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Interview with Helen Moffett



 
 
Anyone who says they have only one life to live must not know how to read a book. ~Author unknown
 
I’m haunted by a statistic quoted by Neil Gaiman – that when calculating prison populations in the US in 15 years’ time (building prisons is big business there) they simply count the number of eleven-year-old boys who are still illiterate. For all children but especially those pinched by circumstance, illness, poverty and racism, books offer one fail-safe escape, one clear path to imaginative growth and empathy. This is why I’m so passionate about ECD and projects like Book Dash (see what I did there). Feed a child’s body, YES, but then feed her mind too.
 
 
A house without books is like a room without windows. ~Heinrich Mann
 
I get panicky, emotionally claustrophobic, if I go into a house that has no books – my brain starts screaming “Where are the escape hatches?” The saddest are when (middle-class) homes have no bookshelves, but there’s a TV in every bedroom.
 
Borrowers of books [are] mutilators of collections, spoilers of the symmetry of shelves and creators of odd volumes. ~Charles Lamb, Essays of Elia, "The Two Races of Men," 1822
 
If anyone reading this has ever borrowed a book from me, PLEASE give it back, even if decades have intervened. I’ll pay postage, I won’t scold – consider this an amnesty. I want my signed copy of Ellen Kuzwayo’s Call Me Woman back! And Ann Dickson’s The Mirror Within, and Joe Simpson’s Touching the Void and, and, and. ASSEBLIEF.
 
 
To acquire the habit of reading is to construct for yourself a refuge from almost all the miseries of life. ~W. Somerset Maugham
 
The two worst times in my life were when I couldn’t read: once, recovering from encephalitis (black text on white pages brought on excruciating headaches), and more recently, during a terrible spell of PTSD. In the first case, I immersed myself in atlases and picture books (gardening tomes were a hit), then children’s books with bigger fonts until my eyes recovered. Second time round, mind in a thousand bits and concentration utterly departed, I found I could manage schlock short stories. My sister supplied me with Maeve Binchy and Jeffrey Archer, and from there I graduated to Lee Child’s Reacher thrillers and Terry Pratchett’s Wintersmith books (“for younger readers”). It taught me a valuable lesson about book snobbery; there is no grief or ailment that can’t be medicated by some kind of reading. 
 
 
 
Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body. ~Richard Steele, Tatler, 1710
 
I’ll forgive Steele for the slightly preachy tone, as there were no gyms in his day. Exercise for the gentry in 1710 consisted of pleasurable recreational walks or rides in the parks or countryside. It didn’t mean self-torture on the Stairmaster, but involved looking at things from a fresh perspective, taking in new vistas, exchanging ideas with friends. So the analogy holds.
 
 
Books are delightful society. If you go into a room and find it full of books — even without taking them from the shelves they seem to speak to you, to bid you welcome. ~William Ewart Gladstone
 
Yes! My books are friends. And I love introducing my paper friends to my flesh friends – when someone comes into my home for the first time, and makes a beeline for my bookshelves, I almost purr with contentment. That’s when I make the mistake of saying “You MUST read X,” as I wave favourite titles under people’s noses. I think I’m introducing friends, when I’m actually giving up hostages.
 
Americans like fat books and thin women. ~Russell Baker
 
With apologies to the fat books and thin women I love, I can’t help noticing that Americans also tend to like guns and junk food, so instead of telling Russell Baker to fuck right off, I’m going to be all pitying and superior.
 
 
It often requires more courage to read some books than it does to fight a battle. ~Sutton Elbert Griggs
 
Yes and no. The books I’ve been most afraid of reading have sometimes given me the most delight. I put off reading Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking for ages, as it’s a memoir of grief and loss. And then read it in a single day, and was enlightened and challenged and simply in awe of her honesty and purity of voice.
 
 
I would never read a book if it were possible for me to talk half an hour with the man who wrote it. ~Woodrow Wilson
 
 
Dear Woodrow Wilson, you’re an ass. Also, as we’re busy discovering, a racist. You are no longer on my Christmas card list.
 
No person who can read is ever successful at cleaning out an attic. ~Ann Landers
 
How does Ann Landers know what happens every time I try to clean my attic, or my home, for that matter? Life is too short and books are too many to allow for vacuuming and ironing.



I'm a bad girl. I read past my bedtime. ~Author unknown
 
Wimp! Good women read right through the night.
 
 
Book lovers never go to bed alone. ~Author unknown
 
I haven’t slept alone since shortly before my fourth birthday. My great dread is an inexplicable absence of books on my bedside table. But there’s usually a pile, as well as more piles on the floor.



Books are not made for furniture, but there is nothing else that so beautifully furnishes a house. ~ Henry Ward Beecher
 
Imraan Coovadia once noted that while he loves e-books, they don’t furnish a room.


There is no thief worse than a bad book. ~Italian Proverb

 
There are a few books I bitterly resent having read (I still haven’t recovered from We Need To Talk About Kevin or Gone Girl, and don’t start me on Disgrace), but I generally bail on bad/boring books. And very few have been so bad that I haven’t learned something – even if how not to write. What does make me very frustrated is when books are badly edited, especially when they have real potential.
 
 
A book is like a garden carried in the pocket. ~Chinese Proverb
 
I love books and gardens. Places of comfort, escape, pleasurable honest labour, sources of nourishment. Historically, Chinese gardens were places of psychic refreshment, designed for symmetry and full of symbols.
 
The man who doesn't read has no advantage over the man who can't read. ~Author unknown
 
Yes! Yes! YES! *pounds table*

 

Moffett is a writer, editor and teacher who is easily distracted, as can be seen from her books. These include several anthologies and textbooks, a collection of poetry, a co-authored tome on cricket, three fun erotica novels with Sarah Lotz and Paige Nick writing as Helena S. Paige, and a whole bunch of academic stuff mostly on feminist topics. Her most recent book, edited with Diane Awerbuck is Stray: An anthology of animal stories and poems. All royalties go to TEARS Animal Rescue. 



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