Beauty – a book that changed my life
I think that anyone who loves to read is continually changed by the words of others flowing through their minds. Perhaps not greatly so, if you’re reading airport thrillers and frivolous romances, and perhaps also not if you don’t read with a great deal of consciousness or thought, but I am privileged that even before I went to study (BA Cultural & Literary Studies – what I’ll always remember the course convener said would make us read and write better than other people – the most potent power in the world!) I always paid a great deal of attention to the messages hidden behind words and stories and while I read a great spectrum of books, my favourite genre has always been fantasy and science-fiction, genres which lend themselves to didactic fiction, teaching us something in a way that takes us out of the worlds and situations we know. The human imagination is one of our greatest treasures.
While I do feel that everything we read changes us and the way we think in some small way, there have been novels that have had a profound impact on my life. Some of my fondest memories for my childhood are of the Parow Public Library. I knew it like the back of my hand and when I started venturing from the youth section to the young adult fiction, there were a host of turnstiles full of well-worn paperbacks. An old edition of Sheri S Tepper’s Beauty lived on one of these shelves and caught my eye every time I went there for many years. It was incredible thick in that particular small mass-market paperback edition and from the hundreds of times it had been read it was made even thicker as the spine was bent over and over again. I must have looked at it and read the blurb 20 times before I finally had the courage to take it out. I can’t remember the date – the library probably still has record of it though, I saw the book there still even after all these years earlier this year when I visited that library again – but that was a book that truly changed my life. It affected my style of writing, my idea of love and introduced me to one of the most startling, moving and passionate authors I was ever priviledged to be exposed to. A prolific author, Sheri Tepper’s books all have a strong message – themes of the importance of individuality, women’s rights and messages of conservation, love of our planet and the idea that difference is something we should embrace not use to shield ourselves and cause division and hatred… Her style and unique stories took me away time and time again, to strange planets, stranger creatures and amazing, strong women… she is not unique in choosing these themes, but of all the fantasy and science fiction authors I’ve read, she affected me the most. Beauty was my first venture into Tepper’s worlds and relatively tame in comparison to much of her earlier and later work, but heartrendingly beautiful and a thought-experiment that just really put my own internal mental life on a whole new plane… I think I must have been about 14 or so, but the story spoke to my much older soul. I have re-read it many times and can recall the last line by heart.
Fairies and time travel, a world being destroyed by humanity’s greed and a plan to save the best things about us and our world, fairy tales reinterpreted and a perfect love and exploration of the choices we sometimes make that take us away from our true path… Characters that just take your breath away and a soulful way of writing and telling stories that I wanted to emulate whatever I happened to be writing about, be it an Afrikaans exam essay in high school, a short story or a academic piece about post-colonialism in African literature :) It influenced (and continues to influence) me that much!