Lost In Books
I got lost in books and I found where I belong.
I never used to read books without pictures. Words intimidated me. All these years, I lived under one roof with a bibliophile and a bookshelf stacked with Vonnegut, Palahniuk, Camus, Murakami, Kafka and Dahl all within my reach but I never touched them because I didn’t feel worthy. I didn’t understand books. Tagalog (Filipino) is my mother tongue, English is my second language and to be honest, I still don’t understand some English words.
I’ve always been more interested in the aesthetics of books than literature. I’d go to bookshops to browse picture books, comics, manga, and graphic novels like Maus by Art Spiegelman, Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, The Push Man by Yoshihiro Tatsumi, Calvin & Hobbes by Bill Watterson and the works of Shaun Tan – The Red Tree changed my life. I read my sister’s copy of The Red Tree when I was just starting Visual Communication at uni and it was the book that made me want to become an illustrator. Shaun Tan is a god of storytelling. You have to see his work to understand why I worship him.
On the morning of 14 January 2020, I got off the train at Fairfield station, followed google maps on my phone to walk a few blocks to 2/40 Harris Street and then stopped in front of a bookshop aptly named Lost In Books. Only, I didn’t come there to browse, I came there to work. As I entered the shop on my first day and found myself surrounded by books from all over the world, I felt like I was walking into a story that is being written right in front of me and I was one of the characters. But it’s better than fiction because it’s real. I couldn’t stop thinking, How did I get here? Well, every story has a beginning. I am not a writer but I know in my heart how this story began.
On 12 October 2018, I met Shaun Tan at the launch of his book, Tales from the Inner City at Wesley Mission Theatre which happened to be in the building next door to my office at that time. I stumbled upon a flyer for ‘An evening with Shaun Tan’ at the Kinokunya bookshop across the street. Little did I know, that that meeting would set off a chain of events that will lead me right here to this exact moment writing about it. I stood in the queue for over 2 hours to get my book signed and I was ready to give up and go home but the angel who was with me that night convinced me that it was a once in a lifetime opportunity, so I stayed. I’m glad I listened to her because not only did I meet Shaun Tan, a god, that night I also discovered that he is human with a kind heart. He shook my hand, looked through my sketchbook, encouraged me to keep drawing and laughed at my droll sense of humour. Our connection only lasted a few minutes but it still inspires me to this day.
I’ve always struggled with artist’s block and the existential crises that come with having a creative mind. I can draw, but mere abilities don’t make an artist. Inspiration creates the artist, it transforms one’s existence into a life full of meaning and purpose, but true inspiration is notoriously elusive.
A serendipitous conversation with a workmate in January 2019 led me to read a piece of creative writing he had written back in uni. His words sparked an idea that inspired me to pick up a novel (without pictures) for the first time in years. I struggled with the first hundred pages but I carried on until the words started painting pictures inside my head. Characters came to life and built landscapes that extended to the depths of my mind. After that, reading a book was like opening a secret door to a reality that only I can see – a world within a world, within a world. It was pure creation and from then on, I was hooked.
In the months that followed, I became friends with words and with people who love reading. I fell in love with books and the more I read, the richer my life became. I discovered that books are the key to unlocking my imagination and I haven’t stopped reading since. One book became ten then twenty and with every new book I read, a shelf in the library of my mind is filled with new titles, authors and genres for me to explore. I currently have 697 books to read (and counting) and a growing love of literature that I can’t afford to buy even secondhand books anymore. Every time I go to my local library to borrow books, I am happily reminded that the best things in life are free.
Books are my muse now and as long as there are books to read, I will never run out of creative inspiration. I am no longer intimidated by words, English or any language. In fact, words and languages are helping me bring my lifelong dream to life – to write and illustrate my own book.
“And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”― Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist
We are all planets going through life in our own orbits, but sometimes our stars align to pull us in the right direction. The universe has been so kind to let me cross paths with the brightest stars who sparked a light in me so that I can find my way.
As I entered the Lost In Books shop on my first day at work, my eyes were immediately drawn to Tales from the Inner City by Shaun Tan on one of the shelves. I picked it up and held it in my hands with the same warmth I’d give a dear friend. While I was holding this beautiful object surrounded by walls of hidden worlds I have yet to discover, I finally understood the magic of books.
I got lost in books and I found where I belong.
Written by Aphrodite Delaguiado
Marketing & Creative Lead, Lost In Books
Think+ DO Tank Foundation
LOST IN BOOKS is a kids’ multilingual bookshop, café, safer space for women, all-ages creative learning centre, and language exchange hub. We’re based in Fairfield, in south-western Sydney — Australia’s most culturally diverse community. LOST IN BOOKS is the brainchild of Jane Stratton and her team at Think+DO Tank Foundation.