2 July 2016

But first, let me take a shelfie

Last week I was all set to go to a book sale that a publishing house had in one of its warehouses. Everything massively discounted, it seemed too good to be true. Even though I told myself I didn’t need any new books, didn’t even have space for new books, I went anyway, taking along with me, my mother, who was making the same arguments to herself. By the time we got there, we had to turn around and go home. The problem? Everyone had heard of this sale, making it a much bigger success than the publishers anticipated. All the books were gone by the afternoon, the crowds so thick that they could only let in a few people at a time, and once inside, reports said you could only move along with the crowd — no time to browse or bend to look at a book jacket more closely. However, the ones who did brave the masses came out with cartons and suitcases full of books and I wished them well with their bounty, because they totally earned it.

I wondered though, if any of these people were actually going to read that carton of books. Does that sound judgemental of me? Perhaps, a little bit, but even though there were hundreds of people outside that warehouse on the outskirts of Delhi, I don’t see a reciprocal amount of people reading on Delhi’s streets or posting pictures of books on social media or whatever. A book has become a collectable, something you stack on your shelves, something which will look pretty and whose cover you will never crack open. I’m guilty of this hoarding-not-reading behaviour myself. I go to the World Book Fair every year, coming home with two bags full and for about a month I read only my new books, till something comes along to distract me and the shelf of my to-be-read grows. (This has some nice side effects, like when you discover a book you totally forgot you had and it’s as good as you thought it was going to be when you bought it.) I’m a notorious book hoarder—on my Kindle, from second hand shops whenever I see them, at sales, from the airport — I can’t seem to pass a pile of books without stopping to browse.

This is me


I used to be able to read everything I owned, sometimes even three or four times. And now I’m lucky if I finish a few books a week. Part of this is, of course, Life Stuff, but then leisure became so divided. You hang with your friends, you watch television, you browse the internet... Time with a book on the couch feels like a luxury, not the necessity it used to be. Particularly social media. It’s responsible for more than half of my reading. Long reads, shorter click bait, opinions, news, news, news. I’m consuming so much and I barely get time to read it all, let alone process and make time for it in my already very crowded brain.

When you’re on the metro now, you see more people with their faces in their smartphones, flicking through desperately, waiting for more. Even on long train journeys, meant for reading and relaxing, you see people on their phones from morning till night, stopping only to plug their chargers in. I’m almost thankful for holidays when I don’t have the internet, because then my phone lies forgotten in my bag, removed only for photographs or to check the time.

I’m glad though that there’s a revival of books in general. Whether it’s for reading or hoarding purposes. When we moved house, I ruthlessly culled my bookshelves and offered up two cartons for anyone who’d like to take them. First pickings went to my friends, the rest I put up a public post for online and they were all gone by the second day. People were so pleased with free books, a book giveaway that they travelled to my home from across the city, and went away with stuffed grocery bags that I offered them. I don’t know if they ever read them, but I was glad that they’d go to a good home.

And recently: a miracle. Someone messaged me online, a random person, asking if a book he found in a secondhand market used to belong to me. Lo and behold, there was my handwriting spelling out my name. The market was in Hyderabad, a place I’ve never given away any of my books. How far they traveled to find a home.  

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

1 comment:

  1. Guilty! My eyes are glued to the phone for the most part. It's the Kindle app, though, won't waste my battery on anything else :)

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