Stories and books are what make us human

Ruth HartleyAfrica, Books, Film, Reading, Storytelling, Writing, Writing Process1 Comment

The importance of books

This Saturday, I’m at the Au’Tour du Livre book festival in the nearby town of Vic en Bigorre behind a table loaded with my books. I’ll be hoping for readers and I’ll be talking to writers I know.

Last weekend I spent magic moments hunting through boxes of second-hand books at the Amis des Animaux fete.

The books I chose are taking me on time-travelling journeys that connect me with writers, readers, friends, family, places, and stories.

The endurance of books

I brought home books that are curiosities and gems. Each book I found is a link that leads me into the future and takes me back to the past. Each book opens experiences as many-layered as an onion.

Books into films

John Thaw: The Biography takes me to Doris Lessing’s first novel and the trailer for the film of The Grass is Singing which is an extraordinary, controversial and misunderstood story. It was made into a film in Zambia in 1981. John Thaw was praised for playing the lead. He said it was hell making it. I was employed to find locations, costumes and to cast minor characters for that film so I met all the stars. John Thaw was pissed off with me because I had to tell him to sunbathe with a shirt on so he’d look like an authentic white farmer. That’s an experience I’ll be turning into a short and exciting memoir.

Books about history

Cameron Gilg’s account of his 1933 journey in a baby Morris car from England to Cape Town shows how he perceived the corner of the British Empire that was to be my birthplace.

He drove through the region of present-day Zambia where my novel, The Tin Heart Gold Mine, is set, but all he mentions, literally in passing, is the monument to General Von Lettow-Vorbeck’s surrender in the First World War. Africa was then still the Dark Continent, blank and unknown to most British.

Books that have been replaced by technology

We do research online now – it’s wonderful – swift – and convenient. As I write I check words, definitions, spelling, facts – everything without leaving my computer. I sometimes wish I could point my cursor at my bookshelf and it would light up the book I want. Perhaps Alexa might tell me –“third shelf – second left”! Among the second-hand books, I discovered one that shows the scripts used by each of the world’s languages and also a book of traditional poetry from ancient cultures. They remind me that stories are shared around the world and that most are about love and death, revenge and monsters. It’s a pleasure to hold information contained in book covers

Books for pleasure

There are so many great stories – long and short. I’ve acquired Silas Marner by George Eliot and The Diary of a Madman by Gogol. These are books for me to learn from as well as enjoy. I found some Jewish recipes from Morocco that look delicious and I grabbed Douglas Adams’ Mostly Harmless so that I can laugh – most important!

I also found Francois Villon’s 15th Century poetry which connects me to The Threepenny Opera written first by John Gay as The Beggar’s Opera then recreated by Berthold Brecht. I was invited to a smashing London production of The Threepenny Opera in the ’70s by Johnnie Lynn of Yes Minister fame.

Aren’t books amazing and essential? Think of all those connections between Francois Villon, John Gay, Bertholdt Brecht, Kurt Weill, Jonathan Lynn, Douglas Adams and political satire! For your pleasure here is a link to Robbie Williams singing Mack the Knife from Weill’s Threepenny Opera.

One Comment on “Stories and books are what make us human”

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.