To me a good book is …. a magic carpet that whisks me away to other places, other people, excitement, wonder, new ideas, different scenes, strange sensation, no matter whether they be enchanting, terrifying or bizarre.
Through a book one can experience altered reality without any electronic intervention (cyber games) or without the aid of mind-bending drugs. And all for the price of a book. Granted, these days, your book might be a hefty price – the top end of R200 or in lucky instances, a charity-sale buy for a few rands, but these bargains are rare.
I enjoy travelling via a good travel book. Now that I’m growing older, long distance flights and the maelstrom of airports are a daunting prospect, but: pick up your book and in a flash you’re in the olive groves of Italy, the mountains of the Hindu Kush, the African bushveld, the snow of Alaska, the exotica of the Asian countries, the glitz of Manhattan – unlimited travel, but alas, no Frequent Flyer Miles. On the plus side, no jet lag, foreign languages and no horrendous foreign currency exchange rates. If you’re yearning for the tastes and smells, you can visit a local ethnic restaurant, armed with your book of course, and you can order dim sum, or sauerkraut, or – if all else fails – phone the local takeaway and order a curry!
A good book is as good as – or better than – any movie, TV show, or theatre experience. You have the flexibility to pick it up or put it down, entirely at your convenience. You can read for five minutes, or all night, if that is what you want to do. You can scream with delight or horror, giggle uncontrollably, you can cry unreservedly, in privacy. How often have I come out of a really sad movie, with aching throat and a heavy lump of sadness in my chest, from suppressed tears? When all I wanted to do was sob loudly, but because I was in public, I was too inhibited. But at home, on your sofa, book in hand, you can wail, weep, sniffle, sob, until your nose runs and you are exhausted, and so is your box of Kleenex tissues.
Just as you can weep without restraint, watering the pages with your tears, you can giggle, roar with laughter, snigger, or scream in horror, and the only person you’ll disturb might be a vaguely startled cat, jerked momentarily from its slumbers.
So: a good book is the key to enjoyment, or a key to the suffering of the universal human condition (try any of the classic Russian novelists), a transporter to an escape from mundane life, a source of information and pleasure. There is just no substitute for a GOOD BOOK!