On recommending books

I was asked recently (and have been asked repeatedly over the years) to “suggest books” for someone to read. Those who ask this question, I think, consider book-reading an easy hobby to pick up. I mean, it is not like gardening or carpentry or something, is it? It requires no learning except the knowledge of words they already presumably have (they manage to crawl around the web with reasonable ease after all).

Also to be noted is that fact that I hardly know some of these people. They expect me to name a book that would somehow correspond to their likes, dislikes, and biases perfectly and work right out of the box.

For the average non-reader, book-reading may seem like a leisurely activity — something you do reclining on a comfortable high chair, sitting by the fireside, perhaps smoking a pipe or sipping alcohol from a boccalino.

Nothing could be farther from the truth!

Reading is a rather frantic activity. You may be sitting comfortably, but your mind knows no rest. Thoughts rush in, hit the back of your head with blunt weapons, and run out before you can understand what is happening. Castles and spires are constructed and demolished in minutes. Trust is gained and lost in lifetimes that last moments. Ideas invade your being, often upgrading it, sometimes destroying ideological existences built over a lifetime. Reading is not for the faint of heart.

People read while crouched against walls, they read while squeezed between passengers in a metro compartment, they read while pulling at their hair in angst. They scream and throw their books away sometimes. They laugh like maniacs, weep uncontrollably, and even forget they need food to survive. They do all this with books in their hands.

Books reach deep into the reader, touching, grabbing and thoroughly messing up one’s insides. And only books — condensed doses of reading material — do this. Short-form reading material practically turns to steam in front of your squinting eyes (unless it is particularly potent) as soon as you blink. Especially given the accelerated pace of things on the world wide web of distractions.

So if you think your BuzzWorthy-level article-reading / sharing equips you for battles with books, perish the thought. It is a whole different league. You will need training. You can still hold a book in your hands and stare at the pages, but reading is a whole different anushthaan.

#books, #literature, #reading