On reading and books

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By Chitra Ahanthem

Lately, there is this ‘tag friends with your list of 10 books that have deeply influenced you’ going about on a social networking site. The exercise is meant to be done without thinking too much and just come up with the 10 book list in the shortest time possible by the end of which the list is to be shared with 10 other people. Anything to do with books is of great interest for me and I got down to mentally sort out a list but while going about it, I realized that one person’s list would keep on changing over the course of life. Right now, my list of 10 books includes only four books (Vikram Seth’s Golden Gate, Bridges of Madison County, Ayn Rand’s Fountainhead and The French Lieutenant’s woman by John Fowles) that I read in my college days with the rest being ones that I read in the last four to five years. Only one book from my high school days (Gone with the wind) made it to the list while Kiran Nagarrkar’s Cuckold; In other rooms, other wonders by Daniyal Mueenuddin; Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi; The moon and six pence by Maugham, The house of spirits by Isabelle Allende had only been read in the last five years.

If the same task were set to me when I was in high school, my book list would have been mostly of those written by Sidney Sheldon whose strong woman characters around whom the plots revolved, made a deep impression on me. Charles Dicken’s Great Expectations would have in that list too because it wasn’t maudlin or fall into the category of ‘sad books’ that I relegated his other works like Tales of two cities or Oliver Twist to. It would take me years to revisit the same books and appreciate them. From what I remember of that period, getting books to read was not an easy task then with school libraries not really stocking up on popular reading materials for young people and most people caught under the spell of Mills and Boons romances. At best, one read what was available on the borrowing circuit and growing up among older male relatives, I ended up reading a whole lot of black and while cowboy comic books and quite a few books by Louis Amor`. With relatives in the legal sector, there were Perry Mason books that opened up for me how the legal system and crime investigations worked in another country.

It was College that opened up a broader range in my reading. The college library had a staggering collection of books, journals and magazines while second hand book sales made it possible to buy books at cheap rates but the best part of living out of Imphal was to be able to stroll among thousands of books and browse through them in the kind of book stores that one is still to come across here. Living in hostel along with other students who took on varied subjects meant being able to exchange a whole eclectic range of books and authors. Reading books took a hit once I came back home and more so with a long illness in the family and then death but after emerging out of an acute phase of book reading mental block, I discovered online book stores that have more than made up for the lack of books and book stores here in Imphal. If asked to name 10 books that left a lasting impression on my mind during the college days then, it would definitely be a range of literary works including works by Marquez, Thomas Hardy, Ernest Hemingway, Leo Tolstoy amongst others.

Looking back, it is amusing that one had to send a bank draft to be able to order books online earlier for all it takes now is a few minutes to pay online through net-banking, though of course one has to pray for a good enough internet connection to be able to complete bank transactions. Additionally, the emergence of private courier services (call it the interplay of demand and supply) have made deliveries swifter (mental shudder here remembering the days of online orders headed via slow post…er, normal post packages).

End-point:

Earlier, one came across books through personal interactions: either you had someone recommending a book in person or came across books sitting in someone’s home or work place which you then picked up and read. Now of course, it is easier to discover and hear about books and authors in the virtual world with various internet book discussion forums and book chats. The reach of social networking sites have in fact been tapped in by publishing houses and authors to promote their books through live chats, lucky draws et el. The advent of e-book reading devices are now available that makes it possible to read books on the move without having to carry the actual books. But this last bit is something that I am yet to warm up to for I do not find enough delight in reading long texts from a computer screen and nothing beats the feel of paper and reading actual print. Enough of only talking about books: after all, they are supposed to be read and the latest book challenge I am part of, that of reading 24 books for 2014 now stands at 21 books off the mark. I see the 22nd book of this year waiting for me to read…gotta go and read up!

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