“Would you like a book for your birthday?”

2 December 2011

“No thank you, I’ve got one already”.
This is kind of a lame joke, I know. We happen to have more than one book between us in our family. We also like to buy a new book or borrow one from the library every now and then. (Well, I have to qualify that last remark. Borrowing books from the library is not something I do regularly here in France. Good stories are still wasted on me if written in French.)

Recently, I watched a film version of a Gabriel Garcia Marquez book on TV and I thought, “I have read the book, but cannot remember what it was all about, this is new to me”.
So I went through our bookshelves and came across a Gabriel Garcia Marquez book. To my relief, it was a different book, so no wonder the film plot was all new. But as deep as I dig into my memory, I can’t remember the story in ‘A hundred years of solitude’ anyway… I haven’t yet started reading it again, but I picked up another book that was sitting right next to it.

Do you also find that certain books, if put away for ten years, can be an immensely pleasurable read again if you just let them stew for a decade? The book I picked up was so meaningful to me in the last millenium that I had underlined certain passages.
It is

... Graham Greene's 'The heart of the matter'

When I looked at it last weekend, I could not at all recall why on earth it had been so important, but the blurb sounded good. So I read it again. Over the course of two days. And I was hooked again. The themes that Greene writes about really resonate with me. Why? I guess by the time you’ve lived on this planet for a few decades, you have encountered people and experiences that make you wonder about the human disposition.

[Spoiler ahead] If you haven’t read the book, Greene’s main character (Major Scobie) develops from an upright regular police officer into this contradictory, tragic man. His weird (catholic) pride of wanting to do ‘the right thing’ for everybody but himself lands him in a downward spiral of lies, murder and, eventually, suicide.

Greene’s insight into the human mind is so very compelling as you watch the tragedy unfold. I found it hard to read the book to the end, because I wanted to intervene…. and shout at Scobie
“For f**** sake, come clean, if you are honest with yourself and the people around you, there will be less bloodshed. People around you can survive honesty, but it’s the intricate cobwebs of lies, cover-ups and deceit that lead to disaster”.
To me, the book illustrates above all that you can never fully understand another person, be it your child, your friend, your spouse. Admittedly, this is not a revolutionary discovery, but it’s so easy to forget that every person lives in his or her own little universe. (There’s a thought – 7 billion parallel universes on the planet. And that’s not counting the cats, dogs, budgies and wild beasts!) I find it liberating nevertheless: We are all individuals doing their own (mostly) irrational weird and wonderful thing and I guess that’s what makes life exciting, exhilarating and painful at times. If people were predictable and straightforward, the world would be a pretty boring place to live in.

It may not be enough to have just one book on your bookshelf, but it’s a wise idea to keep the ones that have been meaningful to you and re-read them after a while. So please get me a book anytime! But make it a treasure, because there are the books that are plain brain candy. I have a few of those as well. In fact I have got a whole pile of them. But that’s a different story. A lot of these will go away soon, to be released into the wild to maybe, just maybe become someone else’s treasure and inspiration.

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