Category Archives: Reading

Shhhh! Silence in the Library!

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‘No bookmark, no book,’ she would say in an impervious tone and that would wreck my entire week. That was Ms B our library teacher in school.

She’d stand their one eyebrow raised in a silent dare – challenging me to challenge her. Torn between my fear of her and my love for reading – it was fear that always won. And I would have to make do with re-reading an old book or borrowing from friends.

Books were my sole entertainment back then. We were allowed three books each week – each of them a treasured treat. We had a wonderful library – not the few cupboards at the back of the class that double up as libraries these days. Rows of tables were flanked by glass cupboards full of rows upon rows of the most enticing books. Enid Blytons, Nancy Drews, Hardy Boys all sat there along with Victoria Holt, Jean Plaidy, Georgette Heyer, and scores of other authors. Within the pages of those books lay the most exciting times my young self had ever seen.

However between the most exciting times of my life and me stood Ms B, a bit like Cerberus. She had an acerbic tongue and a short temper and she wouldn’t let anyone pass unless they showed her a book-cover and a book-mark. And woe betide anyone who forgot to get their books on the assigned day! They were condemned to a book-less week. No allowances, no concessions.

Not just that, she took it upon herself to discipline us on almost anything that caught her eye. ‘Put your plaits back, who do you think you are, Rekha?’, ‘Don’t slouch’, ‘Don’t shuffle your feet when you walk’ or ‘Why must you always wear black?’ (we didn’t have a uniform in class 11 and 12). Those days teachers wielded pure dictatorship. Yet we emerged unscathed with no permanent psychological damage. Instead, we came away with a bunch of good habits that we carry with us even today.

Despite such ‘ill-treatment’, on Teacher’s Day today, the first one who comes to mind is Ms B. While she didn’t teach me any subject nor was she directly responsible for kindling a love for reading she did teach me some very valuable lessons.

She taught me to respect and love books. That’s a habit that has stayed obstinately on. It drives me crazy when I see anyone manhandling books, folding pages, scribbling in the margins (use a pencil for goodness sake if you just have to), turning down corners.. aaargh!

She taught me to widen my reading horizon. But for that raised eyebrow I would be stuck onto fairy tales forever. After she gave me one of those ‘looks’ I was forced to look at other genres and developed an eclectic taste. (I have to confess though, that I still pick up a fairy tale somedays).

She taught me essential library etiquette. I learnt to keep quiet – not a mean feat for a 12 year old. I learnt to shut out the world and lose myself in a book as also to not disturb a person engrossed in one.

She taught me discipline and punctuality – a useful lesson even outside the library.

So tell me who is that one teacher that comes to mind when you think of school?

Do you judge a person by the books he reads?

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I once read an interview of an actress during the course of which she mentioned, “I’m a prolific reader’. So what do you read, queried the interviewer? “Mills and Boons”, said she. And there right then she fell from my estimation. Mills and Boons? Is that even reading?

Yeah yeah I was a judgemental idiot.

But dear friend do bear in mind that I was an impressionable teen then. Mills and Boons, to me, were no longer forbidden but definitely looked down upon. Besides, I had begun to enjoy the classics and, I’m ashamed to admit, had turned into a bit of a snob.

Even as an adult if I chance upon a person with a book while I’m travelling I try my best to check out the cover, covertly of course, and then I cannot help but think a certain way about that person.

Do you do that too? No? Think Twilight, think Fifty Shades of Grey, think Chetan Bhagat.

Yeah, it just wouldn’t be right if Mr Bhagat doesn’t come up at this point – the most widely read and even more widely trolled of Indian authors. Not many self-respecting readers are his fans and yet his books break sales records and are made into hit films.

I am pretty eclectic in my reading as long as it’s fiction. So yes, I have read him but I’m not a fan. However, I do have friends who read only Chetan Bhagat and I do not write them off, perhaps because I know them beyond Bhagat.

The point I’m making is that I know the impression of a person purely based on the book in his hand is completely unreliable. I know nothing of the person, I have no clue how he came about the book, I don’t even know whether he is liking or disliking it and yet I form an opinion.

And what if he does enjoy a book I completely abhorred? Does that necessarily make him a ‘not my kind’ of person?

Not at all. And yet I continue to judge.

Go figure.

This is how I was kindled

 

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I was brought up as an old-school reader – the kind who uses bookmarks and book covers, the kind that goes to a bookshop, browses at leisure, makes his pick, then sits and samples it before finally putting it in his shopping basket and heading for the checkout counter. I love the good solid feel of books in my hand;  and while I may still be debating whether I like scent of an old book better or that of crackling fresh new pages straight off the press, one thing I’m sure of – I love books – the physical kind.

Then I was gifted a kindle – yeah that destroyer of all things ‘reading’ the way I knew it. It was a gift of love so I accepted it with an open mind and putting aside my prejudices I sternly told myself to give it a fair try.

I browsed through the tiny device. I marvelled a bit at how light it felt. I fiddled around with the brightness and the font size till I got it exactly the way I wanted. I found I could connect to Goodreads and Amazon, a miracle it seemed. I could look up meanings of words if the WiFi was switched on. What’s better (or worse?), the kindle editions were inexpensive, sometimes crazily so. And that’s how slowly, ever so slowly, I was sucked into the web of technology.

I’d read a book review, like it and within minutes I would be clicking onto Amazon, paying for it online and revelling in the henceforth unbelievable luxury of curling up with my read right away. Ah the thrill of impulse buying!

Yet, there are days when I miss my old friends – books as they used to be – the impatient rustle of pages as I whizzed through a Da Vinci Code or the languid turning of a Marquez as I marvelled at the beauty of its prose. And the smell..how I miss that musty aroma. Maybe they’ll learn to bottle it up one day and then I could spray it on my kindle and find solace.

The coming generations will probably not know of it at all and stop missing it completely. That thought makes me a little sad. But then The old order changeth yielding place to new. It will happen sooner rather than later.

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Are you a Kindle user? If not, do you find it tempting – this idea of carrying a hundred books in one tiny device? Or are you a fan of books the old-fashioned way?

That distance between reading and talking

On a reading group on Facebook someone shared this quote here:

Books - Copy

If you’re a reader you’ll know it – that feeling of rediscovering a word when you hear it spoken out loud.

The thing with reading is that it remains largely a solitary endeavour. There aren’t enough book clubs or reading societies where you get to speak out about your favourite books or characters. And so you read the words and pronounce them a certain way in your head. You do it over and over again till you use them with the familiarity of old friendship. And then one day you hear them spoken out in a whole different manner and it comes as a bit of a shock – like a new person stepping out of a friend’s body. Some are hiding way so innocuously you don’t even notice them till they slip out of your mouth one day.

Sometimes it comes from beginning to read early – when you’re not conscious of each word you read. I never could get words like ‘Mademoiselle’, the French teacher in Enid Blyton’s St Clares and lacrosse, the game the girls played, quite right.

And sometimes it is pure laziness. I look at a word and know what it is and that’s enough. I’m too intrigued by the story to really bother pronouncing it even in my head. I mean, it doesn’t really matter, does it? For instance in the Harry Potter series I never pronounced McGonagall till I watched the film. Oh and did you know that the ‘t’ in Voldemort is silent? Well Rowling said so herself .  Films on books are quite a blessing. They do help us get it right.

There are scores of other tricky words – words from other languages (chalet) or names of places (Brighton, Houston, Nice). And there are more – Colonel and Lieutenant, Corps, genre, epitome and chutzpah and of course marijuana and mojito. Lord don’t even get me started on the food names – Tortillas, Jalapeños … that whole bunch.

The thing is – it doesn’t really matter till you open your mouth. In any case I prefer a well-read person to a well-spoken one. A combination would of course be just perfect.

So which are the words you’ve picked up from books and pronounced all wrong?

7 reasons to re-read books

The other day I planned to organise my bookshelf. As I started pulling out books it was like opening a box of memories. I found some I’d bought way back in college, some had been gifted to me, I remembered reading some on the 26-hour train journey when I was working in Bombay. And I found myself flipping pages, reading paragraphs and re-living the books. Time flew and of course the cupboard never did get organised.

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When we were kids it was perhaps born out of necessity when we had too few books and too much time. Or maybe children just do not get easily bored. However, the habit stuck on through adult-hood purely for the pleasure of it. It’s fun to revsit books not just for the memories they evoke but also for the books themselves, for the way we perceive them, understand them and enjoy them.

Here are my top 7 reasons for re-reading a book.

1. It’s like meeting an old friend

You’ve read the book. You know the good parts, the heartbreaks, the funny bits.I mean, you cannot be a Harry Potter fan and just read it once, can you? You want to meet him again and again. Like him, there are many more delightful characters you can meet only between the pages of your favourite books.

2. You get new insights

Some books need to be re-read to be fully appreciated. If you’ve been reading since when you were a child like me, you probably got to some before you could fully appreciate them. I enjoyed some books like Animal Farm, Fountainhead, To Kill a Mockingbird, Brave New World or even popular classics like Wuthering Heights much more when I read them the second or third time. As you grow and mature you enjoy the book in new ways.

3. You can open a random page and begin reading

Have a few moments between tasks? Want to pick up something entertaining while you have your cup of tea – something that wouldn’t demand much attention yet entertain you? Well a re-read is just perfect. Like TV addicts flip channels you can flip through a well-loved read. I can open and enjoy books like Bridget Jones Diary or a PG Wodehouse just about anywhere anytime.

4. You can skip the boring bits

Great isn’t it? Those lengthy explanations or descriptions – you can just skip them and get on with it.

5. Your brain isn’t clouded by ‘what happens next’ 

So you’re free to explore the book at leisure. You have the luxury of lingering over passages, enjoying the descriptions and appreciating the language. When I was reading My Family and Other Animals – I loved the bits about the ‘family’ and rushed through the bits about ‘Other Animals’. When I re-read it I found myself pausing at them – some of them had me in splits, some amazed and wowed me.
I have to add though, that frenzied reading to the finish has it’s own thrill.

6. Saves money

Well, obviously.

And lastly..

7. You might end up cleaning your book-shelf

With all this picking up and putting back books, you just might end up with an organised book cupboard. No guarantees there, though.

Do you like to re-read books? Which is your favourite one to pick-up?

Ticket to the land of dreams

reading

I was brought up in a city where Hindustani was spoken with pride and finesse. I also had two  very dear grand moms, with whom I spend a lot of my time, and they spoke the sweetest Awadhi. My grandfather read and wrote fluent Urdu, since that was the official language of communication back then, and my mom had a doctorate in Sanskrit.

The Queen’s English was definitely not top of the pile for me.

However my forward-thinking parents eager to give me a good start, put me in the best Convent School of the city that came with imported nuns :-). The school was situated almost on the outskirts of the city and my mom tells me she had to brave many a snide comment from busybodies. (Sending the kids away to study in the jungle!! And such small babies at that!). She listened to no one. A scholar herself, studying was/is her passion.

Amidst running a house and the scores of demands of a joint family she made time to listen and practice the language with me. However I remained far from perfect. By the time I turned 6 or 7 my problems must have been apparent.

Nobody knows that I .. was so bad at English my parents were summoned to school. I remember clearly that feeling of absolute dread while I waited with my father in the school parlour. As it turned out my teacher had a treat in store for me – I was told to read. Not school books but storybooks! Delight of delights!!

In a family where academics were highly valued, leisure reading was looked down upon as a waste of time. And there my teacher had prescribed just that for me.

I couldn’t have been happier.

The first book I remember my father getting me, was one of Shakespear’s plays adapted as short stories. It was all plain pages and heavy text with perhaps a single black and white sketch for each story. And I loved it – As You like it, Twelfth Night, King Lear, Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, Merchant of Venice – I read them all and I still remember some of them only from that tiny book. And so holding onto the hand of the Bard I began my reading journey.

Perhaps it was that teacher’s concern and the fact that my parents valued and followed her advice that set me off on this delightful tryst with books.

For that I shall forever be grateful.

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Linking up to Blogadda’s  Write Over the Weekend (WOW)  prompt 
‘Nobody knows that I..’

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How do you maintain your TBR list?

That’s a question I’ve started thinking about only recently – How to maintain your ‘To Be Read List’. My reading has been haphazard and erratic to say the least. Sometimes I read book after book (like this month, for instance) and then I go bookless for long periods. When I want to start again I find myself lost.

I am not one for elaborate lists or excel sheets. I need to have some place that can be updated and accessed anywhere any time – when a friend suggests a read, when I stumble upon an interesting review on a blog or in the newspaper, a recommendation on Facebook, a book release… anywhere.

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The obvious choice then is the phone.

I’ve been on Goodreads for a while now but I’m trying to use it more effectively – specifically my ‘Want to Read’ shelf. For the times I have a sluggish Net connection I go to Evernote. That has helped.

I’m also a great hoarder of books. I buy and stock up books during online sales or if one catches my fancy while I’m shopping for something entirely different. I’ve caught myself going to Crossword/Landmark under the pretext of buying CDs or craft supplies or toys and stationery — stationery is another one of my weaknesses – gorgeous handmade paper and trendy copy books, staplers and pen holders… totally drool worthy!

But I shouldn’t digress.

Almost always I have a bunch of unread books stocked up but I never remember them when I need to find one to read. Then one day when I decide to sort my cupboard I stumble upon them. It’s not that I don’t like the surprise but I’d much rather have them in some order.

Now I have set aside a physical cupboard for books I haven’t read. These are often my immediate next reads.

This isn’t exactly rocket science and most of you would probably be doing it already. Or do you have a better way to do this?

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Linking to Mel’s #Microblog Mondays where we’re talking about bibiliotherapists – a fantastic concept specially for book lovers. If you don’t know what they are go look up Mel’s blogpost.

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