Before beginning this post, let me do a shameless plug to a blog from my guildie and friend Celesteral. It is called Lost Ranger. I am not sure what kind of topics she will tackle but no matter what it is, judging by her first post, they will be very enjoyable to read.
Now the reason I am doing that shameless plug is because of that first post I mentioned. It made me think a lot about my own relationships with books. And instead of writing a giant wall of text in her comments I thought it might be better to just write a post here.
Let me just give a disclaimer first. Although I try to keep this blog with a general positive attitude this one might have a few drepressing/negative parts. It also may end up being somewhat of a incoherent ramble. I might as also mix fiction, comic books and tabletop RPGs throughout the post. Albeit they are technically very different types of books they were all important in the formation of my reading passion in a way or another. I will try to minimize all that for the sake of myself and for the sake of anyone reading this post.
For reference purposes, this is all relative to Brazil, the country where I was born, grew up and still live in. I am just pointing it out because it is one of those instances where this kind of detail matters.
Alright. Now that is said, let’s get to it…
Once upon a time…
I don’t remember anyone ever reading me a story to bedtime when I was a small child. I do know my mother and my aunts always stimulated me and my brother to read from an early age though. I know this since as far as my memory goes I can always remember reading either a book or some comic. Among those early memories are some of my mother taking me and my brother to a local biannual book convention. She would let us choose any book that was suitable to us for buying. Some times though those wouldn’t be exactly children’s books. For example, I don’t remember at what exact age… Maybe when I was 10 or somewhat about then? Anyway, I remember wanting to buy a Sherlock Holme’s book during one of those conventions. I don’t even know why I got interested on him to begin with. But I remember it clearly that the guy who was working there even helped us by finding out which was the first book detailing Sherlock Holmes’ adventures. I still have that book to this day and I consider it one of my little treasures.
Then when I wasn’t reading books I was reading comics. During my childhood it were some local ones, of the “Turma da Mônica”… series, I guess? Franchise? I am not sure what the proper term would be. It was pretty much the only comics produced locally back when I was a kid. I have no idea if things changed since then. Probably not.
Later on, during my teenager years, I end up getting hooked on super-hero comic books from Marvel and DC. I got so addicted to them though that I had to stop reading those entirely since I was spending much more than my allowance permitted. Because of that out of control spending I was constantly in debt with my mother!
Then there were the tabletop RPGs. It started innocently enough with a board game actually, called Hero Quest, that a neighbor got as a gift. He got us hooked on it but eventually it wasn’t enough for us. We wanted more of it. In the comic books I read there was some advertisement for some “Forgotten Realms” thing that at the time I had no clue what it was. I am still not sure what it was actually. Maybe it was a module? Anyway, it was an actual D&D product, properly licensed and translated and was sold on news stands around here. It was a bit pricey but I bought it anyway thinking it was another Hero Quest type of board game. At the time I couldn’t make any sense of it as it just described a village, I think, in the Forgotten Realms setting, and some adventure to go with it, if I recall correctly. The only clue we had what this was all about is that it was something about Role Playing Games. Then my brother found a magazine that talked about that stuff, I read it, found out there was some RPG convention. I thought it was kinda like a book convention so I went there. It wasn’t quite like it but I was able to buy my first RPG book there, GURPS. And from then on a new addiction was born…
My addiction to RPGs led me to buy several books of different systems throughout the years. I can’t say I really played any of them since my attempts to get some groups going to play them never went too well for a reason or another. Still I love them to death and it was thanks to them that I found out about literally genres such as fantasy, cyberpunk, post-apocalyptic, etc. It was also through them that I found out about books like Lord of the Rings, Dune, Amber, among others who are in my list of favorite books ever.
Even if I haven’t really played any of them I still love those RPG books. They also gave me a way to explore other worlds, except in a more “atlas” style I guess instead of the traditional narrative way. I also found in them ways to express and think about characters in a more formal format as well as think about what makes a character interesting.
RPGs are also in part responsible for my current english skills. There was always very few translated RPG books here. My hunger for them though was insatiable though and I just got any RPG book I could buy regardless of language. So I ended up using the english skills I learned for my future professional career to read them instead.
If you are curious, the other things that helped to hone my english skills were the internet and MMORPGs. The later helping me more to get confidence with the language and rounding some rough edges.
Infinite Worlds, Infinite Possibilities. Yet not everybody can be a knight.
Although my memories with reading are almost all good there are a few that are more tied in with some… complicated emotions. I will be purposely vague on these parts. Partly for my own sake, partly because going into details would require posts of their own and partly because I don’t think I want to go about such issues in a public blog right now.
As a child one of the issues I had was trying to deal with the differences between the kind of life portrayed in the comics I read and the one I lived in. It isn’t that my family was a terrible one. I guess it was more of an issue of… I don’t know. Unstructured family? I guess that wasn’t quite the case either. Perhaps it might have been more of being a natural dreamer in a family of pragmatists which just didn’t seem much reason in birthday parties after a certain age or hugs or some other more direct expressions of affection. Or that they seemed more busy or interested on their own stuff or what they considered important to me and my brother. It is really hard to explain.
It took me way too long to realize the issues of my family weren’t all that unique or some form of social aberration, that there were, far, far worse families out there or even if they weren’t all that much worse, that they had issues of their own. It also made me think about how much I end up fantasizing about, well, everything. About how that tendency of mine just makes it harder to deal with reality which is often not as bad or as complicated as I tend to imagine. It is still something I ponder about from time to time.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not blaming comics, books or anything else for that. I firmly believe that things would still happen the same way. It is just that it was that it made it easier for me to realize those things. So in a way, I guess there was a good side to those discrepancies too.
The other problem was my relationship with my father. The shortest way I can describe our relationship problems is that we are of completely different worlds. The problem with this as a child is that I didn’t feel like I had a proper father figure. Again, please don’t take things the wrong way. My father wasn’t, nor he is, some kind of monster. Like I said, it is more of a question of both us being of completely different worlds. Also that neither of us are good about talking about goes into our hearts, so to speak.
Anyway, the problem with this is that I grew feeling that I didn’t have a proper father figure in my life. I grew up promising to myself that once I was an adult and married, I would be completely different. I would be a proper husband, a proper father to my children, etc.
Where I could not find a good role model in my father, I found it in books and comics. It was in those that I found what I thought a man, a human actually, should be. Although that might have been too much of an idealized version. So much that I guess it might be impossible to anyone to live up to it. So if at times I seem too hard on myself, that is part of the reason.
Nowadays, I got over most of my issues with my father. I am also able to recognize that, despite everything, he always had the best intentions on his heart, at least as far as me and my brother were concerned. He also has some qualities that unfortunately I wasn’t able to inherit. It is still a very complicated relationship though.
Stuck in a isolated cultural island
Much to my shame I don’t have too many books bought with my own money. Making a guess about it I think I might something between 50 to 100 books. Most likely 50. That is counting all my fiction books, RPGs and technical books. I am not counting comic books though since I left those behind, somewhere, a long time ago. If I counted those it would easily be over a 100. Of course, I did read much more than that number. That number is just of those I actually count as belongs solely to myself, that I went out looking for or that were gifts specifically given for me.
There are a couple reasons for that low number. The first is that I just seem to have an apathy/forgetfulness, I guess, to buy more of anything that I am passionate about. That includes books. I only end up remembering about it when I really need to read something new.
The second reason is that book variety here is really poor and a bit pricey. The publishing companies say it is because producing books in Brazil is expensive due to all the heavy taxes. I don’t doubt they are telling the truth about it. All sectors of our economy here are heavily taxed unfortunately, and it isn’t a case where it is ok to have high taxes because we get a high quality of government services in return. We don’t. The services offered by our government are pretty poor to say the least. Anyway, I think this problem with publishing books ends up feeding into the other side of why we have such poor variety, in my opinion. And that is that we, brazilians, don’t have a culture of reading. Every year there are some campaigns by different groups to try to change that, sure. But it is a tough battle when people just seem to give it little value and with the prices of books as they are.
The end result of all that is that for a person like me who loves fantasy and Sci-Fi it can be really hard to find books of those genres. Unless it is from a highly influential author or some extremely successful one, like J.R.R. Tolkien, Frank Herbert, William Gibson, among others, you just won’t find a version of their work translated and published here. Perhaps you might find them in the imported books section but even them the chances are slim. Local production of books in that genre then is even more of a niche. At least I can only remember one example of each that was produced by a local author. Neither being famous or influential either even around here.
So the best way for me to satisfy that hunger ends up being by importing books. Fortunately, thanks to the internet and digital versions it isn’t too complicated. It is also fortunate that we don’t have to pay taxes for importing books either, thanks to a law about no-taxes for importing any cultural media.
My only pain then is my preference for physical books. It can take about a month for them to arrive here. I guess I could pay more for it to be delivered faster but then I would be paying pretty much double the price of the books. More pragmatic people would then just stick to the digital versions of the books. That is something I keep trying to get myself to do but so far I haven’t been able to. It is just that I dislike reading a book in front of the computer or other electronic devices. Even though I can easily read a site’s article or a blog post without thinking twice. Ironically I can buy digital versions of technical books without thinking twice. I guess the difference is because technical books, at least the ones I read, can get outdated so fast. That and I just don’t have any real emotional connection to them. So I don’t really care about technical books as much as my beloved fiction books.
And with all that waiting time, my natural apathy/forgetfulness ends up turning into laziness. So I end up not importing many books at all either. Perhaps I might change that though… Hm…
It is all about love
Regardless of all of the difficulties, emotions that they were tied with or how they shaped me, books will always be my greatest love. So much so that, after seeing other people’s list of books, I am starting to think about making one of my own. Not sure yet in what form it will be but I’d like to do it. Not as a form to show off possessions but rather more like a travel log of worlds I visited and worlds I intent yet to visit.
We’ll see how that will turn out!