Conversations about Books

I could ask for any book, and my father would allow me to buy it on the credit card he had given me. The card was for emergencies only, and I suppose owning books must have been an emergency at some stage in his life. Perhaps, it was owning the time to read them that was so precious.

When I started university he expected feedback from registration week. Who were the lecturers, which lecture halls were we using, what was the schedule like? But the recommended book list is what blew him apart. He saw all these subjects, with two or three recommended textbooks per subject, and he just said:

“You must get whatever books you need to study.”

After my first first year (remember, both he and I changed courses) I had an answer.

“But Dad, I have already checked at the book store and some of them are really expensive and have to be imported from England or the States specially.”

Secretly hoping he would back off, so I would not have to wade through volumes and be nervous about cracking the covers and then facing the official exam paper at the end of the year. But he persisted and I had to show him to proof of order. Sometime the books came after the first quarter exams which I passed without the attendance of these sentries in my bedroom.

So when I turned 21 and people asked my mother what they should get me for my birthday, I was quick to say I wanted books. I still have all of them in my study now, pleasant company, some read, some paged through and some just there. I have some beautiful rare books and a collection of South African first and subscribers prints of various natural history topics. In the spirit of decluttering I only have two medical textbooks in my study at home. Man’s Anatomy by Tobias and Arnold, to remember the beauty of the working of the human body, and Apley’s System of Orthopaedics, a classic in case I forget and someone phones for advice. I can quickly reference his clear explanations. I have a few more orthopaedic textbooks at work. They would make good flower presses. The internet has become useful for research and the Kindle for reading without feeling paper.

I wonder what my father would have thought of a Kindle. His whole library at home, the New Encyclopaedic britanncia, 26 Volumes and the Collections of Great Books with leather-bound spines, had a lot more character than a Kindle. I can remember settling bets and completing school projects from these books. I can remember learning so much, not just about the subject matter, but the way in which the articles were researched. And how static the world was, because the next edition of the encyclopaedia would take a few more years. So a country would not change its borders in that time. Nor would an economic crises envelope it.

For all the great books my father’s real love was comics. Dennis the Menace and Archie were his favourites. He could lie down at home, in the village or on the beach and disappear into a peaceful world of pictures that spoke.

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