Friday, December 13, 2013

A Bibliophile's Countdown to 2014



Yesterday afternoon, a friend who is an avid reader and I were invited to a friend’s boutique for lunch and our host was running a little late. Seeing that there was a book fair next to our friend's shop, we dropped by the fair and within five minutes, we each had bagged several novels that we felt we would enjoy reading.

I cannot stop buying books even though I have piles unread at home. Only a bibliophile will understand the allure of buying books and reading them sometime.  There are loads of books that I have bought over the years some of which I have already read, some I had started reading and planned to return to reading them . I have a habit of reading a few books at the same time as I cannot wait to devour each and everyone of the books I have bought. I still struggle with tons of  books that I  have been meaning to read.

Wherever I travel to, I like visiting the local book store simply to browse around even if the shop carries books in a language that I cannot read or comprehend.

The Polysyllabic Spree is a short collection of articles written by Nick Hornby for the Believer magazine over a period of 14 months, each of which begins with a list of books Hornby bought and another list of books read during that particular month. Nick Hornby spent a little over a year analyzing his reading habits - what he bought, what he started and couldn't finish, what he loved - and each month printed an article in the Believer magazine with his musings.


Nick Hornby aptly sums up the reading phenomena as he wrote,
I’m beginning to see that our appetite for books is the same as our appetite for food, that our brain tells us when we need the literary equivalent of salads, or chocolate, or meat and potatoes!!

And  he wrote, “I suddenly had a little epiphany: all the books we own, both read and unread, are the fullest expression of self we have at our disposal ... But with each passing year, and with each whimsical purchase, our libraries become more and more able to articulate who we are, whether we read the books or not.”

Considering this is the time when technology is evolving faster than ever, still for me nothing beats the pleasure of reading. But then I am not sure if I feel the same way about compulsory reading. I read more fictions than non-fictions. Charles McGrath wrote about his bookish life in the New York Times a Sunday Review essay entitled Caution: Reading can be hazardous* to which Steven G Friedman replied in his letter to the Editor in the Sunday review  entitled Fiction as a Religion**:
“Put another way, fiction is a religion in that it educates, comforts, instructs, soothes, heals and binds us together…… Spot on.


Thursday, December 12, 2013

Reading Delight



There are indeed so many literary fictions that I have not read. I love watching films and there are several films I have been meaning to watch but  if I can only do  either  one ,  I will read a book.

As a young teenager, I read a lot of Chinese romantic novels written by Chiung Yao 瓊瑶 and Yi Shu 亦舒 . I also read a few contemporary classics such as Family written by Ba Jin 巴金 and  musings by some other Chinese contemporary writers. My mother and I shared a common interest in reading traveling stories written by Sanmao 三毛.  When I was seventeen, I read Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy and the likes so the central themes of the stories I had read then were either unrequited or forbidden love stories or about fatalism and the inevitability of fate or whimsical travel adventures .
 
When I was at the university, I had felt compelled to read classics like Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary. And then I was attracted to existentialism  so I read some of the writings by Jean Paul Satre and Simone de Bevoir. They were all translated versions of the original works. When I read “ The World According to Garp” by John Irving, I absolutely loved it. I was probably doing a lot of reading to avoid reading the whole list of cases  which every law student  had  been assigned to read.

When I  started working ,I read John Grisham. Life as a lawyer in fictions and law dramas on television is definitely far more glamourous and exciting than the legal practice in reality. Then I found  pleasure in reading fictions that were written about  how the working women could have it all.  “Chick Lit” are funny and  quirky. I thoroughly enjoy reading Lauren Weisberger and Sophie Kinsella, Marian Keyes . I was never one for the espionage genre.  John Irving, Julian Barnes, Lionel Shrivel, Philip Roth, Meg Wolitzer, Nick Hornby, Jay Mcinerney and many many other novelists are amongst my favourite authors. The stories written by Haruki Murakami about the surrealism of metaphysical world are fascinating and there are passages ( English translation) that I can resonate with. Recently Ruth Ozeki’s writing strikes a chord with me. The list of my favourite authors continues to grow.

I particularly enjoy reading travel memoirs although some of them may be fictionalized account of one’s life. Julia Child’s ‘My Life in France’ was very meticulously and methodically recorded, whimsical and real. The stories written by Ruth Reichl as a food critic in Garlic and Sapphires are absolutely delicious and hilarious. Incidentally I have read news that Reichl’s debut novel entitled “Delicious” is due to be released in May 2014 and I look forward to reading the novel.

When we read, you and I relate differently to the story and various parts of the writings will strike a chord with various readers. Not everyone who reads the same book will share the same connection  to a piece of writing.

In reality, every reader, while he is reading, is the reader of his own self. The writer’s work is merely a kind of optical instrument, which he offers to the reader to permit him to discern what, without the book, he would perhaps never have seen in himself. The reader’s recognition in his own self of what the book says is the proof of its truth.
-Marcel Proust,Le temps retrouve 

In The Polysyllabic Spree, Nick Hornby wrote about the how, and when, and why, and what of reading. I do not remember pretty much everything that I have ever read. I am much comforted when I read this passage written by Hornby:

 “A couple of months ago, I became depressed by the realization that I'd forgotten pretty much everything I've ever read. I have, however, bounced back: I am now cheered by the realization that if I've forgotten everything I've ever read then I can read some of my favorite books again as if for the first time.” – Nick Hornby , The Polysyllabic Spree

There are  just so many different writings that I am attracted to and I sometimes find myself having problems deciding on the books to bring on a vacation. Hornby also wrote, “ There is no rule that says one’s reading has to be totally consistent. I can’t help but feel, however, that my reading has been all over the place this month.”

That is exactly how I feel and it often happens.