Sunday, April 21, 2024
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HomeEducation / CultureRevel without a clause

Revel without a clause

By Tony Deyal

Even though I no longer go to the horse races, some people still call me a “bookie.” Others call me a “bookworm.” They’re so completely off the track that I rail at them. What I am is a book dragon and not just an ordinary one like the Komodo which suffers from erectile dysfunction. I dig reading. I am a bibliophile.

My nights before I sleep and my weekends are all booked up. The advice I got from a librarian was, “Son, believe in your shelf.” I took it up and now have three with a fourth coming to hold my writing only.

While I found out at University that the best college degree to become a successful fiction writer was journalism (especially in Trinidad), despite not being a bookie I do things by the books and not just the book. With the extreme heat that we in the Caribbean are experiencing these days, I came up with a foolproof way to avoid sunburns. Stay inside the house and read all day.

There are a lot of people like me who read past bedtime and sometimes don’t sleep until the next morning when it’s time to go to school or work. Some have book hangovers. After drinking a lot of coffee (or tea) to finish reading a good book, they are upset because they just cannot start another one right away. Interestingly, I often told my daughter what my mother demanded from me when she went by the light switch in my bedroom, “Put down the book and go to sleep. You have to catch the bus in the morning to go to school.” I always answered (and my daughter did the same), “Oh gosh, just let me finish this chapter first, please. It going too well for me to put down.”

My father was concerned about the cost of electricity so he just shouted a couple of times “You wasting electricity. You know how much that cost?” Then he came into the room and switched off “the current.” What he didn’t know is that I had his “torchlight” under my coverlet and as soon as he left I said, “Let there be light.” Even though I wasn’t deep into Genesis and the King James Bible, somehow God and I became friends. “And God said, Let there be light and there was light. And God (and I) saw the light and it was good.” He even divided the light from the darkness. If there is anything I learnt, no book lover goes to bed alone and some are lucky to have the Almighty with them as well.

Mark Twain, the American writer and humorist, saw writing as part of the bigger picture. He believed, “Good friends, good books, and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life.” Long before Twain, Marcus Tullius Cicero, a Roman statesman and philosopher, put it bluntly, “A room without books is a body without a soul.” And getting back to my dragons, I have to drag this in from the English writer, Neil Gaiman, “Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.” I definitely won’t go so far as to try that but will stick with Groucho Marx, American comedian and actor, “Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.” Mark also said, “I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.”

Some of the other great authors also make reading as important as writing. Earnest Hemingway, the American novelist and short-story writer, was clear about where books stood in his life. “There is no friend as loyal as a book.” C.S. Lewis went for tea the same way I go for coffee, “You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.” But Frank Zappa, the musician and band leader of “The Mothers of Invention”, cut it short and to the point, “So many books, so little time.”

So much for writers reading, but what about the writing and what writers think is the right thing? Essentially, like their writing, they move from what seems to be the ridiculous to the sublime.

Winston Churchill is first on my list, “From now on, ending a sentence with a preposition is something up with which I will not put.” Stephen King found his real horror was, “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.” American comedian and writer, Stephen Wright, joked, “I wrote a few children’s books. Not on purpose.” Ruth Rendell, one of my favourite writers of thrillers and psychological murder mysteries, advised those who didn’t know how to get into the book world, “I get a lot of letters from people. They say: ‘I want to be a writer. What should I do?’ I tell them to stop writing to me and get on with it.”  Then one of my humourists, Irving S. Cobb, commented, “If writers were good businessmen, they’d have too much sense to be writers.”

American author, Jessamyn West, spoke for all of us. “Writing is so difficult that I often feel that writers, having had their hell on earth, will escape all punishment thereafter.” And the one that is biblically true and without the Lord helping me this time, “If Moses were alive today he’d come down from the mountain with the Ten Commandments and spend the next five years trying to get them published.”

My first newspaper columns were in the Trinidad Guardian and subsequently the Trinidad Express. I then got a scholarship to Carleton University in Canada. Knowing that none of us from the Caribbean were white, and even though I had good Canadian friends in my classes and even taught several, I started my column “Blackadaisical.”

It was very much based on something that US columnist and editor, Doug Larson, who had advised people like me that “Wisdom is the reward you get for a lifetime of listening when you’d have preferred to talk.” He wrote, “If the English language made any sense, lackadaisical would have something to do with flowers.” In my case, it was flour. I had to do my own self-raising and I did it with books and more books. And for children, I can tell them to respond as I did when one of my colleagues asked me, “Tony boy, how many books you read in your lifetime.” My answer was, “I really don’t know. Unless you lick me down now with a big stick or shoot me, I’m not dead yet.”

*Tony Deyal was last seen quoting Mark Twain, “I was sorry to hear my name mentioned as one of the great authors because they have a sad habit of dying off. Chaucer is dead, so is Milton, so is Shakespeare and I am not feeling very well myself.” You can say that again!

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