The Academic and Her Books

Necessary for survival.

September 3, 2013

I was born on the Aegean Coast. When summer comes, I leave my academic self in the metropolis, follow my roots, and head out to spend some time washing the dirt of the year off in the dark blue waters of the Aegean, to sleep on a balcony under breezy warm skies of July or August, to indulge myself with local herbs and vegetables a l'huile d'olive, to sing at the top of my lungs when a friend plays the guitar on the beach on summery and starry evenings, and to see family, half of whom either live here or have a summer house here. I pack the lightest of all my clothes, the most non-academic of all my books, the softest of all my music and, hopefully, an earlier version of myself whom I miss being when I am sitting in my office back in the city.

It sometimes surprises me that I came from such a small town and managed to reach out to the world. However, I realize that the shortcomings of this town actually made me the academic that I am.  If you were the only child of your family equipped with a wandering and a wondering mind, yet with no one at home to really hang out with, if you were clever enough to spend little time on your homework and still become the best of your cohort, in all this spare time you had as a child the best friends you could find in a town where there was not even a proper movie theater were surely books. In an intellectual desert, books were your tickets out of there, out of boredom and sometimes even out of yourself.

I probably did not know this then, but now I know: books served as a magic carpet I traveled on to other lives, other minds, and other parts of the world from my small town. Today, I live in one of the biggest cities of the world, mingle with like-minded people and travel often, yet I still have at least one book in my bag wherever I go.

I was the first person to learn how to read in my class and was awarded by my teacher with a book. I remember my dad as a guy with a book in his hand and having someone in the house with the habit of reading probably alerted me that this was a habit worth adopting. However, I also remember that from age 9 on, reading books was not enough, and I was writing my own stories. Whether I was reading them or attempting to write them, it was always a good feeling to be around books.

A few days ago, I found a notebook I used to keep in high school. A map of my own intellectual development, it contained notes I took for myself on things I wanted to learn: quotes from books I read, ideas to be later turned into an essay or a poem, lyrics of songs I held dear, notes on philosophy, science fiction, the history of music and theatre, and among many other things, a list of books I had read between 1989-1993. I knew that I had the list, yet I had forgotten what was on it, and after almost 20 years, it struck me as a very eclectic and a sophisticated collection of readings. Looking at it reminded me where I came from.

I always thought I was a peculiar case but the better I get to know some of my academic friends, I realize that maybe I am part of a pattern. Recently, I was invited to dinner at a good friend's house who is also an academic, a chemist. After dinner, we delved into her library. As she showed books she held close to her heart, and as she explained that she could not even think about getting rid of some of these books (even though she knew that she didn't need them anymore), I found myself in her sentences.

I know not every academic is a book lover, but a great majority are. No matter which discipline an academic might be in, most of us feel well and feel like ourselves when we are in the company of books. This was probably either instilled in us by our families, teachers and our surroundings or it was something that we have adopted to ease the pain of a thirsty mind, or a defense mechanism against the limitations of our surroundings. In my case, it was all.

Now that I am in academia, not only do I have my book friends, but also book lover friends. And I know I would not be able to survive without either.

Istanbul, Turkey

Itir is a founding member of the editorial collective at University of Venus.



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