Confessions of a Bookworm


German writer Heinrich Mann once said that a house without books is like a room without windows. I had the privilege of growing up in a house with a lot of books and have loved reading ever since I was a child. 

My parents tell me that I used to sit and read on the stairs in the mornings when I was supposed to be putting on my shoes to go to school. I would get so distracted by the book that I was reading and would often end up being late. 

Once in a while, my dad used to ask me, “So, what do you want to be when you grow up?” For as long as I can remember, I’d say, “I want to be a writer.” 

My answer used to make him cringe because as much as he admired my literary aspirations, he hoped that I would choose a job that would allow me to earn a steady income to support myself . 

He eventually gave in to my desire, however, because he realized that my love for reading was something that I inherited from him. It was my father who diligently gave me books as birthday and Christmas presents and we would have long discussions about our favorite ones, which became quite similar as I got older. 

Back in senior high school, our class read Goethe’s “Faust.” While everyone complained about how boring it was, I secretly enjoyed it, though I didn’t dare admit it, afraid that my classmates would think I was a weirdo. 

I borrowed tons of books from the library and would spend hours reading. Books allowed me to enter my own world of dreams, hopes and wishes, caught up in stories that would leave me laughing, shivering or crying. 

I imagined attending St. Clare’s boarding school with Enid Blyton’s O’Sullivan twins, and for the first time thought I understood the meaning of love after reading Shakespeare’s woeful “Romeo and Juliet.” 

“Wuthering Heights” had me galloping alongside Heathcliff and Cathy through the moors of Yorkshire. I strolled in the lush gardens of Pemberley estate in Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” and fought alongside Gandalf, Aragorn and Legolas to save Middle Earth from the dark lord Sauron in the “The Lord of the Rings.” 

I was captivated by the violent history of the Tudor dynasty through Philippa Gregory’s novels, wincing every time Henry VIII commanded yet another beheading. And I found a kindred spirit in Ashton Pelham-Martyn of M.M. Kaye’s “The Far Pavilions,” always torn between his British and Indian heritage. 

I saw Pablo Neruda beneath my window, reciting poetry in the shadows of a fruit-bearing tree. Gabriel Garcia Marquez brought the natural beauty of South America much closer to me than any television documentary. And to this day, Haruki Murakami never fails to reawaken my long-lost memories of Japan. 

Books have nurtured my imagination and encouraged me to dream. Through books, I was able to travel to faraway, exotic lands, meet the most exciting, lovable and quirky characters and become part of a story that somebody else created. Books have been such loyal and constant companions throughout my life that I find it hard to understand when people don’t necessarily share my passion for reading. 

In Indonesia I have met many people who, for one reason or another, don’t like to read. Some can’t afford to buy books. Others were never encouraged to read in school or at home. 

A good book is like a friend you can turn to for comfort, someone with whom you can have endless conversations with. Whenever I feel sad or lonely, I go to a bookstore. I wander through the rows of shelves, randomly pick up several titles, sit down and start reading. 

Sometimes, I specifically look for novels that are close to my heart, suddenly recalling a certain passage that I know will brighten my mood. 

Every time I leave a bookstore, I do so with a smile on my face — along with a bag of newly-purchased novels and an empty wallet. 

A couple of weeks ago, my dad asked me, “So, how is that book of yours doing? You’ve been wanting to write one since you were in elementary school, remember?” 

When I replied that I didn’t have as much time as I used to for my own writing, he shook his head and smiled. 

“I don’t believe that for a second,” he said. “I’m sure you have it all finished in your head already. So go ahead and start writing it.” 

And that’s what I did.

This article was first published on April 22, 2010.