A boundless love for literature

“Life’s too short to read rubbish.”

Oriole Friedemann laughs as she says this, sipping at an Appletiser in Rhodes University’s bustling Day Kaif. Her crystalline laugh is eddying to hear, like the sound of a wineglass being tapped with a silver spoon. There is only one topic that can truly release this laugh from her heart-shaped face and rosy cheeks: books.

I count myself as being relatively well-read for my age. My Goodreads account tallies 106 books. I think this is pretty good, considering I’m only 20 years old. However, Oriole’s tally nearly quadruples mine, at a staggering 388 to date.

This all started when she was young, growing up in a family of bibliophiles, and without a television at home. “So then I read, because what else can you do?” It is also her parents that propelled her love for the classics. “I did read a lot of classics. Absolutely! When we were little, my mom would buy the – now that I look back they’re kind of terrible, but – these illustrated classics. They were classics dumbed down for 10-year-olds with pictures on every second page. I fell in love with the stories and then I wanted to read the originals, so I think that’s why I read what I read. It wasn’t actually until I got to university that I started to read more contemporary stuff.”

Oriole came to university first to follow her love for literature. Last year she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts, majoring in English and Classics, the former of which she is now studying an honours degree in.

Being perkily optimistic in life, Oriole’s favourite books are those written well before she was born. “I think since modernism, humanity in general has just become more pessimistic,” she giggles. “We don’t really believe in happy endings anymore because, you know, there’s not this theory of an overarching presence directing our lives, so therefore why should we be happy?”

The university syllabus disrupted her favourite genre, the 19th century realism of Dickens, Austen and co. “When I read The French Lieutenant’s Woman I hated it, I absolutely hated it, because my favourite genre is that, you know, 19th century realism, and it’s just debunking it. There goes 19th century realism! And I was sitting there thinking ‘How can you do this to me!?’ But it’s brilliant! It’s so brilliant. So, I think I’ve learnt that I could appreciate it even if I hate it. I’ve really thoroughly enjoyed that I’ve been stretched.”

“But I’ve come back to my favourites,” she laughs. Her long paper this year will examine a web series adaption of Pride and Prejudice.

Her university work has actually resulted in Oriole reading less than she used to, despite studying literature. “I read more then [before uni]. I go through a phase when I want to get all my reading done, and then I can actually focus on writing the essays and doing the coursework,” Except for when she is horrendously busy with essays and such, she often reads up to four or five hours every day.  “At the beginning of the term I probably do. I read read read read read until I finished. And the holidays before. Read read read read read.”

However, even this isn’t enough, because Oriole battles with the bibliophile’s greatest tragedy: “There’s just so much out there! How do you possibly choose what to read? Especially when you’re like me,” she adds timidly. “The greatest thing and most horrible thing about being an avid reader is that you can never catch up. While at the same time, wow, that’s great, you can never catch up,” she adds, exemplifying her indelible and somewhat infectious optimism.  “There’s always something else to read.”

It is her friends though that help her make that difficult choice of what to read. “I read stuff that I know from other people was good.”

Earlier this year, I was walking with a friend through the English department at Rhodes, and bumped into Oriole sitting reading a book of translated French long-form poetry. I said hi, exchanged a few words, and then we went on our way. “Who was that,” asked my friend, once we were put of her earshot. He looked awestruck. “She’s magnificent!” he exclaimed, to my bemusement. There is something about Oriole though, especially when reading or discussing a book, that makes those that encounter her revere her, be it her peers, her first-year tutlings, or anyone who loves to read. I know I do.

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