I have stayed up many nights with a good book for company, but the fear of not having anything to read has caused me a few sleepless nights…
Books, libraries, reading, bookstores, the written word, language and culture, all of this, and much more related to them, I credit with keeping me sane.
I can’t imagine my world without books, especially my books, the ones I have collected over many years. They have become in many ways my keepers of secrets.
I am not sure I like the idea of digital books, while Amazon and Apple wrangle over the digitalisation of books, prices online, and publishing, all the talk about traditional books becoming obsolete just makes me nervous.
I am tempted to get copies of all the books I love and put them in a time capsule.
Amazon.com has changed the way people buy books, and with Kindle it has started to change how people read books. Last year, it went one step ahead and released a programme that essentially uses algorithms to determine readers’ expectations, and suggests for writers a suitable storyline.
I simplify of course but surely such a contrived idea would make anyone sit up and take notice, and ask why we needed to have formulated stories published for a market already dominated by and large by a few key players?
Later this year Random House and Penguin will merge, which means fewer options for everyone. Readers and writers. With the likes of Katie Price aka Jordan getting published and climbing up bestseller lists, but creative writers so often left out of the loop because they don’t fit some marketing box?
When it comes to books, and the authors we want to read, the idea of any company making decisions on our behalf grates. The buying and reading of books are deeply emotional and personal acts, and the material we choose to read is determined by innumerable influences, which includes subtle and not so subtle marketing gimmicks I admit. But mostly the mood I am in determines the books I buy and the book or books I choose to read.
Among all the things I can’t find easily in Dhaka, the absence of a good bookshop upsets me the most. There are compensations in the form of New Market’s musty old stores, among which Zeenat Bookstores holds pride of place. I used to go there every other weekend, with my uncle, we would usually walk down from Dhanmondi in less then twenty five minutes and I was allowed to pick any book I wanted, and two comics. My childhood was shaped by these trips to the bookstore, and my birthdays were marked by volumes of books,mostly abridged versions of the classics, and assorted comics, Enid Blytons and Nancy Drew. But I would read anything I could get my hands on. Nothing escaped my grimy little fingers, I devoured books, often they made little or no sense, but I just loved the flow of words when I read them. If I wasn’t tearing around, I was cooped up on a window ledge of the old house, which was wide enough for me to sit comfortably on, with a book of my choice.
When I was going to university in Delhi, my favourite bookshop was Sehgal Brothers in South Extension market, in my final year the store was being renovated so they had a massive sale on everything, with 50% off on all stock, I wanted to buy everything. I would end up at the shop without fail on alternate days on my way back from classes, and pick several books, and return home with my purchases dizzy with excitement. It wasn’t that I had loads of ready cash, I didn’t, but I was happy to live on milk, bread and eggs for a month if I could buy all the books I wanted. I did, and arrived at the airport with 60kg of extra luggage, all books. The man at the counter took pity on me I think, because he let me onboard without charging me. I couldn’t have paid if he had charged me for the extra luggage, I had nothing left after the taxi ride to the airport!
When I was in London, I would buy at least six new books every week, taking advantage of the Waterstone’s three for two schemes. My fondest memories of the time I spent with an ex boyfriend are of weekends drinking red wine and ordering books from Amazon.com – he had access to an international credit card and a diplomatic “bag” that guaranteed delivery – and I would wait eagerly for the twice monthly thrill associated with the moment he would return from work, bag full of new books, for us, for me!
If I am on holiday, half my budget is allocated for books. In Bangkok, the massive Kinokoniya is a favourite, where I spend hours browsing.
I read several books at a time, which does muddle the stories and characters sometimes but knowing I can always go back and read them again means I can re-discover the stories with each reading.
It isn’t unusual for me to be at a party and wish I was in my room reading my book. I have feigned illness, and all kinds of “problems”, because I am reading a book too good to put down. I fail to answer the phone, eat, sleep, wash or bother with anyone or anything because I am so engrossed in the book I am reading. I have been known to skip work because I could not bear to part with a book.
On March 7, many countries celebrate World Book Day, but did you know there was also a World Book Night, observed on April 23. Held on a symbolic date for world literature, it marks Shakespeare birth and death anniversary, which is why UNESCO picked the date for International Day of the Book. It is celebrated in many countries, with events to celebrate reading and the giving of books.
Isabel Allende in a recent interview said: “Humanity has this need to hear stories because they connect us with other people, they teach us about our own feelings. We feel less lonely when we see other people going through the same things, even if they’re fictional characters.”
I have always treasured books. They are, for me, the best gift anyone can give me. The return of a “lost” book that someone borrowed and forgot about, is an even better gift in my books, excuse the pun.
We all need stories to give our lives meaning and perspective, and I am never as happy as I am when I have a great book to read.
Avid readers will know how discombobulating it can be when you finish a book and find yourself in the mundane real world. The sense of loss associated with the end of a book, is akin to saying goodbye to a dear friend forever. Except with books it is not forever, we can always go back and find them again, and again. There are books that I start to read again, as soon as I have read the last page.
There are too many books that have left their indelible marks on me, too many authors to mention. The books that have been my constant companions, the ones that saved me and helped me rise out of the depths of despair reveal new layers and meanings with each reading. While there are some books and authors I find difficult to read, I save them for the right mood, some simply evade me. It is a rare book that I hate and am unable to read at all. Not counting the genre known as Misery Lit, and the teenage girls’ fantasy Mills and Boons, neither of which ever held any appeal for me.
Praise for reading, the unique and singular experience it is for each of us, defies all fears about books and reading becoming obsolete. The life changing experience that reading a good book entails, means people will always read books because books change us inextricably.
Whether they are textbooks in schools, or scholarly treatises, tomes for reference, biographies, fiction, novels, short stories, poetry or prose, enrich and enlighten us through words. Books are both educational and entertaining, and nothing Hollywood produces can beat the experience of reading.
Books give us perspective and make us better people; as a University of Buffalo study proves. Reading fiction the study found, makes us more empathetic. I am wary of the methodology used: researchers gave 140 undergraduates passages from the Twilight series, and from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone to read. The details can be found online. Bizarre.
All books to some extent enrich us so I am wary of anyone who says they do not read books. I am scared silly when I learn there are people in this world, who, and I know this for a fact - because I went and checked myself - don’t own a single book. Not one! The scary part is they have children. My concern is, should such people be allowed to have children? From my limited experience of child bearing and rearing, I would say reading is an essential part of the whole process. When my close friend was pregnant Heidi Murkoff’s “What To Expect When You Are Expecting” were constant companions, and for good reason too. I recommend that book to anyone whether you are expecting, spouse of or just because everyone should read it. I think that book should be essential reading for everyone.
While it is easy to point fingers and blame everyone for everything, reading habits despite the Internet, computer games, television, libraries closing down, absence of teachers, mentors and what have you, I believe the future of traditional books is not so bleak or dire.
I don’t have a gadget to read books on, yet. A friend I trust says a Kindle will change my life, imagine having all those books in your gadget? The whole world of books, entire libraries…I will withhold judgement until I get one, if ever. I like old fashioned books, but I also understand the environmental aspect of saving trees, and so on. Its a Catch-22 option!
But we need not fear because the printed book is not dying any time soon. Though surveys and studies indicate people are reading less, they also indicate we are still reading for pleasure. In fact, when a book holds meaning for a reader, we go out and get a copy of the printed version, even if we have Kindle or iPads. So there is no need to worry about digital books taking over the good old printed book, because unlike gadgets, books don’t run out of power or need batteries!
*Abibliophilia: The fear of running out of reading materials.
Naheed Kamal, Big Mouth Strikes Again, Weekend Tribune, Dhaka Tribune, Vol 1, Issue 8, June 8, 2013