Why I read…
I have been buying books recklessly. I see a book I have heard about and pounce on it at the very sight of the paperback. I read a review and I think this might be the book that I have been looking for and start hunting for it. I have spent thousands of rupees on books this year. Every week I am adding new titles to my shelf. It is brimming with books, it seems to shout that it cannot take more; a new shelf will have to share the load. I have bought twenty-four books in 2011 and there’s still half a year to go.
Every reader should ask herself “Why do I read?” Every reader should be asked “Why do you read?” For pleasure? For satisfaction? Yes. But there are other motives. What are they? The Reader should know what makes him “run his tongue naked into books”.
I have been asked the same question myself a lot lately. I have had some extraordinary reading experiences in the past month which have led me to ask myself the same question. And it isn’t only about reading. It is also about the uncontrollable urge to possess books that I would like to read in near future. The urge to be surrounded by books.
The answer would never come to you in a flash. It would slowly trickle down your mind like a drop of sweat; it would ooze out of the senses that are awakened when you read, as you read. It would rise in the form of bubbles from the hot spring of ideas in the reader’s mind. It would incubate; it would take time to gather itself. And one day, it would present itself in front of you (it could be at the oddest of times) and surrender.
I read because I want to know what is behind the face in the picture of the writer on the back cover. I want to see language in a new form; I want to explore and appreciate its uniqueness each time I open a book. I want to live the events in a book that I would not experience at all otherwise, or at least for a very long time. I read because I want to see another world through a different set of eyes. I read because I like feelings and thoughts being articulated. I read because some writers make me horripilate with their writing styles: I read for thrill. I read because I love the written word. I want to thrust solitude upon myself, detach myself from the world when it stops making sense to me, and come back to it when a session of reading has made me believe that it does, if you change your approach.
There is another aspect of reading that I would like to talk about —the solitude it enforces on you. Reading is a solitary activity, after all. It’s the other way round as well —solitude brings about a love for reading. The desire to escape from ennui makes it necessary for some to make the acquaintance of fictional characters. But, is reading really a solitary activity in the 21st century? In a world where social networking tools such as Twitter and Goodreads connect readers to each other, this solitude is becoming more and more elective. Readers around the world are asking for suggestions, recommending books, participating in online book-clubs, and even holding online group readings. They are coming together and building an internet-based reading community that is stronger than ever. Two such tools enabling readers to share their observations and discuss books are Fridayreads and 1book140. Fridayreads is a readers’ community on Twitter and Facebook that invites readers to share with the ‘Twitterverse’ what book(s) they are reading. I have often Tweeted my Fridayreads and received enthusiastic comments and reactions from people I would otherwise not even have had the chance to talk to. Fridayreads is a great way of coming across new books, writers and readers. More than 5000 people are tweeting each Friday what they are reading and reaching out to a community of readers that loves to talk about books. 1book140 is again a Twitter-based book-club hosted by The Atlantic magazine. Readers voted for Margaret Atwood’s Booker Prize-winning novel The Blind Assassin as the inaugural book for discussion. Atwood tweeted “Would it be cheating if I joined in?” The book-club has been welcomed with great zeal by readers and they will soon choose a second book for discussion in the month of July.
I have deviated much from the point, but I have made this digression with intent. In my social milieu, reading is not taken up with much fervour. At times, it is even looked down upon, as if it were some mind-numbing anti-social activity that would turn you into a supercilious monster who goes on babbling incomprehensible words and ideas. And yet, this condescending attitude towards reading doesn’t emerge from hatred. It emerges from a failure to grasp the power of reading and the meaning that it adds to one’s life. The helpless feeling of incomprehensibility of certain non-readers towards reading makes them susceptible to condemning something they cannot do. If you cannot appreciate reading, simply pass it off as something you would rather not do if given a choice.
I read because I do not identify with such people. I read because I know reading is not anti-social but it brings like-minded people together. I read because reading is what I would like others to do if I ever wrote a book. I read because there is no better way to disseminate ideas than writing them in form of books. I read because books never let me get bored —they are a perpetual comfort in the hardest of times. I read because I know that even if I am buying twenty-four books in six months I am going to read all of them. I read and buy books because one day I am going to have a large library with thousands of books and a mahogany coffee-table. You will be invited to tea and we’ll talk about books and munch home-baked cakes.
Tell me, why do you read?