Thursday, August 18, 2011

Analyzing my greatest addiction

“Let us read and let us dance - two amusements that will never do any harm to the world.”  - Voltaire

In The Tale of Despereaux – by Kate DiCamillo, Despereaux is a “weird” mouse who prefers to read books rather than eat them. This gets him into all kinds of trouble, as any “otherness” does in most societies. When he is sentenced to languish in the dungeons, Gregory -- the rat jailer, offers to save him. Despereaux asks "Why would you save me?"  

The answer that Gregory gives is a good place as any to begin my own examination of my greatest addiction in life. "Because you, mouse, can tell Gregory a story” he says. “Stories are light. Light is precious in a world so dark. Begin at the beginning. Tell Gregory a story. Make some light’.”  That’s exactly what a good book, or in a pinch – ANY book – does for me. It opens, illuminates, and pleases my mind. It’s my almost free ticket to go anywhere and be anything I choose. It is the best way I can think of to force my mind open, experience completely foreign cultures and lives, live other peoples’ existences, and feel what they feel, and learn….just learn so many things, facts, trivia, science, and so much more! And the more I do so, the more I want to.

More and more people I meet these days do not read. I feel a little saddened and sorry for them when they say things like “books are boring”, or “I would rather do anything than read a book”. I know the futility of trying to explain to them what they are missing, no one who doesn’t have the bug can ever comprehend what it is like. Then again, to each his own, I guess, and if someone thinks they get all the pleasure they can out of life from TV, internet, and sports, that’s entirely their choice. As for me, I cannot imagine living without books. I can manage pretty well without many things that I once considered essential – parties, adda, TV, regular soirees, going out every evening, being surrounded by people – but books are as essential to my life and well being as breathing. My house is full of books, seven crates and counting, and I would go mad if I didn’t read at least a few pages a day. In fact, I can’t fall asleep if I haven’t read something first.

Teaching a kid to read is hard work, as I realize now that I am teaching mine to, and I am glad my parents invested the time and effort into teaching me to love books. Because of them, and their efforts, I will never be lonely, bored, or restricted ever in my life. Most parents don’t. They pay token lip service (and not all of them either) to the “kids these days don’t read” complaint, but obviously don’t care enough, or see it as enough of a problem, to actually make the effort to remedy the situation. At worst, they themselves read nothing other than the odd newspaper, and don’t see the need for a reading habit in their kids. At best, they are the exclusive Grihalakhsmi, Women’s Era reading mothers, and Newspapers and business magazines only fathers who see no need for either them or their kids to read anything else given that the parents are doing “just fine” without it. A third category also exists, that of people who vaguely wish their kids to read, and are trying to make them, but too little and too late.

Except in very rare cases, a reading habit is hereditary. Not genetic, or passed down with the genes, but cultural, passed down with the other memes we receive, like religious beliefs, orthodox/liberal worldviews, political stands, and such. The earliest memories I have (and I am sure my brother – another voracious reader—will agree) involve books. Not only did my parents have an extensive library of their own, most of them classics and “non popular”, leisure at home often involved a toddler Jia holding a book upside down fiercely emulating the parents, who – lying on either side of her – both had their noses buried in a book. Reading, and talking about, books, was very much a part of the general background of home life, and an important part of familial bonding. Given books from infancy on, by age twelve – when most of my peers were beginning to read the bigger Enid Blytons, I had gone through Nancy Drew, and Hardy Boys, C S Lewis and Lewis Carroll, and moved on to Of Human Bondage (which I have since re read a dozen times, discovering something new each time I pick it up).

For CONCERNED parents these days, listening to the expert advice of psychologists and sociologists disturbed by the increasing intolerance and lack of depth in youth, the shorter and shorter attention spans, and the addiction to instant gratification, teaching their kids to read is becoming somewhat more of an issue than it would normally have been. However, how is the kid supposed to get the message if the parents don’t read? It will just end up being another of those “do what I tell you, don’t do as I do” lessons that kids learn duplicity from. Also, the time to hand the kid a book is BEFORE it can read. Most parents don’t, because a} the kid can’t read, b} it will just tear it up, c} I’ll have to take time out of my busy life to read the book out to him/her. While all of this is true, this actually IS the time to introduce the child to the concept of books. Looking at pictures, and yes, tearing the occasional page, will raise a curiosity about what it says. Reading to my child has been one of the nicest, closest, quietest bonding experiences I have ever had.

Yes, I had to read out the same stories again and again, but now that my little monkey has learnt to read some of them on her own, I miss it. Having always been around books, and having seen both parents, especially mom, so much into reading, my daughter already sees books as an inalienable part of her life, and --- at age 5 and a half – often chooses to read rather than watch endless cartoons. Another thing I learnt from my parents is not to force my tastes in reading on to my child. Sure, I do hand – and will continue to hand her – books that I consider good reads, but she is, as I have always been, free to read anything she chooses.

I hope, that as she grows, she will find in books what I have found. A perfect and constant friend, accessible and cheap “anytime entertainment”, enough information to set me well on the path to my ultimate ambition… “to know everything about everything”, some of the best antidepressants on the planet, the perfect escape, and so much more. I hope she also realizes the pleasures of re-reading. A lot of people I know… who supposedly read … don’t get how I can keep reading the same books again and again ( I have some that I have read as many as 50 times and can pick up again anytime). “But you already know the story!” these are the people I classify into the same category as the ones that say “I never read Wodehouse, the stories are so juvenile!” I for one don’t read JUST for a story. Every word, every line, every page, has something to offer (particularly if it is Wodehouse. hehehe). It’s about suddenly discovering a new idea or thought that you missed on previous readings. It is re-appreciating a turn of phrase or a juxtaposition of irreconcilables. It is seeing the same characters and plot from a place of slightly superior experience of lived life. “When you reread a classic you do not see more in the book than you did before; you see more in you than was there before.”

“A book is the only place in which you can examine a fragile thought without breaking it, or explore an explosive idea without fear it will go off in your face. It is one of the few havens remaining where a man's mind can get both provocation and privacy”  according to Edward P. Morgan, and I find that increasingly true as social contact leaves more and more to be desired, and everyone seems to be beginning to think in black and white. I like the freedom to play the devil’s advocate to my own mind, I enjoy making myself uncomfortable in my beliefs, if only to test how deep they run. So, yes, I love to read, and can never have enough books.

No wonder then, that my idea of home décor is basically asking “do we have enough bookshelves?” :D


  1. Rereading: there is also painfully missing a book. I read "Anna Karenina" last summer, and was missing it so that I had to pick it up again a few weeks ago. Magical.

    It so happens that the second time reading is even slower. Like I'm reading only one chapter at a time.

  2. all the better to see u with my dear