(My personal library. Picture source: My own)

One of the things that struck me when I was studying in the UK was how the British people loved reading. Be they in the cafes, the trains, and the buses, I can see lots of them taking their free time reading and enjoying their books.

Their bookstores are also big and have all the latest book titles featured in every city and town I go to. Whenever I had free time, I just hung out in their bookstores. Being surrounded by books is something therapeutic. I guess it is the smell of the new books and classical music they play there.

I started to love reading several years before I actually went to the UK. The BSB national library was the place I frequent to get all the books I need. I also spent my time after school in the now-closed Paul and Elizabeth store in Yayasan Shopping Complex.

To others, I am a bookworm. I guess that is an appropriate way to describe me. I tend to read a lot. I even bring with me the books around, even in the most unlikely of places. The habit can be counterproductive at times that I once packed a 1000-plus page book by Alexis Tocqueville titled “Democracy in America” when I visited Paris during the winter holiday.

It was a bad decision as the book was heavy, but hey what I can do? I want to experience reading the work in Tocqueville’s city – He’s French!

I even visited Napoleon’s tomb and bought Letters of Napoleon soon afterward. The Emperor of France is known to have his armies cart his personal library collection, dubbed the traveling library containing sometimes up to 1,000 books, wherever he went around Europe for his conquests.

(Emperor of France known for bringing with him up to a thousand books as he conquers Europe. A terrific bio you can read of Napoleon is by Andrew Roberts)

Discovering Amazon.co.uk was also magical for me. You can search for hundreds of thousands of books on the site. Most importantly, you can read the reviews by customers to see if the book is good or not. I loved the site that I bought 300 books and ship them to Brunei by the time I finished my studies. The picture you see below is my personal library.

(My personal library)

I was also once a self-help junkie where I would purchase all the motivational books to build my self-esteem and such. After several years, I got tired of them. “No Excuses!: The Power of Self-Discipline” by Brian Tracy was perhaps the nail in the coffin when it comes to self-help books. It was empty and hollow. I much prefer his other work, “Eat the Frog“.

So I moved on to advanced texts, the most notable of which is Thucydides’ “Peloponnesian War”, a book which I bought and read in Shanghai, China when I was doing my attachment there. Reading the book was so difficult but I learned a lot about leadership, that by the time I went back to Brunei I eventually set up TEDxGadong and my other ventures. You can read an excerpt from his book on Pericles’ famous Funeral Oration – as a speech, it is a masterpiece!

Anyway, I would never have encountered these types of books had I not gone to the UK. Needless to say, I bought a lot of them. Sometimes I would purchase finance books, sometimes historical and other times psychology books.

Nowadays, I simply carry my laptop instead of physical books. Whenever I have free time, I’ll just download ebooks (Libgen.is) or journals for free (Sci-hub.tw) off the internet and read the works that fancy my interest.

Although digital reading is different from reading an actual physical book, I guess the ‘end’ is the same: securing knowledge. It took me a while to adjust digital reading but I eventually got used to it.

I guess this post, written on the fly, is perhaps to highlight the need to truly build a reading culture in society. But hey, out of one person who may be like me out there, there may be a thousand who are not inclined to reading. I think that is okay.

But I am hoping that someday, I can see the same thing that I saw in the UK happening in today’s society.

I want to see Bruneians reading books (or ebooks) in the cafes and in the public area so they too can secure all the knowledge they need to expand their mental horizons and to make their own independent judgment on issues facing society.

Finally, I like to share with everyone a quote by Roald Dahl:

Image result for "So please, oh please, we beg, we pray, go throw your TV set away, and in its place you can install a lovely bookshelf on the wall." – Roald Dahl