“Books were part of my support system in the past and they will continue to be going forward.”
Welcome to our series “The Readers’ Diary”, we’re asking readers why they read and what does reading mean to them.
As readers increasingly share what they’re currently reading and plan to read on social media, we wanted to share more about the people behind each post.
I count myself very fortunate to come from a household in which reading was valued and encouraged. Although we didn’t have a lot of money growing up, my mum did what she could to not make us feel we were lacking in any way.
My mum was brought up in a middle class home in Nigeria and her father was almost regimental in his zeal for my mum and her siblings to consume as much literature as possible. My grandfather worked in the civil service but, as he didn’t have a university degree, he was limited in how far up the ranks he could rise. From the offset my mum, my aunty, and my uncles all knew they must get a Bachelor’s. This was a non-negotiable.
But my grandfather didn’t stop there. Every Saturday morning he would drop them all off at the library and the driver would pick them up at noon. They would return home equipped with their reading materials for the week. At the end of the week they would have to hand in a book report on what they had read and the whole cycle would begin again. My grandfather forced his children to be Bookstagrammers before Bookstagram was a thing.
To this day my mum still doesn’t know if he ever read any of these book reports.
My mum took a much less regimental approach than her father. She would walk with my sisters and I to the library every Saturday (until we were old enough to go by ourselves) and we would spend maybe an hour or two selecting our books for the week. We, however, had the luxury of consuming these books without the responsibility of a book report looming over our heads. I still look back on those trips to the library with fondness and I know my sisters do too, but that doesn’t mean we all have the same relationship with books.
To my knowledge, my mum was the only one among her siblings whose love of books outlasted my grandfather’s tyranny of book reports. Among my three sisters and I, only two of us really displayed a real passion for reading and I am the only one to have continued this voracious reading into my adulthood. Sure they all like to read in varying degrees but I would argue (and they might argue against) that I am the only one who really loves it.
When asked, why do I read? My go-to answer has always been because I grew up reading or because my mum instilled it in me. But if I actually take the time to reflect on this question, I realise that she instilled it in all of us and we don’t all read. At least not to the same capacity. If I’m really honest, and excuse me while I get real vulnerable for a second, I read because all my life I have suffered from loneliness and reading has been my escape.
Who knows why one person feels the effects of loneliness more than others. For me I’m sure the external factors of being the only black kid at most of my schools and being the child of Nigerian expats in rural England contributed to it. But I’m also an introvert who fakes extroversion really well. This means that if you meet me, you will likely have no idea how alone and isolated I’m feeling and therefore it won’t occur to you to check how I’m doing.
So as a child, novels were a way to live out all my wildest fantasies without ever having to bear with the anxiety of interacting with people. It was and still is thrilling. As a child I read to get caught up in the characters and live vicariously through them. As an adult I read to gain insight into the minds of the plethora of great (and not so great) authors out there. And to get caught up in the characters and live vicariously through them.
For the most part, I am no longer the lonely girl of my childhood. I lean more on the family that has always been there for me, I have a wonderful husband, and, as a foreigner in yet another strange land, I’m working at building a network of friends. But books were part of my support system in the past and they will continue to be going forward. I will continue to explore, understand, and learn through the power of books.
And that’s what reading means to me.
– Enobong Tommelleo
Would you like to submit a diary entry?
Submit your answer to these questions – Why do you read and what does reading mean to you? These questions are open to your interpretation and your submissions can be as long or as short as you’d like.
Please email your submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org, put “The Readers Diary Submission” in the subject line and include your name and social media handles if you would like those published.