Thursday, 4 February 2010

why do i read? i've always been reading. amma used to get very irritated about me reading. she'd say i paid no attention to the outside world. i wouldn't offer help or take part in a conversation because i was too busy with the world inside my books (i still remember her snatching an archie comic, of all the things to be reading, out of my hand. we were on a train, and she demanded i go help with some luggage carrying somewhere. i was not happy). but why? i get so absorbed, so enmeshed into the lives of these fictional characters. a good book will keep me up all night even though i know i have a class in the morning, that i have work to be doing. i forget that there can be other things to do. when i watch movies, however exciting they may be, i never forget that i am watching a movie. a good book makes me feel like a part of a different world.

i'd sit in the middle of a room, full of people talking, and be completely oblivious. a good book is a pleasure of its own. i don't think about reading anymore. it just happens. sometimes i'm not even paying attention to the words, i'm too busy imagining the scene in my head, replaying what i've just read, thinking about how it could have been different and the whole book would change. the best books make me want to be in them, not just to be reading them.

music isn't like that. as much as i could drown in a song, i couldn't forget the world. too often i forget the song, and focus on the work i'm meant to be doing. movies aren't like that. however much they stimulate my mind, i can't think about movie characters in quite the same way i do book characters. games aren't like that. however well they simulate a world, this one or another, they don't do it nearly well enough. there is no artificial vision that can come close to competing with my mind's eye.

i thought i knew what hagrid looked like, and then robbie coltrane came and ruined it. i don't even remember what the gollum in my head looked like. peter, edmund, susan and lucy aren't nearly as exciting as they used to be. but i know what boo radley looks like. i'm told the movie is terrific. i'm sure it is. but the boo in my head will disappear once i watch it, and i'm too terrified of that.

i used to read kamala subramaniam's mahabharata every day. i'd just pick out a chapter and read. i still remember the smell of that book, it was old and musty, and reminds me of home. it feels like such a small book now, with such large type, but then it was a behemoth. when i was ten, it was as big as the lord of the rings and fifty times more important. sharan, having finished it much before me, would regale all of us with stories recalled from memory. that kind of deep and abiding love can't really be duplicated by any other art form. sure, you can memorise every line from casablanca, you can have long discussions about rahman, but a good book will be the best friend i will ever have.

this is probably why i do stupid things, like buying multiple versions of the same book (you can always give it off to someone) or buying the really expensive hardback as soon as it comes out (who knows, it might become collectible one day). i did both just last week. i bought a signed and numbered hardback version of the northern lights. why, i cannot say. i saw it and i thought 'it's been a while since i read it, maybe i should buy it'. and i really don't regret it. most things i don't buy. my inner-miser is too strong. but for books, he disappears, and the rest of me doesn't really care. when i think 'this dvd looks exciting', or 'that game is meant to be terrific', i won't buy it. i'll carry it around the shop, and then just before i leave i'll stick it in a shelf somewhere and pretend i've never seen it. but even bad books, even unoriginal fantasy or crap children's fiction will have me forking out my life savings just for that rush of speechlessness.

And so i shall take my leave, with this thought that i saw painted on the wall of a bookshop. oxford bookstore in madras, i think it was.

I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.

                                                                                    - John Luis Borges

    1 comment:

    Sreya said...

    mmmm. I definitely empathize. Although in my case I think reading contributed to a sharp downward trend in grades.

    Bought the hardcover versions of books I should've waited to get oh, maybe three times this month. XP

    PS I read this weird existential mystery set in an England/Amsterdam and it reminded me so much of you. I believe it was called the Amnesiac, by Sam Taylor.