The importance of books

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photo source: Ljiljana Habjanovic Djurovic by Hello! magazine

“It’s important to read also because you see you’re not the one who is worst off in the world and also because you can become a better person.”
– Ljiljana Habjanovic Djurovic, famous Serbian novelist – Official website – English version

I read this a couple of days ago and couldn’t help but ponder over the multitude of thoughts these words stirred in my mind. I don’t think I ever really thought that I’m the one worst off in this whole great world either in my current or in certain past situations, nor do I think that something like that could be true, but in spite of all realistic realizations I feel pretty desperate most of the time. Sentences like these do come as a helpful reminder to put things back into perspective. This extraordinary and very special woman who sold and sells thousands of copies of her best selling titles used to have very limited means to purchase what she has always loved the most – books. When her maid of honor asked her what she wanted as a gift for her wedding, she didn’t ask for any home or kitchen appliances or other valuable items – her request was to get the novel “A Time of Death” by Dobrica Cosic, a novelist whose fame she managed to reach in the years that were to come. Quite a strange choice of title for the occasion, maybe quite a strange choice of a wedding gift for many people out there, but that’s Ljiljana, spiritual woman, devoted to her beloved literary world.

Back to that quote from the beginning of this post – her words reminded me as well of the importance of reading and took me back to my childhood – at the age of 3 I could already read and write, both Cyrillic and Latin alphabet (Serbian is written in both ways). There are still precious little papers from that distant 1979 with my a bit unsteady all capital letters handwriting, but that was handwriting all right. I have some flashback memories of how I used to amuse and even scare our guests when I would approach them with newspapers in my tiny hands and start reading something out loud. At first they would stare in disbelief and then they would decide that I must have learned the text by heart in some way, yet even such an achievment was considered challenging for a child of my age. Then I would go around and just plainly read whatever was written everywhere around me, up until the bewildered guest would usually advise my dad that he as a doctor should do something about it, because it couldn’t be normal. He would laugh and reply – What do you want me to do, erase her memory?” 🙂 After that, when my granny took care of me in preschool years, we would always go for a walk and enter a store where I was allowed to pick out one little book for children – she was worried that I would grow out of the quantity of material fast and she needed to make sure that I really made some good use of what was purchased, so she allowed one book at a time. The strategy failed very soon because she couldn’t believe that I would finish such a book in less than half an hour and then ask for more, perfectly capable of retelling what I read in details. When I was 6, almost 7, I was already reading novels, 500-600 pages in two days and I utterly enjoyed it. I remember going places to visit relatives and family friends and a distinct feeling of delusion and boredom if I found no books in their houses. On the contrary, if houses had any sort of small personal library “the strange kid” would pick out a book and amuse herself leaving the adults speak undisturbed. 🙂 I always loved libraries, bookstores, book fairs… my mom says that if anything is true about me, then it’s true that I was always bringing books home from all the places I visited. Other people brought souvenirs from their travels abroad, I always brought at least a couple of books and all sorts of printed materials in different languages.

I’ll never forget the “incident” when I went to Italy to spend a summer in Rome prior to my last exam in Italian literature – that exam was so difficult because teachers could literally ask you anything from the beginning of the literature in Italian language to the works of present days, it takes many months to get ready for such an interrogation. I packed all the books I needed in a bag that weighed exactly 20 kilos 😀 I had to study a lot and I was to spend more than two months away from home. My other piece of luggage weighed 20 kilos as well, and in economy class you’re not allowed to embark more than at most 25 kilos of weight without paying quite dearly for every kilo of excess weight. The book bag wasn’t that big, so I embarked only my suitcase and dragged with my both hands the book bag into the cabin. I got the place near the emergency exit so the flight attendant warned me that the bag had to go up into the luggage compartment. Okkk… now it’s one thing to drag 20 kilos over the flat ground, something entirely different to lift that same weight way above your head and place it safely into any of those plastic compartments. Another female attendant approached me and said she would help. I gave her a look, she was so thin, practically skinny, on high heels and with no muscles, but she didn’t want to leave me alone. 🙂 She made a couple of tries to just barely lift the bag and said – “God in heavens, what the hell is inside this bag???” :)) Books, I said. Yeah right, sure. Now tell me the truth. Books, I repeated, look inside if you think I’m not telling the truth. She looked and said – “Jesus, who would carry so many books around?? One can’t read that many books in one’s lifetime.” Oh yes, one can do that and much more, no worries. 🙂 Three attendants took care of the bag together and managed to place it in one of the compartments. Some 45 minutes later we entered some heavy turbulence and sometimes in such conditions it can happen that those plastic lids flip open no matter how well they’re closed. Mine flipped open all right. At that moment I thought – what if (we panic disorder people LOVE what if statements) the bag slips out and falls down… on somebody? That would be – horrific. 😀 Nothing happened, thanks God, and as soon as I could unbuckle myself and get on my feet again I closed the compartment. On the way out of the plane, there was no other way, when people weren’t around any more I just pulled the bag with my both arms and it tumbled down full force on the floor of the plain. That was one of the loudest goodbyes in the history of flying I’m sure.

I passed my exam some 3-4 months later with flying colors and got my diploma. Needless to say, I continued hanging out with books, especially because I was now teaching others from the books similar to those I studied from.

Have we lived happily ever after, me and the books? Well, no – this is unfortunately real world. Ljiljana never betrayed her potentials and she fulfilled all her childhood dreams, while unfortunately I never did. Panic disorder ruined even what used to be one my main interests and passions. When anxious and that is pretty much all the time, I can’t have that calm focus any more I used to boast of. “Fight or flight” instinct accelerated everything in my life, as my body desperately tries to save itself from the indefinite disasters. I spot things in a split second, my reflexes are very accelerated, I jump even at not so very loud noises, and I constantly think of bad outcomes and how to evade them. My attention is very scattered all over the place, I can focus on 10 pages at most, my eyes just keep running over texts unable to settle down on what’s important. My world has become a series of flash images, rather than a steady flow of verbalized thoughts. I take up books and put them down again. I don’t read anymore. It’s as if I spent all my quality life so early on and that now I’m just running on quite senseless extra time. As if I were 150 years old, waiting to pass away, because all good has already happened and none is left for me.

That’s where Ljiljana helped reminding me that there are stories out there much worse than mine. I believe her when she says that books make us better in many different ways. Maybe I should just pick one and persevere, no matter how much attention deficit disorder limits me. Her last book which is now in stores is called “Our father”. Just a coincidence or symbolism, I don’t know, but I’m sure that my dad would be happy if I could mend at least some of the broken ties of my mind. If only he were still alive, to see me try and maybe, just maybe succeed one day.

Thank you for reading. And pick out a book. Read. There is a very special world out there waiting for you, something that can’t be replaced by internet texts, newspapers, magazines, television. If nothing else, vocabulary, expressions and descriptions differ significantly.

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