25 January 2016

Meditations on the art of reading

I can't remember when I first went, but going to the World Book Fair with my mother has been a tradition since I was old enough to be able to leaf through the pages of a book. The fair, one of the oldest in Delhi, would have already have been on for a decade before I was even thought of, and when we went, my mother and I, it was an already established tradition. With November, the Trade Fair rolled in, all fancy state stalls and different things to eat and poke at, with spring, the World Book Fair, halls and halls and rows and rows of books, all laid out in front of us, all usually so much cheaper than buying them at bookstores.


I imagine my mother made two or three trips, once with me and then a few more times on her own, but perhaps I'm only projecting on her what I would have done myself had I been saddled both with a small child and a love for books. She has always been enthusiastic about our trips together, we made it a point to check out the children's books at every hall—from Chinese ones made of thin paper and illustrated with happy dolls and teddy bears under “The Chairman” to the glossy hardback Soviet books, each illustration a watercolour and taking up a whole page. One glorious Fair visit, we bought a set of children's encylopedia—less boring than in sounds, because each volume had little stories accompanying the facts. (It was from that I learned that lightening will strike the highest place first, so the safest place for you in a storm is inside your car.) The stall selling it didn't have a full volume for sale, only display, so I had almost forgotten about it when they brought the huge cardboard box to our door, something that probably set off in me my love for online shopping today.

Now, of course, we attend as co-adults, as an author, I get discounts at my publisher's stalls, and where I don't, my mother bargains, which is frowned upon, but usually works in her case. (I never have the guts to try it.) This combination made me buy a pile of books that had to be carried home in two backpacks, and one large carrier bag, and filled up a whole line of my bookshelves.

Once home and unpacked, I regarded them. My to-be-read shelf already groaned under the weight of books I meant to start and finish and never did. I read a lot, but mostly on my Kindle, and mostly stuff that came out over the last year or so. My reading of anything that was written pre-2005 was woefully behind, my reading habits actually had taken a bit of a nosedive thanks to the internet and television, and it generally being easier to skim an article online than pick up a paperback. As a person who smugly never had to “work on their reading,” I realised I was going to have to “work on my reading” or lose that habit forever.

It's been easier than I thought—disconnecting. Long underused muscle memories come back when I curl up in an armchair, heater at my feet, holding up small print to the light. Sometimes (when eating dinner for example) my brain will flicker to the easier idea of watching a TV show instead, but I override it.

As a result, two days in and I've finished three books and am starting on my fourth. Books that held me enchanted from beginning to end, books I'm a little sad to let go. I see now why ebook sales are falling and paper books are rising again, there's a certain sense of closure when you've finally moved your bookmark from the last pages to the table and you close the book and hold it a bit and smile to yourself. I love my Kindle and I'm not a Luddite in any sense of the world, but in the past I used to have clear demarcations: ebooks for travel and paper books for home. Just as a plane is not the most comfortable place to sit with a wrist-breaking hardback, neither is a sofa with a purring cat on your lap and a cup of coffee by your side, the best place to press a screen as opposed to the organic bending and turning of your paperback's spine.

Readers are made, not born, but even then, you've got to work a little bit at every relationship—even the one with your first love.   

(A version of this appeared in my column on mydigitalfc.com)

1 comment:

  1. As a book-lover myself, could totally relate to this love letter about them. Also, "Bibliobibuli"!! What a funny and yet endearing word :) :)

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