines. But then we remembered that the Johannesburg City Council had withdrawn funding and ergo many libararies had closed, including the one Mrs Cottonreel frequented. A narrow escape.
Looking back on this, I realise that the love of books is genetic and runs in the family. I love nothing more than to curl up on the sofa with a book that has captured my imagination, and has drawn me into its pages to the extent that time means nothing. I really do have to discipline myself and consciously pull myself out of the book lest all other chores get neglected. But I am also fussy. I can usually tell from the first page or even the first paragraph if the book is going to mesmerise me. And I cannot read a novel off a device – I need to feel the paper and pages in my hands, which is odd because I am quite happy to read the news online.
It’s now over to the next generation and I know that if I get a call from my son to say he needs some financial help, it’s because he has ordered too many books. Of course I assist, but not before giving him the “tighten your belt” lecture, but secretly I am chuffed that he shares his great grandmother’s, grandmother’s and my love of the written word. I do regret that he and Mrs Cottonreel never met. I can just imagine him telling her that the only time he really got cross with Jenga the cat, was the day she threw up over one of his German text books.