Some Thoughts on Books….

It seems strange that grief or illness makes one read more! Till 2019 I was struggling to find time to read books, though I was participating in a lot of Reading Events and was generally in good place emotionally and physically! Cut to 2020, there was Dad’s passing away and not to mention this small event called COVID-19 and I was reading like I used to, like pre 2015. And now in 2021 with so much of lying down quietly because there are days when I simply cannot do anything, I am reading like I always wanted and have never been able once I started adulting with a job! Cancer brought some unexpected pleasures, like time to read!

I wonder what people, who are diagnosed with such kind of prolonged aliments do, if they do not read? I understand there is television and now several OTT platforms; but can you really watch as much as you can read? Can your mind be really sustained with the sameness that sets in after a point when it comes to audio-visual entertainment? Can you make your mind cogitate through some of the inane stuff that is there on these shows ( that is not to say books cannot be inane; as we know there are several such written material out there ) while already struggling with a slow working chemo addled brain? How does one spend time without books? How does one keep oneself occupied and engaged when physically, everything is falling apart, without the golden words, written by someone, which takes you away atleast for a while , some place else? I know of some extremely hardy patients who knit or crochet during the time of covalence; I do admire their ability to make something good out of the forced time away from everyday life, but this population I know is far and few and most turn to either viewing or gaming to while away the time, that has been granted to us, but which really does stand still.

I have always maintained that books have rescued me from all circumstances which have been painful & beyond my control. As an adolescent when my father became bankrupt and we lived out our lives in halfway homes & sometimes without meals, Sir Author Conon Doyle, Saki and Sir Terry Pratchet, along with Jane Austen and John Steinbeck, made everyday bearable. It took me away from the harsher facts of life that the glories of being the daughter of a very successful man were now over and the struggle of a single meal was an everyday occurrence, to places and people which continued to serve as not only an escape but also showed a way of how one should act, no matter what the circumstances. While we lost everything, I am grateful that we could hold on to those precious volumes and they helped me get through those formidable days. Through career challenges and heartbreaks, Amor Towles, MM Kaye, Katherine Mansfield, EM Delafield, Margaret Kennedy helped me cope, gave me inspirations and made me get up , get dressed and show up. Through my parent’s death, EM Foster, Margery Sharpe, Mikhail Bulgakov & Freydor Dostoyevsky ( the last two being my parent’s favorites ) took the edge off the pain as I immersed myself in complex , bittersweet narratives, that were so far away from my own reality and still spoke to me in some quiet imperceptible way. Now with this fun diseases, I have reading haphazardly through everything and anything I can lay my hands own – British Library Crime Classics, Virago Collections, Modern Fiction, Political and Social Commentaries. Essays and poetry. I have not yet reached the place where I can stand back and elucidate on the exact or nuanced nature of support these books are giving me, however I do know that without them, at this point in my life I would be lost.

How do people live without the written word? How does anyone exist being immune to the absolute & all encompassing love, for what is it but love, of books? I would have been bereft of such unmitigated joy, had I not had this one “superpower” ie, the ability to read and appreciate the written word. In lives with so many things spinning madly out of control, how does one find comfort, some sense of sanity and hope without books. Books gave me solace, comfort and in the words of William Nicholson, they made me feel that I am not alone. They sat up with me when I could not sleep, they gave me courage when I thought I was done, they entertained me when I was bored and just generally kept me going! And while Cancer is not something to be desired in anyway, I would want to say, that it did give me the time to just put my legs up, with a cup of tea and read to my heart’s content, without guilt, without interruptions and with complete and utter pleasure!

Why The Tab?

Let me share with all of you, how I spent my extremely exciting Saturday night! I paid my bills, planned meals for next week (have several leadership visits through the week, so need to plan ahead for easy to cook/good to eat type stuff) grocery shopping and hunting the market for a cover for my Tab. And this brings us to the tale of the Tab – I have a great Tab, it’s a local make, but sturdy and hardy and suffices for my most important need – e-reading! I love this machine and have never ventured out of the house with it, for the fear of wrecking it. The problem you see is of the cover – since it’s a local make, my extremely bourgeois retailers do not cater to a decent cover for its make –size/shape etc! They offer me fancy covers for I-PADs, Kindle Fire, Lenovo, Samsung etc etc. but nod there in resignation with a slight touch of amusement, when I take out my poor non fancy non brand tab! Hence I never took the poor tab out of the house and in a way kind of self-defeated it very purpose of existence! However last night I was determined to find a cover for the tab, come hail or snow! The straw had finally broken the camel’s back and the time had come when I sorely needed a cover, so that I could take the tab out and plonk in to the purse whenever required without adding to too much to its bulk. My poor purse, actually it’s a gargantuan sized office bag, shaped to look like a distant cousin to ladies bag,  carries my laptop., my big fat diary, my daily Knick knacks , a bottle of water and now hopefully the Tab!

But why suddenly the urge to carry the tab you ask? What was the straw that broke my back? (Yes! I am the aforementioned camel!)That you see is the crux of this rambling post – ever since I have been working, I have been in a habit of carrying a book to read in the cab. Now considering my bag is already spilleth over and 9 out of 10 cases, the book I was reading was a tome, I would carry it in my hand and keep it on my workstation, in the plain view of the world. This naturally had many and mostly completely non-original side effects –People would walk over, look at the book, try to understand the story/plot/thesis of the book via the blurb and then bombard me with inane and absolutely mundane questions –

  1. Do you like reading? No, I think the book accentuates my outfit! Duh! I have been carrying a book since you have known me, which is centuries considering I have been working in the same organization for 10 years and now you ask me this!!! Besides in the words of Scout Finch – I don’t know if I like reading; does one like breathing???
  2. How can you read while coming to work? Did I ask you how can you listen to heavy metal when coming to work?
  3. Is this a good book? Really are you interested in a literary discussion; my bet is No and you are just wasting time, waiting for my colleague to return to her desk, so that you can get on with whatever was your purpose in coming over!
  4. How can you read history? Stop being so judgmental! Did I ask you how you can watch Fast& Furious or whatever slapstick you were watching?
  5. Can you give me names for some good book which I could read? Define a “good book”? I mean do you want to read literature e/classics/history/sci-fi/thriller/romance/romcom/spy/sports/biography/leadership/psychology/poetry?   “Oh! I don’t know but something light but good…anything but no too heavy, but good”…argh!!!!!
  6. Reading again? How can you read so much? Do I ask how can you smoke/eat/talk/watch television etc etc so much?
  7. Oh! This book – have you seen the movie? No I have not nor will I, but do I ask you have you read the book?
  8. Have you read Twilight/50 Shades of Grey? I have nothing against these books, except they have made populist reading into a whole new level of insanity! I really want to turn around and ask the next person who asks me this question and ask – Have you read The Rebel or War and Peace!
  9. A new book again? How can you read so fast! I have special superpowers!
  10. Can I borrow a book? Oh! No! No! No! And this was the straw; yesterday afternoon while cleaning the first two shelves of book 5 bookshelves, I discovered 12 titles missing – 6 books per shelves…..oh!! so not good! I then recollected some of them which had been borrowed and called up the borrowers – most were nice and said will get them on Monday/Tuesaday/ next weekend; however there were some “Oh! I know you gave me the book, but I don’t remember where did I leave it!” “Oh! My baby tore it up…so sorry; will buy you a new copy!” “Some tea got spilled over, only the introduction was damaged, but the remaining is all good – you have already read it anyway. Right?!!”

Oh! Dear! The joys of being a Reader! Anyway, therefore I am going to start using my tab and hence the quest for its cover (I did manage to get an ugly brown thing, but it fits!) Going forward my Tab goes with me to work – fortunately since I don’t share a cab, I will not be asked/tormented with any of these questions and it goes right into my bag, at least 5 minutes before I approach work! So there!