Reading for me

I was cleaning up our living spaces upstairs, and as is my wont, I went around complaining (aka muttering- how no one picks up after themselves in this house) and picking up stuff from places they shouldn’t be in. For all my complaints, I am no better myself – I have books lying all over the place. Marked to a particular page, by all sort of things- bookmarks, hair ties, Z’s pencils, Boss Man’s cars, combs, tags from clothes, a strand of hair… they lie at the precise place where I last looked at them, until the time they are picked up again- to be read or to be put back on the rack.

Today, I picked up a total of 9 books. That means, I am currently reading at least 9 nine books simultaneously. And it pains me to admit that.

Let me explain.

Just like everything else, in this age of toxic social media addiction, everything that was once a personal choice, has become a sort of obligation to appear cool, wise, hip, hot or whatever else is a descriptive term for being considered ‘worthy’ of praise or admiration. ‘Speed read a book a day’, ‘ read a summary in 15 mins- why waste time’, ‘read 100 books a year’, ‘two a week’, ‘speed- read to read more in less time’, ‘read multiple books at the same time for greater efficiency’, ‘ read while driving by listening’- all the reading advice makes me nauseous. Every fine pursuit in life has been pared down to this- a petty, mass- marketed, consumer variety. Learn piano on an app, become an expert by listening to a couple of podcasts, become a world- citizen by posting a couple of travelogue pictures on Instagram, be a pseudo- intellectual by listening to 15 min book summaries on Blinkist- nothing is as it seems, no one is as you think they are.

Reading is a pleasurable, fluid activity to those that practice it without force. No one tells you what to read, how to read, how much to read, when to read, how quickly to read, how deep- that is the whole point. Some read one at a time, in a week maybe, or maybe overnight. Some read two at a time, some more. Some may read one a year, but read it in a way that is beyond our comprehension. Some read to retain, some to pass time, some to enjoy and then forget. Some take notes, some consider it anathema to mark their books. For some it is a pursuit of knowledge or wisdom, for others an escape from reality or a distraction from he mundanity of life. For a few, it is an addiction, a compulsion- from within.

Therefore, sometimes I do not like to talk about how, what or how much I read; because then I am no different from those perpetuators of toxic productivity.

I always liked to read, but I do not particularly enjoy reading textbooks for exams. The number of books I could read at a time was limited by resources at hand- for eg. number of books that the library would lend at one time. Growing up, it was usually one every week from the school library, and four from the public library that I was a member of. And maybe one or two from rich friends whose parents gave them endless pocket money for books. I would obviously read more during vacations and school breaks.

The patterns are quite similar in adulthood. For eg. during my time living in the Middle- East, books were so expensive, I was limited by the number I could carry from home each vacation. Now I am limited by the time available to read. I usually read before going to bed. Or whenever I am not at home and waiting for something, somewhere- for the patient to be shifted, while the patient is being intubated or extubated, while the child is being held in recovery after the surgery, at the OPD in between patients etc. Also, by virtue of my profession, I am expected to keep abreast of the latest techniques and research and therefore have to spend some time reading journal articles and research material. I also have to read about anatomy, techniques and complications before almost every case. With 2 young children, home schooling, household chores and reading for work, in all honestly- time available to read for pleasure is scant.

I suppose I am a fast reader though. Not sure, never measured my reading speed- but I do get through books pretty fast I’m told. And I am easily bored and moody, so if something is not absolutely engaging, or I don’t feel like a particular book, I pick another. No one to stop me, that is the best part. And since I am not really a quitter, I usually get back to the ones that I did not finish and complete them eventually- some times I force myself to. But as time passes, I have noticed I do that less often. If I truly don’t feel like finishing something, I am quite happy to let it be. I try and not judge myself for it. Does that make sense?

Anyhoo, quite a ramble this was. Here are the books I collected from my morning cleaning session.

They are all in various stages of completion. Some done, some not.

Loss by Siddharth Dhanvanth Shanghvi was a very short read. The physical book itself is beautifully made. The feel, the textured paper, the font, the overall presentation is very up my alley. On the contents within, well, presumptuous as it sounds, if I had the life experiences the author had, I would have understood and described them very similarly I think. At some points, I felt like I was reading something I have could have written. There are two types of people whose work we read- one who we admire and can never aspire to be, for their style and talent are far different and possibly superior to your own and another who you think, ‘ hey! that could be me’.

The Psychology of Money by Morgan Housel, I must admit I didn’t expect much from this one. Such books usually present theories that we inherently know, in an elaborate, wordy way and usually embellished with facts and stories that make it seem like they are some great discoveries by the the author. Considering how short our lives are and how many wonderful pieces of writing there are, these are the kind of books that maybe should be consumed on one of those ‘quickie- summary’ apps that are a dime a dozen and that I quite abhor. The book does make a lot of sense though, I must say. Not an utter waste of time.

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness- I must admit this is a re-read. I was in the mood for some adult- witch- daemon- vampire drama which doesn’t dullen my brain and pull it a few IQ levels down. Not to be confused with books like Twilight, this is of a different mould. An actual professor being the author helps I guess. I remember quite enjoying this the first time around- especially the first book of the series (The All Souls Trilogy). It’s been long enough since I first read it and don’t quite remember things- let’s see how I feel the second time.

This isn’t my book. I mean it is, now; but it is part of the collection of books that I received from someone I quite admire, when I left Bangalore after my fellowship. John le Carré is the pen name of a certain Mr David John Moore Cornwell who in his earlier life worked for the MI5 and MI6 and then wrote espionage novels. I hadn’t even heard of him before I read The Night Manager (every time think of the book, I think of the TV series and consequently of Tom Hiddleston *wink wink* ) and I have been hooked since. There are 3 of his books with my right now, thanks to the gentleman who gave them away. Just started this one and haven’t quite gotten into the meat of it yet. They are not the thrill-a-minute spy stories, they evolve over time, much like real- life.

God Is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens- may not be everyone’s cup of tea. That is the problem with the religious and the non- religious. Reams may be written on either, but the other will never agree. We are all closed- minded to some degree. Either way, everyone should read things like this. Compelling arguments all, but alas….

Every time I work on paper (research) or a research proposal, I am left clutching a whole bunch of data, that I don’t know how to make full use of. Biostatisticians in India are all very busy folks apparently. I guess it’s time to learn things myself. I wanted to start with the most non- threatening book that I could find. So far, no tears.

An Unquiet Mind by Kay Redfield Jamison is a personal memoir of a mentally ill woman whose work it is to deal with the mentally ill. Considered an authority on bipolar disorder, she also personally suffers from it. Considering the silence around mental illness in our society, wish there were more such books in the mainstream. It is one of those random reads that I had to track down. It hits close to home, for several reasons.

I picked this up ages ago from Blossoms at Bangalore. Recently piqued my interest. Haven’t read Sons and Lovers yet, but got through Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Reading reviews on Goodreads I had expected more. The book was considered obscene and banned in several countries (including India). How it ultimately come to be published is a fascinating story. As a modern day reader, if the stuff in this book is erotic and scandalous, we have as a society come far. Too far, maybe.

Till next time,

J

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