Friday, 8 June 2012

You are what you read

It was inevitable. It was inescapable.
People who know me would have seen this coming.
They knew there would be a blog about reading, given that's the only thing I tend to do fairly consistently.
Read. Anything. Absolutely anything that comes across me or I can get my hands on.

Before I ramble on about reading, I'd like to make this clear. I may not be the most well-read person on earth and there may be a quite a few who are that far down the road to reading that it's difficult for authors to keep up, let alone other readers.
I am not that far down the road. Yet. I've barely started.

A couple of decades back, when I caught the reading bug, I came across a saying in Marathi "Vachal tar vachal", which literally translates to "Reading will save you", though, as is the case with most local adages, loses it flavour in the translation. There have been instances where reading has been life-changing though, if not life-saving.

Some of my earliest memories of reading are mostly around fiction. No greater joy those days than laying your hands on an Enid Blyton or getting thrills out of finding the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew series in the school library. My mum introduced me to Marathi books - specifically classics such as Mrityunjay, Chhava and also the perennially popular Pu.La. Deshpande. And then after that, there was no looking back.

2 of the most interesting books I read when I was in school were The Godfather by Mario Puzo and Kane and Abel by Jeffrey Archer. I won't get into the synopsis of the books themselves, but the emotions I felt after reading these books were enormous. 2 powerful books in their own rights. They had a great influence on my reading habits. I was addicted.

Over the last 2 or so years, Wednesday evenings hold a special treat for me. The local library is open late and I can usually hang around the place for a good solid hour, trying to get as many books as I can. More often than not, I end up getting way too many books, but I am like a child in a candy store there. The last 5 times I've been to the library, I've been spotted carrying at least 10 books (mix of novels, non-fiction, comics and magazines) and 2-3 CDs/DVDs.

Reading liberates me. Similar to riding my bike, reading takes me places where I'd usually only dream of going, or enjoying things people wouldn't associate with me. Reading engulfs me, engages me, captivates me, thrills me.

I've also realised my tastes (or is that habits?) have changed over the years. A few years back, I'd usually make a beeline for the fiction shelves, scouting a Patterson, Archer, Grisham or Reilly. These days, I rarely go past the fiction shelves. Non-fiction catches my eye easily at the moment.
Treading down the non-fiction path has revealed some real gems. As it often turns out, fact is indeed stranger than fiction and it has been awesome being party to such facts and fact finders. Of course, sneaking into the fiction shelves every now and then has had its own consequences.

Last 5 good books/series I've read
(Note: Won't go into the book contents or play spoiler, but just my experiences reading them)

Amazing Spiderman
There are comic books and then there are COMIC books. I've got a lot more access to comic books than what I had when I was a kid. And I make use of this access fully. I must have read a lot of comics in the last 2 years than in the last 20 before that.
In personal experience, comic books are usually a lot about graphics and less of content.
The Amazing Spiderman was the complete opposite. So much content. So much structure. It actually took me more time to read a comic book than reading a small novel. That's saying something.

Empire of the Moghul series (Alex Rutherford)
Raiders from the North
Brothers at War
Ruler of the World
At school, we had a bit of history of the "Mughals" invading a large part of India and how the valiant people from these various parts fought back, with a varying scale of success.
I was mesmerised by the language, texture and richness of the content of this series. Read the 3 books back to back, learnt a few things along the way about 3 generations of the Moghuls and absolutely enjoyed the journey back to the 14th century. Can't wait for the final book in the quintet.

Dubai - the story of the world's fastest city (Jim Krane)
Everyone knows or must have heard about this amazing city where the rich people are not ashamed to display their wealth or opulence. What I enjoyed greatly was reading about the origins of this wealth, this magnificence and culture. Splendid story telling.

Apples are from Kazakhstan - the land that disappeared (Christopher Robbins)
The first thing that caught my eye about this book was the strange title. It didn't disappoint. The book was that well-written that I felt as if I was actually present watching the author travel the length and breath of this largely unknown land. It was nothing short of a fairy tale, only that this was a real place. Real people too. And apples.

A Moveable Feast (various contributors)
I remember casually picking up this book from the specially recommended section of the library. Distinctly remember starting reading it over lunch at work. A couple of stories into the book and I almost had to fake sickness and take the rest of the day off, to finish the book. Hooked. The book tells experience of various people, a heady mix of chefs, cooks, restaurateurs talking about their favourite food experience. I can't imagine anyone having cried over a story of skewers, kebabs or good earthy meals. Aren't food stories meant to be comforting and snugly? I must have wept at least 2-3 times throughout the book. It was that powerfully written.

A couple of years back, my friends gifted me a Kobo E-Reader. I am still partial to the use of this. It makes sense to carry it on long flights or travels. I still prefer the real thing though. Nothing like having a good paperback in your hands.

I've often wondered if what you read shapes your personality. Does it affect your thoughts, your actions, your decisions? Does it influence your behaviour (regardless of the situation) and does it impact your connection with other people?
I'd probably say people who know me may be in a better position to answer these questions for and about me than myself, but I firmly believe in this.

You are what you read.