Reading

This post is inspired by Beth’s ‘How We Read’. It took me back to the time when reading seemed to be the only thing I did, especially back to my college days. I decided to do my grad program in English Literature so that I could read more and more books. I was so naïve about the courses offered in a University, more so I was fed up and impatient with Science, Math, History, Geography, the tests and exams that came in my way of reading. 

Reading as an activity began when I was nine /ten, late when compared with reading habits of children of this generation. (There are many reasons for that, and it will require a post by itself.) I started with comics, the Amar Chitra Kathas. These were many comics bound together into several volumes that my mother borrowed from the library of the school that she worked as a teacher. When I was nine or ten there was only Higginbothams in Madras and the only book that my father bought with great attention was the Oxford English Dictionary which was thumbed well by everyone in the family. Landmark with its children’s section for books came a generation later. 

After Amar Chitra Kathas, I moved to Enid Blytons (Famous Five, Secret Seven, Malory Tower) , Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Perry Masons, Hadley Chase. These books were the only ones circulated in School Library and the Local Lending Library. I was then in Grades 6 and 7, I finished a book in a couple of hours, and I had to wait a week to take another book. Few of my friends, all avid readers, exchanged their books for mine, and I finished about seven books a week and the school library could not keep up with our thirst for more. 

Despite this frenzied reading along with school work, I felt inadequate. It was then, sometime when I was in Grade 8 that my mother introduced me to Jane Austen’s ‘Sense and Sensibility’. I acquired a new meaning to reading. For one, I realized that I could not tumble through this book the way I did with the earlier ones. It seemed like I was reading a different language, the story belonged to a different world. There were large parts that I did not understand; still the world the book represented seduced me in a puzzling manner. When I finished the book, I knew I could not go back to the type of books I had been reading earlier. 

My mother gauged that the transition to serious reading was tumultuous though I didn’t accept it. She recommended that I read Daphne Du Maurier’s ‘Rebecca’, she kept harping on the surprise element in the story that would box me. She regretted having introduced me first to Jane Austen, ‘Rebecca’ she felt might have provided a smooth transition. My mother personally was very fond of the book, she had seen the movie as well. I wanted to read other books of Daphne Du Maurier, but the school library did not have any.

I decided to try the other classics in the library. Through the next two years I lived my life out of the bookshelf that my friends seldom visited. I read Charlotte Bronte’s ‘Jane Eyre’, more of Jane Austen – ‘Pride and Prejudice’, ‘Mansfield Park’, ‘Northanger Abbey’, ‘Persuasion’, Emily Bronte’s ‘Wuthering Heights’, George Eliot’s novels. I had completed the entire major women novelist from the shelf. I kept away from Dickens, Thackeray, Thomas Hardy – they seemed formidable and for another day. 

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4 thoughts on “Reading

  1. Uma, what a fascinating post! I hope you’re going to continue the story beyond this point, too. You’ve made me remember reading “Rebecca” myself and I’m trying to recall which books marked that transition to more serious reading for me — maybe “To Kill a Mockingbird?” I’m glad if my post inspired you to think back and hope you’ll write more – I’m also glad to know you’re reading my blog — now I’ll bookmark yours and read it (and your poems) regularly too.

  2. Thanks Beth for leaving your comment. Yes of course, I am taking the story beyond this point, to all the books I read during college years and thereafter, and to the wonderful worlds that these books opened for me.

  3. First comment from a friend of Beth’s, led here from your comment on her blog. This is a wonderful topic that can be such a clear framework for thinking back on who you are and how you got there, at least for those many of us who have been shaped by our reading.

    Your reaction to the universal opportunities in college for learning and study is interesting and just the opposite of mine. I always loved reading, but had never found the instruction or guidance by my literature teachers to be more inspiring than the texts themselves. I knew I would be able to discover new books on my own throughout life, but that I would never be a successful autodidact in the sciences, my other love. I came to see graduate school in physical chemistry as a time of closing doors, when it became clear how many fields of inquiry I would never have the time to pursue. But I still think it was a good decision to seek and achieve enough depth in some (any!) speciality to have a chance at making a personal contribution at the frontiers of knowledge. And still have time to browse my way through what others have left behind as their legacy to humanity in words.

  4. Thanks Greg for leaving your comments. True, by choosing a path, we close doors to million others. It is heartening that you pursue what you think will make a difference, and also find time to read.

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