Monday, August 01, 2011

I am what I read

I once had a squirrel as a pet. Besides the funny stories I remember about him, I also have a physical reminder of his brief role in my life - a gnawed-at portion on the spine of Haroun and the Sea of Stories.

My childhood books bear the scars of belonging to a little girl who liked to assert her ownership of these books. The first page features her name, class, section and roll number (can't figure why) on the first page. I have an old edition of Ruskin Bond's Grandfather's Private Zoo, with cute illustrations by Mario Miranda. And it's autographed by Bond.

My copy of Murder in the Cathedral belonged, by turn, to everyone in my family who did an MA in English Literature, starting with a great-uncle who bought it in the 1950s. Someday I hope to hand it to someone I know will respect it.

Chrysalids, by John Wyndham, belonged to my mother, and I see her 13-year-old's pencil-scribbled notes and word-meanings in the margins whenever I re-read the story.

Lust for Life was my brother's gift to me when I got my first-ever promotion at work - and he's written naive lines of little-brother admiration for the work I do in his inscription to me.

I have a tattered Jhansi ki Rani by Subhadra Kumari Chauhan, which my father bought me when I was 6. The opening page says "Meri pyari bitiya Anamika ke liye, is asha mein ki woh Jhansi ki Rani jaise veer baney...". Memory of that shames me when, alone at night, I worry about ghosts and fight temptation to sleep with a light on.

Our copy of Ruskin Bond's The India I Love contains its receipt from 6 years ago - Anando had bought the book while he waited at Barista to meet me offline for the first time. He was reading it when I walked up to him on a December evening in South Extension.

You know where this is going, don't you? I ask: Can a Kindle ever contain more than just the words of the author?

I once declared I would never join Facebook, but I succumbed - initially to play Lexulous but eventually to just spy on old enemies/crushes to see what they were like now and how harmless/shiny-happy they managed to appear, even though (or maybe because) I was no longer in their lives.

So while I shouldn't say I would never want a Kindle, or an e-reader device-type-thing, I've been thinking of reasons I prefer old-fashioned books. I know it's an old debate now, but somehow no one has been able to capture for me how I feel about paper and ink books. So who better than me to do it.

I worked in publishing for many years, and I loved the thrill of holding books fresh from the printers', smelling of ink and 6-7 months of hard work, of connecting (or not) with the author, of visualising the cover, of finally, lovingly putting the books in an envelope and sending them off to the proud author with a personal note.

Crisp and clean as new books are, it's the baggage they acquire along the way that "builds character", as Calvin's father would say. While I treasure my books and treat them well, they do pick up some wrinkles along the way - a greasy thumbprint from devouring parathas alongside the story on a rainy day; a dog-ear from carrying it in a crowded handbag to read on the bus; a forever-sticky patch where I peeled off the price-tag in a hurry; a crack on the spine from falling asleep while reading. I pick up a book, and a makeshift page-mark falls out - a boarding card, a coffee-shop receipt, a shopping list, and I remember the last time I read the book - who I met, where I was, what I was thinking....

My books are reminders of all the people I have been. I can hug them. I can hold them. I don't charge them, they re-charge me.


Suki said...

Would a Kindle e-book ever be dusty, rusty, and present you with your great-grandfather's signature? Could you write silly words of love on it? Would you ever discover it in wonderment, noting the doodles on the flyleaf by an uncle you never saw? Could you cuddle it in bed the night someone gifts it to you? And would a loved one's eyes ever sparkle upon seeing it, the way they do when you bring a new, fresh-smelling book out of your bag?

Loved this post, needless to say :)

Anonymous said...

this is so nice..u just spoke for so many of us...its beautiful..

the mad momma said...

love this post :) and I have a Kindle languishing at the back of my cupboard. I haven't had the heart to begin using it yet.

Thinking Cramps said...

:) Suki - you said it all, and so beautifully too.

sukanya said...

they dont charge them, they re-charge me...well put. nothing like the feel of a book in your hands.

eve's lungs said...

Exactly my thoughts Ana . I could never reconcile myself to a kindle - I love the smell of paper - old books and new . y books too have scribbles in them . Srin has studied poetry from my father's Eliot and other poetry collections , the Tempest from my mother's college text and grammar from her Wren and Martin . Like you I scribbled my name and class in all my childhood books .
I think books are my most intimate companions .
How I love your post.

Thinking Cramps said...

Diya, MM, Sukanya, Eve's Lungs - we are all "kindred spirits", as Anne Shirley would say :)

Saumil said...

It's a lovely piece, and maybe there doesn't have to be one way. But it also be true that there's some charm in knowing that I can think of, orknow about a book and get it immediately; that I can download a sample, like it, and buy it right there. And when I want to go on a trip and carry those 7 books I read at a time, Kindle helps. I haven't stopped buying books, I just read more now!

And believe me, you will love the wallpapers that come up when you power it on :)

Thinking Cramps said...

Saumil, thanks for commenting and welcome to my blog :) I agree that there doesn't have to be one way - after all the two already co-exist for many people. You spoke about getting the book immediately - to me that's convenience, even attraction maybe, but not charm. I guess it's instant gratification vs. longing and anticipation :)

A Muser said...

As usual, Ana, I am in complete agreement. Everyone has a kindle these days, even for their kids. But books are something I share with my kids, and would like to continue sharing. There's nothing that can equal the physical feel of a book -- the potential for comfort and joy. And, like you, I have inscriptions in all my books, name, date, location, and what I was doing there. Priceless.