As a kid, the only thing I liked to do before going to bed was read — myths, fables and all kinds of history books. I vividly remember a Greek Mythology for Kids book that I read and reread so many times that the spine tore in half and the cover fell apart. The corners of the pages crinkled from marking my favorite stories: “Orpheus,” “Theseus and the Minotaur” and “Oedipus.”
A glass of chocolate milk and my favorite book was the best way to end my day. When it got too late to keep the side lamp on, I would get under the covers and crouch over the words. My mom had bought me one of those tiny folding book lights, concerned I would strain my eyes from using my flashlight from summer camp or perhaps because my sister kept complaining about how my night escapades to the exciting world of Greek gods and Norse warriors cast scary shadows on the walls.
I slept on the top bunk, over my older sister who liked to listen to music through her earphones before bed. I always wondered how she could dream at all with “ReplayIyaz.2_mp.3” playing loudly through some cheap earbuds she’d had for years. But I didn’t mind the noise; it became part of my night routine.
I did eventually outgrow that mythology book, but only because it was substituted by a far more thrilling collection of comics: “The Adventures of Asterix.” I got my first one on a birthday — my ninth if I remember correctly — and I was hooked from the very beginning. It was the first time I didn’t read a book repeatedly ad infinitum, because before I finished reading one comic, I already had the next one waiting for me on my desk, borrowed from the school library.
The series is set in the ancient Gallic village of Armorica, around 50 B.C., and it follows the adventures of Asterix, a tiny and witty warrior, and his friend Obelix, in their attempts to keep the village safe from invasion. There are 38 books in the collection, although I don’t think I ever got to read them all. My favorite was “Asterix and the Banquet” — there was something about how food was depicted that always made my mouth water, like I could almost taste it.
In middle school, my sister and I would have to wait for an hour before my parents came to pick us up after school. It was a mismatching of schedules that I did not mind, because it meant waiting in the dining hall — a polyvalent room with bright overhead lights and closets full of books that would only open on specific occasions. They were separated by genre and age group — something I always found absurd — and were never quite in order. Having to go through dozens of books before finding one you liked (a motion similar to flipping through old vinyl in a record store) was something I quite enjoyed, for it molded my sense of criteria. I learned to appreciate a nice design and an appealing font and quickly found where I should be looking to find an exciting book. Although now that I think about it, I was quite literally judging a book by its cover.
That rack had some “Asterix” comics and somehow, among the chaos of scattered books on dusty bookshelves, I would always find one I hadn’t seen before. It was like finding an Easter egg in June.
This series was popular enough that I was able to borrow them from different sources, but in doing so the languages varied from one to the next. Perhaps I was reading one in Spanish, but the following, which I got from my older cousin or a friend, was in French. And the one after that in Catalan. Being exposed to multiple languages early in my life became a crucial part of my development and a valuable source of growth. It was like upgrading the reading experience to a more exciting realm of new words and expressions, where a dog’s bark was a different onomatopoeia every time. “Guau”? “Ouaf”? “Woof”?
While “Asterix” entertained endless hours of my youth, it also taught me a lot about the Romans, the Gauls, the Normans; about history, geography and a broader multilingual lexicon. It also introduced me to the realm of reading as a way to live different lives, to travel back in time, to meet characters and to become like them too.
After “The Adventures of Asterix,” I avidly read yet another collection of “bandes dessinées,” but the plot now followed a young investigator and his cute dog, Milou. “The Adventures of Tintin” resembled those of “Asterix” and brought my imagination to a more contemporary time. I loved the animated series too, though as a rule I despise film renditions of books.
Then at 13, these were replaced by young adult books, which nurtured my coming of age and the hopeless romantic in me. I know I shouldn’t judge my past self, but sometimes I feel remorse for having spent so much time immersed in all those overly dramatic plot lines. At 15, when I got a Kindle for Christmas, I was reading a book every two weeks: at night, on my metro commute to practice, in class, after meals — any time I could, really.
Now, you know when you eat so much of something that you end up hating it? Something similar happened to me with books. It felt like I had been running a race since I picked up that first mythology book, a race that didn’t end until I put down “The Light Between Oceans” and decided to stop running. It was time for retrospect, to allow every character that had lived in me and through me to find its place in my mental archive; to savor a “Tintin” comic without feeling like I had begun to read the next one before I read the last word of the previous one. To breathe.
In my life, books have been like a kind of ant trail: a bulletin board with pins united by a single string; a chain, where every link has been a period of time, becoming a concatenation of life lessons and experiences; a pillar on which the depths of my psyche have been structured; a medicine cabinet, with pills and potions that have served as ointments for times of despair and loneliness, at times having worse side effects than actually remediating the pain.
You will be happy to hear I have rekindled my love for books. It took several failed attempts — some I left unread, some I bought and never began — but I am back to reading (although not as often as I would want to). I now do it during the day, after lunch if I can, while I sit in the camping chair I borrowed from my roommate, propped open in the free parking spot behind my apartment. Odd, I know, but it is the only place where the afternoon sun hits directly, and it is a peaceful place, as unglamorous as it may sound.
This time my sister is not in the lower bunk bed, but in Atlanta, and I don’t drink chocolate milk but Rooibos tea. It all began with mythology books which paved the “The Song of Achilles” — a rendition of the very same story I had read so many times that the ink on the page started fading. I guess I haven’t changed that much at all.
Daily Arts Writer Cecilia Duran can be reached at email@example.com.