During WWII the bell in Tom Tower, Christchurch College, Oxford, chimed 101 times at 9:05 pm

Joy in reading and 101 chimes at 9:05 pm

My joy in reading is strewn with oddities. The first full-length book I read was probably from the library of my primary school. Probably a children’s book by Enid Blyton, featuring the Famous Five.

From my primary school reading, I remember only characters: Jennings and Darbishire, Biggles, Perry Mason.

From my secondary school years, I remember only titles: Far Country and Peyton Place. The first, by Neville Shute, introduced me to the worlds of Australia and of aircraft. The second introduced me to romance.

Those two books belonged to my family. Although I know I read much while in secondary school, I don’t remember what I read. Perhaps this was when I became an ardent fan of Agatha Christie.

My father subscribed to three English magazines: LIFE, TIME and Reader’s Digest. I devoured them. But I don’t recall discussing anything I read in them! I loved the condensed books at the back of every issue of Readers Digest. These introduced me to the joy in reading.

He also subscribed to the Tamil magazines Kalki and Kumutham. I only read them to impress my mother. I’ve often wondered if I’d be more fluent in Malay if my father had subscribed to a Malay periodical.

When I went to English College (Maktab Sultan Abu Bakar) in Johor Bahru, I discovered the public library. While waiting for my A-level results I went by bus from Pontian to that library weekly to borrow books.

I was drawn to the biography shelves and the history of science shelves. I remember reading thick tomes about John Hancock, Albert Schweitzer, the Curies, Alexander Fleming, Isaac Newton. My joy in reading is stamped in the odd things I remember.

John Hancock made his signature LARGE on the Declaration of Independence to be sure King George would see it.

Albert Schweitzer was rushed by officers into packing his suitcase when they took him to be incarcerated (as a German threat) during the war. This made him choose to be patient with others for the rest of his life.

Isaac Newton wrote more about God than he did about physics.

I also read novels. I’ll mention two of them. Roots by Alex Haley, through the character Kunta Kinte, introduced me to the social evil of slavery. Wheels by Arthur Hailey introduced me to the belief that you should never buy a car built in Detroit on a Monday or a Friday.

During my university years I read well beyond my engineering curriculum. Perhaps it was then that I began reading V S Naipaul, who helped me think through what it means to be a diaspora Indian. My joy in reading is expressed in my self-understanding.

Over the years I became fond of many writers. My wife is as fond of reading as I am. We cherish the historical novels of James Michener, the law dramas of John Grisham, the Jewish novels of Chaim Potok, the African detective stories of Alexander McCall Smith.

We also enjoy books by Christians. We’ve collected books by John White, Max Lucado, Paul Yancey – to name just three whom we love.

For brevity, I’ll omit my joy in “technical” books (I have hundreds, covering behaviour, business, chemistry, economics, engineering, history, humour, investigation, journalism, law, leadership, management, politics, quality, religion, sociology, statistics, travel, writing.)

I have a travel habit which concerns books. I try never to leave a city without one or more books to remember it by. I buy them in bookstores, monuments, museums, or airports. I’ll give five examples.

I have a book about food during WWII, bought at a war museum in the UK. A book about modern Israel bought at a Holocaust museum in New York. A book about Napoleon bought at the war museum in Paris. A book about Borobudur, bought there. A book about a Catholic pharmacist who served Jews in Krakow, bought in Krakow. My joy in reading is displayed on my bookshelves.

Why am I writing about books today? Because this morning, in a biography of Dorothy L Sayers, by Colin Duriez, I learned some quaint things about Oxford.

I’ll give two examples which concern the bell on Tom Tower, at the entrance to Christ Church College.

The bell chimes at 9:05 pm, NOT 9:00 pm. Why? Because Oxford time is 5 minutes after Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), and 9:00 pm GMT is the time by which students (long ago) had to be back in the college!

Until 1663, the bell chimed 100 times at 9:05 pm, to represent the number of students in the college. In 1663, the count was increased to 101 because one student was added!

That is the joy in reading. You enter new worlds. You are healed. You travel at your own pace. And you don’t worry that Air Asia won’t refund your fares if they cancel your flights.

What’s your book story? Start a conversation with someone!

4 thoughts on “<strong>Joy in reading and 101 chimes at 9:05 pm</strong>”

  1. Enid Blyton and her series of Secret Seven, Famous Five, Mallory Towers and St Clare’s plus a whole melange of farm stories, and hidden creatures – gnomes, dwarves, elves, tales of changing lands on top of the Faraway Tree the Magic, etc, filled my early childhood days plus the Britannica Encyclopedia sets. At the age of 10, I tried making cookies once out of the recipe in the Britannica. It came out as hard as rocks, with hardly any flavour. That promptly ended my baking foray.
    As a 9-tear old, reading the Viking mythologies and the older Asian history text books of my parents sparked my interest in ancient civilizations. On a trip back from KL near the end of that year, my dad brought two books home: CS lewis’ – the Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe, and a strange book that describes the journey and initiation rites of a Tibetian monk who later in his life moved to England. Fascinated, I remembered feeling like packing my bags and heading over to Tibet. Shortly after, I got distracted by the JWs who came knocking on our door – – who introducedk the Old Testament to me. These beautifully illustrated stories of Moses and a vivid picture of Aaron’s rod budding with almond flowers remained in my mind years later, and drew me to read my dad’s KJV bible while staying with him. Seventeen and bored out of my mind pacing the tiny apt in the afternoons, I chanced upon it after looking through his bookshelves. “Do you believe the stories in this book?” my dad popped his head into my room one evening. “Yes!” was the reply. The whispered to myself, “I want to know a God that real, a miraculous God that will do what these people experienced. A God that will speak personally with me.”
    I guess that’s the power of books to spark the imagination and desires. And to plant seeds. The rest is history.

    1. Adeline, Who would ever have thought that you once failed at baking?
      Thank you for this lovely tribute to reading and revealing something of yourself.
      Never thought I’d see a day when I’d be grateful for JW literature!

    2. Since starting to share books read, here are some of mine when young growing up:
      1. Enid Blyton: Faraway Tree, Wishing Chair, 5 Find Outers and Dog, Famous Five, etc
      2. Hardy Boys, 3 Investigators (Children Mystery)
      3. Dragonlance, Forgotten Realms, Sword of Truth, Magician series (Fantasy)
      4. Agatha Christie, Sherlock Holmes (Murder Mystery)
      5. John Grisham, Tom Clancy, Robert Ludlum (Espionage and Law)
      6. Wheel of Time (Robert Jordan) and Shannara series (Terry Brooks)
      and on and on…
      Don’t stop reading if you can… keeps our imaginations active…. 🙂

      1. We have many authors in common.
        Unlike Adeline and yourself, I’ve no patience with fantasy. The only fantasy writers I’ve tried to read are Tokien and C S Lewis.
        I’ve not finished reading a single one of Lewis’s Narnia series – but I’ve probably read all his other popular books. (His “Mere Christianity” was the axe which felled my commitment to agnosticism.) Tolkien is too complicated for me.
        However, I enjoy movies based on the works of Lewis and Tolkien.

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