3000 over books. One mission: To give as many away as possible.
The hardest thing is to look at your parents and not feel betrayed or angry at their decision to expunge what's left of your childhood. Erikson may have formulated his stages of psychosocial development on the basis of virtues, but it is my books that had formed the basis of my development, and continues to do so as I mature. There was the Ladybird stage in the early years, the Beatrix Potter stage, the Roger Hargreaves stage with his colourful Little Miss and Mr Men series that never failed to elicit endless giggles from me, the Enid Blyton stage, the Francine Pascal stage, the Anne Rice stage that provided eternally fascinating stories about witches and vampires long before J.K. Rowling and Stephenie Meyer were known to the world, the Jean Paul Sartre stage that pitched my existential reckoning to tethers, and the influential stage guided by Orhan Pamuk, Milan Kundera, Paul Theroux and many other admirable writers.
I can pick a book off my shelves and tell you exactly when, where, or what psychosocial stage I was at when I first turned its pages. For example: Enid Blyton's The Teddy Bear's Tail and Other Stories-- it was my first Enid Blyton. My mother had bought it for me at the Times bookshop at what used to be called "Fima" (coined after the in-house supermarket) shopping centre on Burmah Road in Penang. When we got home, she read The Teddy Bear's Tail aloud and after that, I was hooked on Ms Blyton's stories and started my own little Enid Blyton collection.
My Beatrix Potters. They were a gift from my mother's old friend Aunty Choy Leng. She was visiting from Canada, and we had picked her up from her hotel on our way to lunch. I cannot remember which hotel she had stayed at, or what we had for lunch, because my memory of Aunty Choy Leng-- when I glance at my Beatrix Potter collection-- is one of her reaching out from the backseat of the car and handing me a parcel that had contained the much enthralling tales of Peter Rabbit, Squirrel Nutkin, and the Tailor of Gloucester. These stories kept me entertained for part of my pre-school years, and I forever have Aunty Choy Leng to thank. (Hi Aunty Choy Leng if you're reading this!)
On the topmost shelf of one of my bookcases sits one of my most prized possessions-- the entire Doraemon comic series. The blue-and-white robot cat and his human sidekick Nobita will always occupy a special place in my heart, just like how their chronicles occupy a special place on my bookshelf. I was in Primary Two when, one evening, upon picking me up from school, my mother turned around and handed me my first Doraemon comic book. I read it all the way home in the backseat. What delighted me most was coming across a new Doraemon comic book every month or so at the newsstand, and I'd buy it without a moment's hesitation and devour it within the next half an hour. The comic was in Malay, and to this day, I credit Doraemon for my strong grasp of Bahasa Malaysia all the way till high school. The first word I learnt from reading Doraemon was "Jahanam!". Not a word you'd routinely used in your karangan but what the hell. Learning BM was fun without any effort at all!
In my late primary years, I was still resistant to watching The X-Files, which would paradoxically turn out to be a series I would one day love and hold above others. My cousin tried to get me hooked on it but I was too spooked out by liver-eating mutants and the Flukeman that I watched it with my eyes closed next to him. It wasn't until I discovered The X-Files in the form of books that I found captivation in its disquieting marriage of science and the supernormal. My acquaintance with Mulder and Scully started with X Marks the Spot, which was the novel equivalent of its pilot episode. It wasn't as scary as I'd imagined it to be. So I went to the next book, Darkness Falls, and the next, and the next, and then to novels like Ground Zero and Ruins by Kevin J. Anderson, and ultimately, progressed to watching the episodes on TV and falling in love with the show. I collected articles and magazines on The X-Files and even have a poster-- no, two posters-- of David and Gillian in my room. Oh. Correction. Had. It took me awhile to remember that my parents had tore down my favourite posters in my room. Actually, I believe they had used the word "crumbled", as in, "your posters just crumbled in the heat (of the Malaysian weather)". How poetically tragic.
According to Erikson, between the ages of 25-64, we develop Care as a virtue. In this period, we strive to contribute to society and help guide future generations by various means. From my parents' point of view, this includes giving away my childhood story books to young nieces and nephews, giving away their books to friends, colleagues and various churches and charitable organisations. I can see the generosity in this, but if I had it my way, I would've bought new books and given them away, instead of giving away books that hold sentimental value to me. In part, maybe I am selfish. But I am a sentimental book lover. I am fiercely protective of my books, and-- at the risk of sounding like a hogger-- also of anything that remotely reminds me of my present life on earth, which includes posters, stationery, music CDs and various items pilfered over the years. Of course there are things I eventually parted with, because they offer no sentimental value to me as much as the others I preferred to hold on to. But these decisions-- to keep or to give-- should be mine and mine alone. Nobody knows which books or items hold what kind of memory for me. What they may think is a book I've outgrown could turn out to be my favourite book I've read a hundred times over without getting bored of. In the many days of being home alone when my parents were at work, my books were the ones who kept me company. In an era without the internet, I escaped into a world of fantasy, a world where there were fairies and goblins and children my age eating treacle puddings on faraway trees. I was happy in that world. So when my parents told me they were giving away my books-- over Facetime, no less, with the camera happily panning to show me the piles of books they were giving away-- I felt like my whole world was ripped apart. Crumbled, to rephrase them.
How does one recover from the lost of something so precious, so invaluable? Tell me. How? My mother will probably sprout some Buddhist attachment/non-attachment crap to me. Sure. Fine. Whatever. Another thing I learnt in my 20s is that sometimes, it is perfectly legitimate to cry over the loss of childhood sentiments. It is perfectly ok to feel a little animosity towards your parents and it is perfectly natural to feel bad after. But in your 20s, you learn to make decisions, and I have decided that I am going to ship all my books from KL to Australia. Yes, ALL of them. No ifs, ands or buts. End of story.