Looking back and all around me, I am truly grateful to belong to the generation that grew up with books, played in sandboxes, chased friends around the trees playing cops and robbers, built tents from bedsheets with my cousin, and made it all the way to adulthood without email, Facebook, iPhones, blogging and whatever electronic master dominates our lives now. These days I scribble my thoughts on Evernotes, but once upon a time I had piles of notebooks on my desk. My organizer was a permanent resident in my school and office bag, containing my calendar and phone book. Most important of all, I always carried a book.
It was my mother who introduced me to Ladybird books as a child. I spent so much time in the hospital in my youth, during which my ability to speak was curtailed, so that left me with two choices, reading and writing. Television was good for about an hour, but a book could keep me enthralled for hours on end, or at least until the next treatment or meal. As a toddler, Mommy read Little Red Riding Hood to me every night before going to bed and I loved it. She tried to introduce other fairy tales but I insisted on Little Red Riding Hood, and memorized the words and the moment the page turned, to the extent that my parents thought I was a child genius who knew how to read at the tender age of two. For some reason, I found The Three Little Pigs completely stupid, and to this day I abhor Chicken Little.
Being an only child who moved around from country to country frequently and didn’t particularly enjoy playing with dolls, books were my refuge. They were more than simple entertainment and now, with the benefit of hindsight, I realize that certain books became turning points at the different stages of my life, spelling all the difference in the choices I made, and influencing the way I looked at the world.
Childhood: What child doesn’t love fairy tales? My parents read bedtime stories only until certain age and then I was expected to read my own bedtime stories, which was fine because then I got to choose my own fantasy. So mind took possession of all the lovely worlds of the Brothers Grimm and Little Red Riding Hood remained my favorite, perhaps because it featured an only child who had to face the woods and the occasional wolf along the way. In addition, there was Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden, just about all the Enid Blyton books, but in particular The Magic Faraway Tree, and of course, Carolyn Keene’s Nancy Drew series (yes, I read them all!).
Teenage Years: The Nancy Drew books were the bridge into the teenage years, but it was here that I ventured into the genre of romance. Again, my mother was my greatest influence and introduced me to Barbara Cartland, who opened up the world of fictional stories against historical settings. Then I moved on to Nora Roberts, and eventually academic requirements forced the usual suspects upon me such as Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, and so on. Of all the mandatory reading, however, Albert Camus’ The Plague left the deepest imprint in me, and led me down the road of existentialism and philosophy. It was towards the end of High School that I discovered Colleen Mccullough’s Thorn Birds and her impeccable style.
My 20s: Out of college and into the real world, but still with my books changing my life. By this time my writing took on a more serious tone, less fanciful and dreamy, and I undertook the initial explorations of depth and layers, not just in the material I read, but what I wrote. It was definitely in my 20s and working in development cooperation that I expanded my taste to psychology, sociology, and theology. This is when I stumbled on the works of M. Scott Peck (The Road Less Travelled and People of the Lie) and Hernando de Soto’s El Otro Sendero, a must for anyone in development work. Allowing myself to dabble in the surreal and emotional, I fell in love with the writing style of Isabel Allende, starting with House of Spirits, and the incomparable Gabriel Garcia Marquez, but of all his works it was 100 Years of Solitude that left me spellbound.
My 30s: Motherhood changed my life and my personal needs. Suddenly I yearned for inner peace and spiritual growth, tools to handle life and all the roles. It wasn’t about indulging in fantasy worlds anymore, but learning how to deal with reality and be the best I could become in spite of the high price to pay along the way. So I reached out to find Sara Ban Beathnach’s Simple Abundance, Anthony de Melo’s Prayer of the Frog, and John O’Donohue’s Anam Cara. The circle of life is such that I also read to my daughter, and explored other types of books that would encourage an artistic mind. Here I found an absolute gem in the form of Julie Andrew’s The Last of the Great Whangdoodles, which my mother read along as well and we all had a blast. The lesson: one is never too old for fairy tales. I was in my mid-30s when Colleen Mccullough’s Rome came out (or at least, when I read them) and harbored my first fantasies of writing my own book.
My 40s: The greatest change took place in my 40s, when I devoured books not for their content and amazing story lines, but for the exquisite writing styles of the authors. I became a snob of sorts, discarding anything with sloppy research or bad translations, and searching for those who knew the countries and setting they wrote about from personal experience. I refer to authors such as Tess Gerritsen, Ken Follett, David Baldacci, Val McDermid, and Carlos Ruiz Zafon. This is also the age when I began blogging, a moment of personal triumph, having a sense of freedom and creating my own world. Alongside this development was a reunion with my camera and rediscovery of the magic of photography. Like with the writing, I found my photography mentors and life has never been the same since.
At 50: From Ladybird books to publishing my own, this little red riding hood has made it through the darkest part of the woods. Now the focus is on midlife transformation and I treasure the insights of Brene Brown’s Gifts of Imperfection, Lorraine Ciemes’ Mid-life Magic: Designing the Next Chapter of Your Life, and my latest discovery and the reason for this blog in the first place, Timothy Hodgkinson’s Business for Bohemians and How to Be Idle. From Ladybird to FrogDiva to Bohemian Frog perhaps?