ISSUE Magazine

At the Bookstore by Atiqah Mokhtar

I’m at the bookstore, looking at titles. Title, titles, trailing my fingers across spines of books and plastic-wrapped covers, stopping when it feels contrived and insincere, like I’m trying to pretend to be some quirky heroine who languidly brushes her fingers against books and records and other things she loves.

I look around. I see a table full of Kazuo Ishiguro novels, absently note the store is having a special, 20% off a book with the purchase of another item. I walk past the crime and mystery section, the movie tie-ins; I see the books on religion. I’m aimlessly wandering around. I feel restless. I pick up a book to read the synopsis, put it back. I glance at the poetry section, wondering if I could randomly pick up a collection of poems, read it properly and not give-up on it halfway down the line. I feel irritated at the idea of being disappointed with a book I choose, which so often happens. I realize I’ve reached a certain level of doubt where I sometimes no longer blame the things I don’t like for not liking them; I somehow believe it is a fault or flaw of my own.

I am suddenly angry, but I’m not sure at what. I try to direct my anger at something specific and external, I look for something to blame. Eventually I feel angry at myself as well; some other part of me is telling me to stop looking for excuses, and to pull myself together. I am angry at something, whatever it is, and in return, I am angry on behalf of that whatever-it-is at me. Does that make sense? It feels like I’m starting a fight, I’m at the cusp of a brawl.  My bitterness and my spite is pushing me over the edge, making me aggressively shove the person I’m picking the fight with, and at the same time I am that person being shoved, and I am shoving back. It feels frustrating and futile.

Going back and forth between shelves, I have a sudden acute longing for a book that would make me fall in love with it, I want to just pick a book and have it be one of the best books I’ve ever read in my life, whose pages will grow tatty and dog-eared as I re-read it countless times, thumbing through my favourite passages. I want to read something, and I want it to make me feel. I want to feel.

I realize I’m looking for something to fill me up. And then it hits me, this feeling of something missing, some bare space between my left ventricle and my mind. I am lacking. Because why would I need filling up if I wasn’t empty to start with?

My existing definition of self-discovery tends to associate it with self-improvement. I gravitate towards an interpretation that self-discovery is positive, life-changing, and fundamental. It means finding out more about yourself in a way that gives you assurance in who you are as person.  I imagine epiphanies achieved after periods of turmoil that lead to realizations about your inner-strength and your capabilities. I assume that self-discovery means finding a way to be more content with yourself and your life.

It just occurred to me, silly girl that I am, that to find out more about yourself isn’t limited to things that are good. What about when you discover the parts of you that you don’t like?

Atiqah is constantly making lists and scribbling untidily on available scraps of paper in an attempt to decipher her thoughts. Besides lurking suspiciously around bookstores, she likes emails. atiqahmokhtar@gmail.com.

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This entry was written by atiqahmokhtar and published on 05/07/2012 at 20:01. It’s filed under Atiqah Mokhtar, ISSUE2, Musings, Writings and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

2 thoughts on “At the Bookstore by Atiqah Mokhtar

  1. I do get such an unholy pang of jealousy when somebody has allowed me to enter their space and my eyes fall on a book, “whose pages [are] tatty and dog-eared,” and then I spy the title and like a transparent fool I ask, “So you like [insert title here]?”
    No shit. Of course they do, look at it. And then I do, as they talk about it on and on, quoting and explaining and counting the countless times they’ve read it, I smile and nod while taking in the used-ness of the book, the obvious necessity of its existence in this person’s life, so apparent in their personal spaces, so THEM. Then it’s a whole internal whining of, Where is my Me Book?!
    I really enjoyed reading this. You were able to teleport me to a Borders-lookalike in my mind, for what bookworm can not relate to wandering around the bookshop, seemingly in paradise when really you’re frantically searching for the next book to be amazed by. And then you shifted the lens inwards, portraying all the internal bits, impressively transcending this seemingly trivial setting (searching for a book) into an imagery that fits so well with your views on Self-Discovery. The way this piece moves is thoroughly believable and best of all, relatable. You never fail to keep referencing the looking-for and the searching-of, which is pretty much the major subtheme of this theme. Keep up the good work!

  2. Everything Dhi says. This piece captured so precisely how I feel when I’m wandering aimlessly in a bookstore – the frustration and the quick, quiet existential crisis that comes from being lost in books. And the last sentence – yes.

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