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I was at a social gathering last night and I started talking to someone about …you have guessed it – books! Now he began reading at an adult age and spoke about how he struggled initially with reading the simplest volumes and how by disciplining himself into reading a bit every day, he had finally developed an interest and a habit of books, so that it flew much more naturally now. He then made an observation, having heard about my obsessions with books from common friends, that how I must have never struggled with forcing myself to read or even knowing what to read when depending on my moods and preferences, while he himself went through this cathartic process of trying to inculcate this habit at a much older age!

This conversation kind of got me thinking – yes its true, not only for me, but I am sure about a lot of voracious readers, that we never struggled to read; nor did we have to switch our alarms on and force ourselves to read until it rang and more importantly, some authors/books, well we did not really “discover”, they were always in our ambit and unconsciously part of our inheritance!

I had mentioned this earlier, but it’s true that my earliest memories are of my father, reading out to me and somewhere down the line, his fingers stopped moving over the words and instead, I began to read for myself. I do not know when that happened, but I do know it happened at a very early age. When this gentleman last night made a statement that for the likes of me, we must have read our first books when we were 8-9 years old, it made me realize that actually, I must have read my first book, albeit a fairy tale with very simple words, at a much younger age….actually way before being 8!

So, how did all of this begin?

readingI am frankly not sure; the same gentleman said that when he has kids, he will like my father, start reading out to them from the very beginning so that they do not really have to struggle to appreciate such pleasure; he said like my father, he will ease them into books! I think he may have summed it up accurately – my father did ease me into books! I have always been surrounded by books and from an early age was always told that when all else failed, books would be there for my company. As an only child, to parents who worked full time, this was one of life truths.  Despite my adult bearings of gregariousness and being extremely social, as a child, I was quiet and an introvert and forever struggled to make friends – in those very lonely years of childhood and early young adulthood, my comfort, support and friends were the books that my parents stacked the house with. I remember looking forward to Saturdays, not because my parents will be at home, but because, without fail, my father would take me to this one book shop that he and later I had fraternized over the years and allow me to pick two books as a rewards for some task I did in the week.  Those two books would then sustain me through the long hours in a lonely rambling house, through the week, while my parents managed their professions. I am not sure if those books that were bought were bribes or gifts of guilt, but the point to be noted is that I was never given any other gifts like clothes or toys, but books. Was it because my parents, especially my father loved reading or was it because he knew that I loved reading? I am not sure – it could have been an amalgamation of both, but the key factor here is, I always looked upon the process of my becoming a reader as a natural progression; however until last night, I had not really thought about the factors and circumstances that enabled and encouraged this progression.

Does this make me a more dedicated or a more comfortable reader than the gentleman who developed this habit as an adult? I am not sure – his ability to read and appreciate something as a connoisseur is no less; he is quite aware of what constitutes a bad writing versus beauty of words or tenacity of plots. While he may have not read all the classics, which many of us have, but  because he kind of went through the ocean of literature, before settling down to a genre that he considers his own, his range of reading, albeit very modern, is also very vast and extremely interesting. Finally and more importantly, he now has a hunger for the time that he lost as a youth on books, and now reads so voraciously that he might put some of us “natural” readers to shame.

So does it really matter how or at what age you begin reading? Does it really matter if your father bought your first book or you bought one yourself, especially when it comes to appreciating good works? Does it matter if you timed yourself or read through the night? Is there really a something called a good reader like a good writer? And like a good writer, do you have to practice reading to appreciate it or does it always come naturally to you? And really does it matter if one had to practice reading to become a voracious reader, as long as he enjoys the habit and finds solace in it?

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