What Makes A Book Special
I was twelve when I bought my copy of Anne of Green Gables at a book-fair in Hyderabad. I read it greedily on the train journey back home, keeping the lights on longer than was polite, invoking a number of wrathful glances from passengers trying to go to sleep (how anyone can sleep comfortably on a train beats me, but that’s a different story).
I devoured the book like I had no other in a long while, and I have revisited it numerous times since, which explains its battered condition. Marilla’s ‘lost’ amethyst brooch refuses to dissociate itself from the middle berth of that express train. Give me a new copy, and I’ll still preserve my old- for me, the place where I first read a book, the print, the feel of it matter as much as the content itself. There are a number of elements that attach themselves to the power that a book exercises over me- the landscape outside the window and the person next to me are as much a part of the charm or the loathing as the words within.
When you go back to a line you loved or try to wrest it out of the rusty nooks within which it nestles in your head, don’t you automatically associate it with the place you were at when you were reading it, and what was transpiring around you?
I remember long, tiring, noisy bus journeys to and from college, when I immersed myself in Lord Jim– it failed to connect the way I expected, and though I did finish it, I didn’t enjoy it thoroughly. When experiences with Travels with Charley followed soon after, though, they were extremely memorable. Lesson learnt: read comfortable stuff during an uncomfortable ride. So autumn in New England, in my head, is incongruously linked with dust in my eyes and the humidity of the coast, while gruesome exploits at sea I appreciate better from the safe confines of a chair at home.
Long train journeys through the countryside seem to expand the scope for imagination. As the train hurtles through unknown plains and river-fed terrain, you find fodder for your curiosity in the book at hand. During breaks snatched at work, a quiet moment before the crowds come crashing upon your peace, at breakfast (never mind the out-of-the-corner-of-the-eye glances and stares- life has never been easy for avid book lovers), the eager perusal of the first few pages of a book, fragrance and all, the moment it has been bought and a sense of proud ownership takes over- books can be enjoyed in so many different ways! Then there is, of course, that sweet delight of going to bed with the characters of another world in your head- live them, let them seep into your head and take charge and give you the most beautiful or grotesque dreams you’ve ever known.
And with most people who love books, reading doesn’t restrict itself to the pages of the novel in the bag. If you’re standing in a supermarket line or waiting for a friend outside the bank, you will inevitably end up reading about discounts you don’t need and loans that nudge temptation. Come home and unwrap your purchase, and you will read that news from last month, even if you complained of overkill when it was splashed across all the papers while it still sold and was worthy of upholding the banner of yellow journalism.
The frame of mind that I read a book in largely influences my interpretation of it- when I read, I’m one with the book. Which explains why, during a particularly stressful time, I’d rather read an author who uplifts my spirits and admire his writing, instead of plunging into an unending saga of Russian tragedy and spend the rest of my reading days avoiding Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. Reading gives me that time I crave for myself- ironic, isn’t it, that I spend it getting into other people’s heads and trying to live out their lives?
Of childhood adventures and runaways aboard ships on a biting winter’s day, of cold rain and frosts when the sun blazes down through the uncurtained window, of warm hearths and families when you’re miles away from home. Books have an unparallelled way of weaving magic.