Saturday, November 7, 2009
The Forgotten Planet
Remember the feeling of settling down with a book?
The warm summer afternoons, with what seemed like an infinite highway vacation time stretching to the horizon. The heat would be burning up the dusty alleys outside, but if you closed the windows, turned the fan on and kept an ice cold bottle of water at hand, things would be just right. Dad was off to work, mom taking her afternoon siesta. The bed would be the softest thing you ever touched, and the pages would be crackling with promise. The window would be open just a crack, so a stray sunbeam could brighten up the pages. Along with it would come smells and sounds of a summers day. The muted chirping of pigeons and sparrows, the smell of dust. It was a world worth getting lost in.
Reading was something to be done for pleasure . I never read to learn. Never read to 'improve myself'. I would flitter merrily from book to book, freely dipping into Dickens, Bibhutibhushan and the scholarly works of Franklin W. Dixon with equal relish. I would laugh, cry, whimper, rejoice and sometimes despair. I would dream myself into the stories and do the right thing. I would shelter the homeless family shivering in the gutters. I would explain things to the feuding brothers so they could get along better. I would take down the vile, cackling monster. Reading empowered me. Reading gave me courage and knowledge and faith and all those things that make me what I am. And it did it on the sly. Here I was, thinking I was having some innocent fun, and somehow, it was slipping me life lessons?!
I didn't have favourite authors then. Nor favourite genres. Never had the luxury. Books were there to be read, and so I read them. All of them. Anything I could get my grubby little hands on. I didn't know treasure from trash. I read 'em all, and learned to separate the grain from the chaff later. My parents didn't mind care much about what I was reading, so I had a free reign. Selection based on literary merit was something that happened to other people in other worlds. I read to fill a gigantic hole in my being that, thankfully, never filled up.
I have so many books to read now. Every single one of them bought for a purpose. There's a Raymond Chandler I bought because, well, I was in the mood for a noir novel. I bought The Ascent of Money because I wanted to learn more about the financial crisis. I buy books to learn about history, philosophy, science. And sometimes even to entertain myself. I have been looking for a thriller for a while now, but of course I steered clear of Sidney Sheldon. He's fluff, you see. I have choices now. I have specific wants and desires that need to be fulfilled by books. I have critical thinking so I know what's bad and what's good. If I go back to some of my childhood tomes, I know I would be amazed and mortified at some of the stuff I digested. And of course, it is inevitable. It is, after all, evolution. It's what happens to human beings. Choices according to personality. Books divided into fiction and non fiction. Classic and modern. Science fiction and fantasy. History and Science. A hundred more labels. There are internet forums and reviews to help you choose. Little boxes on websites labelled 'Customers who bought this book also bought...'. Pick and choose. But sometimes I miss those summer days of simplicity, when a book was just a book. A mystery between two covers. And you never knew what you were getting into, and what you would get out of it. I miss not knowing what to expect. I miss seeing a book and feeling I HAVE to read it, just because it's there.
There are so many books for me now. It's just that sometimes, sometimes I wish I could go back to the days when there was just one me for all the books in the world.