There was rarely a time I did not enjoy reading. I remember at four, in Kindergarten, lying on my stomach reading a book and loving every word I read. What wonder was bestowed on me at such a young age that I would grow up with an infinite affinity for books! My penchant for reading grew with each passing day when my dad happily took me to the library, where would I spend at least an hour browsing the shelves pondering what I would read next. Would it be a picture book or something more ambitious? By the age of eight, I had grown out of children’s books and began taking an interest to adult books. I picked up my first Shakespeare collection at that age and never looked back. When you are young, you don’t overcomplicate ideas and words. Reading Shakespeare was not too difficult at that age. I have this one memory of lying on my grandma’s bed with Shakespeare’s books all around me and taking it all in. Taking in the beauty of being around something that was new to me and yet so classic. That memory is burned into my mind and has never left me.
After Shakespeare, I broadened my horizons to the likes of Stephen King and Anne Rice, whom I thought were salacious and very adult but I thought I was ready for it. I cannot recall which King novel I started with but my first Rice novel was the coveted Interview with the Vampire, which I adored and only cemented my love for vampires and the strange. My vice for the weird and unusual were sprouting at a young age but there was no one I could share it with. No one who was my age enjoyed reading adult novels. What is more is that my family were never big readers so I could not talk to them about it. Luckily, they never questioned my reading tastes, they were elated that I was reading at an advance pace. I appreciate that more than words could say. They never said ‘No, Hanaa. This book contains themes that I don’t want you learning about.’ They merely saw it as an interest for books. And an interest it was! I can tell you that I did not understand most of what was happening in Interview with the Vampire, but I can also tell you that I was intrigued and kept reading as many books about the occult and vampires as I could find.
Growing up was difficult because I stuck out like a sore thumb with my bright red hair. Many people would call me ‘The daughter of Satan’ on account of my hair, which makes me laugh now but it hurt to hear that then. I was labelled and I took it to heart. I thought to myself that if people saw me in this light, then maybe I should take full advantage of it so I explored as much as I could about horror through books. Already enjoying horror movies at about five, horror novels were my next creepy experience. I would search my school’s library every day, browsing the shelves for title keywords such as ‘kill’, ‘devil’, ‘death’, and many other words that I thought were provocative. Certainly reading books with these words in the title meant that they were frightening. Not necessarily. I read To Kill a Mockingbird and The Devil’s Arithmetic, which provided insight on historical and social issues but they mislead my younger self and I dropped books with ‘misleading titles’ after reading those two. Poor little Hanaa not being able to find scary books, but never fear, the true crime section was not far away. My school’s library back in the early 2000s had an incredible selection of books, so much so, that we had a true crime section. I shit you not. An elementary school who taught kindergarteners to sixth graders had a true crime section and you bet your ass I read all of the books they had. It was the only literature that scared me and gave me nightmares but reading about real crimes made me seek out more information as to why people commit these crimes. But the little psychopath inside of me wanted to know how brutal and over-the-top these crimes got so my dad agreed to take me to the Public Library where I ran free and checked out several books on the topic. My dad, understandably worried, let me check the books out but he probably thought (and prayed) that I was not going to get any big ideas. I certainly did not. I will tell you, however, reading that sort of content at a young age changes you and makes you see the world in a different way than you used to.
Equipped with my knowledge of serial killer before the tender age of 10, I had knowledge no one else had but I was still alone with no one to talk to. I kept my nose in a book reading voraciously on whatever topic interested me at the time. Still fixated on horror and the horrors of humanity, I picked up more adult books that interested me and kept me busy. I did not have many friends growing up because of my interests and my lack of ‘normal’ conversation topics. However, around the age of 12 is when I began to read, and go into the dark hole of obsession of Harry Potter. The first kid book that I enjoyed and was able to talk to people about. Reading the Harry Potter books was addictive but it made me so happy and gave my mind a break from the true crime I was reading.
I was 16 when the Harry Potter books came to an end, and therefore the end of an era. Around this time I was reading classic literature for the first time. The likes of Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger and The Stranger by Albert Camus were what I was reading because I wanted to read about the rebel and outsiders of society. Although I did not like Catcher in the Rye, I was still an advocate of reading and pushed reading classic literature on my classmates. I talked passionately about poetry and literature that would make my cohorts think differently. In many ways, this was lost on them and I accepted that literature might be a lost cause on many teenagers who were more interested in passing classes and talking about their drama. I kept my nose in a book again and became a literary snob, only reading ‘the greats’ and dismissing the ‘lesser’ literature (i.e., young adult). I thought that there was no reason to read anything other than classics because newer literature was a rehash and therefore a waste of time. This was around the time I got my first job at a book store. I was immediately put into the kids’ section, and practically being forced to read children’s literature and young adult. Hating this, I slugged my way through these books and…they were not as bad as I was thinking. Although I did not like everything, I found a simple joy in reading young adult. A breezy read that made me remember that I was a teenager and not to take life so damn seriously. Taking a break from the serious world of literature was refreshing, but I began to miss reading adult fiction, so I went back to my old ways and never looked back.
Today, my reading tastes have grown and blossomed in ways I would not otherwise imagine. I look for deeper meaning in every book I read, and I try to savour every word as if it is the last word I would read. Reading brings such enrichment to daily life that I cannot truly explain its effects. Reading has helped me understand people and to talk to others without sounding like the weird awkward robot I really am inside. I feel that if more people knew the advantage of reading, more of us would pick up books without hesitation. We would pick up books that would challenge us to think differently, and adopt new ideas, as well as become more empathetic. Books, in that way, are mind-blowing. Who knew that books would seriously damage us in the best way possible? It ruins the little box we have been living in, and gives us new life, and perhaps new hopes and prospects. There is nothing better than books, and that includes food! Perhaps this is why I become so defensive when I hear a book is being challenged or banned. How crude the idea is of banning a book because it does not align with your ideals? Have you no brain that allows you to process new information or to understand that other people think differently? Perhaps I should not be so rude myself, making fun of those who seem to hate books and the ideas they contain, but can one truly justify banning a book without sounding stupid? A book is banned because it is ‘anti-family’ or illustrates drug use? What about television shows or movies that depict perhaps more violence than many books do? Is that fine and does that causes no alarms? Regardless of such ideas, a book in your company is rather the most satisfying company to have. I do not know where I would be without my books by my side. I know I would not think as deeply about life and never try to seek out a meaningful life. Books have taught me more than school and university have. They have been my constant companion, keeping me away from loneliness whenever I felt so alone. Keeping me in good spirits whenever I felt melancholy. Keeping me alive when I would otherwise seek the darkness. Books have taught me to live.