On Reading and Writing
Because silence is a volume of words lost in translation. And speechlessness is what happens when you are torn between what your heart is saying, and what your mind is saying. – Michael Tolulope Emmanuel.
There are times when I ask myself if I am really a writer. If God really created me with this art to weave words into fabric and clothe the naked. If I am not just wasting my time doing another man’s business. If truly, truly, I am born to speak with words and not with sounds. I doubt myself like this when I find it difficult to write for a very long time. But then when I get a hold of myself, I smile and laugh at myself and think, what was I thinking?
But then, there are other times when the dark wind blows and takes away my coat of courage. Such times, it is not the lack of the morale to write that creates the doubt. Such times, it is the writings of other men that creates the doubt. It is the writings of writers like my namesake, Michael Tolulope Emmanuel that cause this fear, this trepidation, this terror. And I know I am not alone in this. I have read of writers who mention books they wish they had written and lines they wish they had penned. The opening lines (quote) of this post were written by Michael and they blew my mind the moment I saw them. I read the quote and then read it again. And then I looked out the window of my room and sighed. And then I read it again. And then I sent it to my Flower, and then I read it again. And then my Flower replied, Blessed is the womb that birthed this one. And then I shared it on my WhatsApp status and a writer friend replied, What have I been writing that I call words.
Michael is a good writer and because of his brilliant piece, I am not going to write about love, death, hope, despair, and failure. Instead, I am going to write about writing and reading.
There are those of us who started reading and writing before we knew what we were doing. We did not plan it. We did not go to any school to learn how to read the thoughts of another man and eavesdrop into the depths of his mind. We did not join any reading club before we could read hundreds of books in a year. We just liked the feel of books, the touch of art, the divinity of creativity. And so we read. We read everything we could lay our hands on. We read novels that were too big for us to finish in a month. We read books we never understood. We read plays from
Soyinka, plays that made our heads go crazy like the mad man dancing in the forest. We just read. We read passages in our English textbooks. And soon, we started writing. We started with stories that we could not relate to. Stories in which all the characters were Ezinmas and Amakas and they all lived in huts and prayed to Ani and feared Amadioha. We wrote these stories and loved them and we found joy in documenting these stories. It did not matter that no one else read these stories and that we did not have any fan, any follower, anybody to disturb us on WhatsApp, anybody to sight us in front of a lecture theatre and say,
You said you were going to put up a post yesterday.
Er…actually…I meant like this week.
But you said today. You said it on your WhatsApp status.
Yeah. I have been busy. I am sorry. I will put it up today…
And you haven’t written anything about the books you read last year.
Oh, yeah. I will write about that tomorrow.
Before Boluwatife came, we wrote. We wrote stories. We wrote rubbish. We wrote and wrote and wrote until our fathers saw that we were their true seeds and started giving us books to read.
For Emmanuel Faith, who read over a hundred books last year…
We read voraciously. Well, it is unclear why we read. We did not exactly read for escape because we did not even know what that meant and still do not know what it means. We just read. We then discovered Achebe and the many things that fell apart. We read that book and realized that there was something called suicide. So man can actually kill himself…wow
We then stumbled on an excerpt from Cry, the Beloved City by Alan Paton. It was unbelievable, this passage which I would have loved to quote here but space would not allow me to. But then, I will put down a few words here from the passage in Paton’s book. It goes thus:
You may thank God that we have got this man, he said. He is a great man, and one of the greatest lawyers in South Africa, and one of the greatest friends of your people.
I do thank God, and you too Father. But tell me. I have one anxiety, what will it cost? My little money is nearly exhausted.
Did you not hear him say he would take the case pro deo? Ah yes, you have not heard of that before. It is Latin and it means for God. So it will cost you nothing, or at least very little.
He takes it for God?
That is what it means in the old days of faith, though it has lost much of that meaning. But it still means that the case is taken for nothing,
Kumalo stammered, I have never met such kindness, he said. He turned away for he wept easily in those days.
Father Vincent smiled at him. Go well, he said, and went back to the lawyer who was taking the case for God.
I read that passage about the boy who was accused of a crime he did not commit and could not find a lawyer in Apartheid South Africa. I read about him and about the ray of hope the lawyer who was taking the case for God must have given him. I read this years ago, and I cried.
In 2018, I read less. I had planned to read 50 books but I did not read up to that. I cannot say exactly how many books I read. I was keeping a good record but after a while, I got bored and gave up. But then, I continued reading.
She leaned down and looked at his lifeless face and Liesel kissed her best friend, Rudy Steiner, soft and true on his lips. He tasted dusty and sweet. He tasted like the regret in the shadows of trees and in the glow of the anarchist’s suit collection. She kissed him long and soft, and others and when she pulled herself away, she touched his mouth with her fingers. Her hands were trembling, her lips were fleshy, and she leaned in once more, this time losing control and misjudging it. Their teeth collided on the demolished world of Himmel Street. – Markus Zusak, The Book Thief.
I started the year with The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. A very great book. A very sad book. A very teary book. A book written by Death himself. There is no way I can describe this book. I can only beg you to read this book. Read the first thirty pages and if you still don’t want to continue, then I am sorry. Perhaps The Book Thief is not for you.
Here is Death talking in the book: His soul sat up. It met me. Those kinds of souls always do – the best ones. The ones who rise up and say “I know who you are and I am ready. Not that I want to go, of course, but I will come.” Those souls are always light because more of them have been put out. More of them have already found their way to other places.
“His soul sat up…” Imagine!
After The Book Thief, I read:
- The Adventures of Tim Sawyer
- The Sun and Her Flowers
- What It Means When A Man Falls From The Sky (a book I had a crush on until I unveiled it)
- Letters To A Young Poet (I read this one every year now. )
I can still taste you. I try to write with your taste in my mouth. – Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient.
I read some other books some of which I cannot remember. There are other books which I read which I should mention here. I read The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje and I fell in love with thoughtful and sad books. I cried while reading this book. I cried after reading this book. When I finished, I returned to the first page and started all over again. I was in Niger state then and there was enough time and space to shed tears. In my commonplace book, I wrote: Michael Ondaatje writes like he knows everything about everything. I was awed and I’m still awed by what Michael Ondaatje did with words in The English Patient. He wrote something called metafiction (a type of fiction I still need to research) and he did it wonderfully well. There is a heart in every man and when you read The English Patient, it is your heart that will respond not your head. Your heart will bow in sorrow and shed tears that your chest will know nothing of. That book really is one book that had a definitive effect on how my year would go.
My darling, I’m waiting for you — how long is a day in the dark, or a week? The fire is gone now, and I’m horribly cold. I really ought to drag myself outside but then there would be the sun. . . I’m afraid I waste the light on the paintings and on writing these words. We die, we die rich with lovers and tribes, tastes we have swallowed, bodies we have entered and swum up like rivers, fears we have hidden in, like this wretched cave. I want all this marked in my body. We are the real countries, not the boundaries drawn on maps with the names of powerful men. I know you will come and carry me out into the palace of winds. That’s all I’ve wanted — to walk in such a place with you, with friends, on earth without maps. The lamp is gone now, and I’m writing in the darkness. – Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient.
I read Even Stars Look Lonesome by Maya Angelou and then read Cujo by Stephen King and a couple of other books. I read in 2018. I will do more in 2019. I think I am a very slow reader, maybe because I am a very attentive reader. I don’t check the time when reading; I just read.
For my Flower
“It’s impossible not to! Love is volatile. Recalcitrant. Irrepressible. We do our best to tame it, to name it and plan for it and maybe even to contain it between the hours of six and twelve, or if you’re Parisian five and seven, but like much of what is adorable and irresistible in this world it eventually tears free of you and, yes, sometimes you get scratched up in the process.”
― Lisa Halliday, Asymmetry
I have started this year with Lisa Halliday’s Asymmetry, a lovely book that one. When I’m done, I will try and pick up one of the books I bought last year and open them.
Tell me, how was last year for you? If you are a writer, how was writing? If you are a reader – and you should be – how was reading? How many books did you read? Are there any books you read last year that you think I should read? Now is the time to voice out. Come out into the open now and confess your deeds. Have you been reading Rupi Kaur in the dead of the night while the enemy prowls around or you have been reading angry books about Biafra and you are silently praying for the bespectacled revolutionary? Or you’ve been reading compendiums of fantasies like My Watch by that former president? What exactly did you use your eyes and mind to do last year?
PS. Michael Tolulope Emmanuel, the writer of the opening lines of this post has stopped blogging for reasons only his village people know. Can we all please join me in begging him to return to what the Creator designed him to do? Thank you. See you…next week? Can’t promise!