Before I was a writer I was reader. Books have always played a role in my life. In my childhood they were a source of wonder. I used to pretend to read books to my brother, but I would make up stories to go along with the pictures. These were my first forays into storytelling and finding my voice.
When I was eight years I went to live in Bosnia where books were harder to get. Children weren’t allowed in the library so I had to state the title and get it handed to me. Reading in Bosnian made me transition into the language and I began writing poetry to work through the alienation I felt during the four years I lived with my grandparents.
When I returned to Australia at 12 years old books were an opportunity to regain my English language skills. I would read with a dictionary beside me, searching the definitions so that I could understand what I was reading. I hadn’t quite figured out how to use the pronunciation symbols in the dictionary and there were a few faux pas when I mispronounced a word, for example the day I used the word melancholy and mispronounced it by articulating the ‘ch’ sound. The only thing that worked for me is that most of my peers didn’t actually know the word itself so it was only the teacher who corrected me.
In my adolescence reading was a much-needed oasis. There was a lot of chaos and angst in my life and books were the place I went to escape. Books gave me an insiders view to worlds I knew nothing about, opened my eyes to the possibilities of my life, and ultimately made me dream and believe that those dreams could come true.
I don’t know if it’s my love of books that made me want to be a writer or if it’s because of my love of writing that I began to first love reading. It’s like the chicken and the egg argument—which comes first, but I always loved stories, telling stories, listening to stories, making up stories.
Now that I’m a writer reading is still a very important part of my life. Most of my life I have read on average one book a week, but in the past few years my reading has slowly been cut back. First because of the changes in my life from motherhood, then the demands of university, using the internet and reading a lot more online, and now because of the demands of being a high school English teacher. With life becoming busier there has become more of this sense that every minute needs to be productive in some way and relaxing has become a challenge.
While this year I have been reading a lot, but most of it has been work related and there is a difference between reading a book for the sheer pleasure and reading a book with a view to deconstructing and teaching it.
The past month I have deliberately made the effort to read a book a week and life has just become more in focus. It’s as if colours have more depth and there is a soundtrack that is continuously playing. My writing is flowing, creating boundaries between work and home is easier, and I don’t have this constant feeling that I should be constantly ‘doing.’ Instead I can have some much needed recovery time by just ‘being.’
While writing is as necessary as breathing, I know realise so is reading. The two are intertwined and one naturally leads to the other so I’m going to keep reading my one book a week and enjoying my technicolour world.
Amra Pajalić is an award-winning author, an editor and teacher who draws on her Bosnian cultural heritage to write own voices stories for young people, who like her, are searching to mediate their identity and take pride in their diverse culture. She writes memoir, young adult and romance under the pen name Mae Archer.
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