I once went to the home of an acquaintance and it really surprised me to find that they didn’t own any books or music. No radio, record player, cassette deck, CD player, MP3 player. Nothing. There was no bookshelf. No fiction, non-fiction or even reference books. It freaked me out a bit and I realised I don’t understand people who don’t have books or music.
Don’t get me wrong, I understand and appreciate that we are all different. We all have different passions and pastimes. We all have our own hobbies and interests that are sometimes hard for others to understand and usually I celebrate that. But I don’t understand people who don’t have books or music.
For me, music is as vital as breathing, eating or sleeping. It’s a natural part of life. It’s birdsong, the breeze rustling leaves or a babbling stream. It’s a part of me and I couldn’t live without it. There is always a tune going around and around in my head. I am constantly humming, whistling or singing to myself, even I find – by the looks I sometimes get from strangers – in public. At the supermarket, walking down the street, even in the library. I have never studied music, I can’t read it, I don’t play an instrument, and neither did my parents or siblings, but music has always been in my life. Always a song being sung or whistled, a radio playing, a record going around or a music show on TV. All types of music, everything from classical, to jazz, pop, hard rock, heavy metal, hip hop and rap. My life has a soundtrack. I can hear a song and it will bring back memories of people, places, a time or event. Music has the power to move, to uplift, to soothe and to hurt.
To me the best kind of music is a song that combines music and meaningful words. Lyrics that are as powerful as the music they are set to, that move as much as the music. Words that are poetry, that tell a story. Words can be like music too. Words can form melodies and words can have rhythms. Every culture in the world has developed music and stories and often the two are combined. Stories allow us to explore, explain and express. To examine our world and ourselves and to share our thoughts and emotions.
And that’s why I couldn’t live without books. Be it fiction or non-fiction, books, to me, are little papery worlds – real or imagined – that broaden our minds and take us out of ourselves. Reading a good book is sometimes like connecting with another mind. There are other ways to enjoy stories – movies, theatre or television – but books require us to use our own imagination. To fill the gaps between word and vision. To interpret and to feel for ourselves. A new book can be a scary and daunting thing; just what is contained within those pages? How will it make me feel? And I often experience a sense of sadness or loss when I finish reading a book, knowing that a wonderful experience has come to an end, and even though I can re-read that book, it will never be the same as that first reading. But a good book is like an old friend, one that we can visit when we need to.
Music and words are food for the soul. There are other things that nourish the soul – the natural world, gardening, hiking, other forms of art, teaching or spending time with a child, for example – but music and books are portable. You can have access to them almost anywhere, anytime, even if it’s just remembering a tune, a poem or story. They connect us to others and teach us about ourselves. I couldn’t live without them. And I really don’t understand people who don’t have books or music.