In a post I wrote last week titled Everyday Dili I answered a few questions I’d had on Instagram about little parts of my everyday life here in Timor-Leste — areas like groceries, nightlife, and local food. I got the idea for the post after someone messaged me to ask where in Dili I get the books I read and frequently Instagram.
And, coincidentally, as I’ve progressed with the reading challenge I set myself at the beginning of this year, I’ve had a couple of people asking me for book recommendations.
So, I thought I’d talk about reading in Dili — the capital city of a country whose language I don’t know well enough to read in, where few bookstores exist and the ones that do sell mainly Portuguese, Tetun or Bahasa Indonesian texts — and how a reading practise helps me in a still-foreign new environment.
Where do the books come from?
From friends, from houses, from swapping shelves, from Australia, and on my Kindle.
I’ve been fortunate in that the two houses I’ve lived in here have come with well-stocked bookshelves from English-speaking former residents, and have been introduced to a couple of good public swapping shelves at the take-a-book, leave-a-book corners of Dili Wellness and Beachside Hotel. The Secret Chord, A Long Way Down and Death in Balibo, Lies in Canberra all came from house shelves, Bad Feminist and Ripper from the take-a-book leave-a-book shelves, and Gut, Half of a Yellow Sun, Americana and the Narrow Road to the Deep North were all loans from friends.
I’ve also downloaded a few on my Kindle — mainly book club books I don’t have the time to wait for — and have put in requests for new books like Eggshell Skull when family have come to visit from Australia.
How do I choose what to read?
Instagram and what’s available!
Most of the books I’ve read this year were chosen because they seemed the most interesting out of the small number available to me. It’s meant I’ve read some things I likely never would have picked up — like Chinau Achebe’s excellent Nigerian colonialism trilogy, or the frankly quite awful American classic I just finished for book club.
I also follow a few literary people on Instagram and note the books I see repeatedly (that’s how I found Eggshell Skull, and I’ll buy Trent Dalton’s very-Instagrammed Boy Swallows Universe when I return home in Australia).
How reading helps
I’ve made no secret of feeling less-than-great recently, and usually reading is one of the first things I drop when life feels a bit too hard. I find it difficult to get into a reading routine and lack the discipline to make myself read before bed instead of scrolling Instagram, or read on my commute instead of scrolling Instagram, or decompress with a book after work instead of scrolling Instagram.
But recently, when my anxiety was bad and I felt exhausted all the time, lying in bed with my legs up the wall and a fat fiction book was an immersive escape and a total relief. And my anxious mind seized the carrot of the percentage counter on my Kindle and the numbers pushed me to read more.
And my low moments, where I felt lethargy and despair and inverted my own world, thinking no one liked me, reading was a familiar and grounding experience — reading til late in the night like I did when was a child; carrying a novel around like I did at school, trying not to vomit holding my Kindle up in the car looping round mountainous Timor-Leste bends like I did on family trips to my aunt’s farm. The reading routine was borne from my despair and did something to heal it, grounding me to the person I am, I remain, and reminding me of old familiar habits, comforting rituals. An anchor in a churning sea.
How reading helps. Introducing me to new worlds and new friends and new places in my city. Reminding me of who I am. Guiding me home.