Saturday, August 21, 2004

Shelf Life

Shelf Life

A time capsule is "a container used to store for posterity a selection of objects thought to be representative of life at a particular time.".

I like to think of my books as time capsules too. First of all, every book that I have read has helped, in one way or another, shape my thinking during the different stages of my life. I always make sure that I jot down on the title page, the time and place where I first purchased a book. I also have the habit of inserting pieces of old receipts, airline boarding passes and movie tickets between their pages. You see, they serve the dual-purpose of being convenient book markers and also as representative fragments of my life through the different periods of my life.

That's why I never sell or give away my old books. Embedded within them are the innards of my soul. It is always a joy to flip through some of the old tomes lying on my shelf, check the date of their purchase and rediscover those fragments of my memories. Each book carries with it an epoch.

Today I pulled out De Bono's Textbook on Wisdom from my shelf. On the title page, I had scrawled 28th February 1998 and Bangsar as the place where I'd bought it. I simply have no recollection of buying the book at the Times bookstore there but I remember many happy nights reading it in my rented HDB room in Singapore. The year 1998 was the time when we were in the thick of the Asian Financial Crisis, and the IT industry was also starting to enjoy the heady days the dot-com boom.

The riots in Indonesia had not occured yet (it sparked off on May 13, 1998), and I was still doing my alternate-weekly trips to Jakarta. Those were reasonably good times for me, despite the financial crisis. It was also to be the best of times and the worst of times.

Back to the book, Textbook on Wisdom by De Bono: It is one of the easier reads from the Guru of Thinking but no less insightful. It contains short snippets of De Bono's core philosophy on thinking--namely, how limiting our traditional ways of thinking are, and how it is possible for everyone to learn how to think creatively.

I've been reading De Bono since I was a university student and I think his books have influenced me a lot. Rereading them makes me realise how much my own thinking has evolved since then and how time and age have brought clarity and insight into so many things.

When you read a book, you engage in a mental conversation with the author; and once a thought has been introduced in your brain, it can never be removed. It changes your internal wiring forever.

It is not only De Bono's books, there are so many other books on my shelves (and in boxes under my bed), that have affected me in so many subtle ways. My life is deeply intertwined with the contents of the books that I've read; my thoughts have mingled and synthesized with the ideas of so many different authors--both living and dead--from all over the world.

When I look at the books on my shelves; I see a mirror of my thinking: I see my hopes, my passions, my curiosity and my ignorance. Those books have dissolved themselves into my soul have become a part of my DNA.

And lying there on those dusty shelves, like uncoiled strands of the Double Helix, those silent blocks of dead trees, are my entire life.

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