I became a part of books and books became an indispensable part of me ever since I was a little girl. Every time my father came home from one of his trips, I expected him to get me a bunch of books, which he most definitely would. I would lie on my stomach with my story books spread out in front of me, trying so hard to read them slowly. My conscious effort to read slowly was always a disastrous one. I would end up finishing them by the end of day and then came the sadness of having no more books to read. Then started the routine of re-reading those books, trying to find words that I loved, pictures that I didn’t pay attention to before or trying to imagine myself in the same situation as the protagonist.
E.B. White, popularly known for his play Stuart Little, wrote in one of his essays on the Future of Reading:
“Reading is the work of the alert mind, is demanding, and under ideal conditions produces finally a sort of ecstasy.”
Books are the bridge that links the world of reality to the world of meticulously crafted imagination that has no boundaries. It elevates one and also grounds us to our own world of actuality. We see the minds of others and hence start looking into our own mindscape. When we read, we have the most unique form of communication with ourselves and also the writer. What’s powerful about the art of reading is that one can interpret words, paint the picture in their head, imagine the characters according to one’s own understanding. No one can possibly steer you away from how you fabricate the world of the book in your head.
In 2013, a book titled ‘Does my goldfish know who I am?’ was published, which was a compendium of innocent and insightful questions asked by little children and answered by great minds. One of the questions asked by a 9-year old was: Why do we have books? Answering that, Carl Sagan wrote:
“Some people might tell you that books are no longer necessary now that we have the internet. Don’t believe them.”
“In many ways, books are the original internet — each fact, each story, each new bit of information can be a hyperlink to another book, another idea, another gateway into the endlessly whimsical rabbit hole of the written word.”
With the internet boom and an unstoppable pile of junk pouring on our desktop screens, I believe it’s even more essential and natural to rely on books. To keep a thorough track of what one reads is exceedingly difficult on the internet, with ample amount of available distraction and hence, I seek refuge with books. With reading, comes the gift of solitude and writing.
Zadie Smith, at the 15th New Yorker Festival said:
“Learning how to be a good reader is what makes you a writer.”
I often had repetitive arguments with a colleague from my undergrad who loved to write but hated reading books. How can you write if you never read? He believed that it’s not necessary to read, it’s just important to feel. “I write what I feel.” How much of his argument is true, I do not know. But I realised that he wrote under the tumult of emotions that he felt at a particular time, which was very rare. And that’s why he wrote with large intervals between two of his write-ups.
Rebecca Solnit, in one of her essays titled Flight wrote:
“Before writers are writers they are readers, living in books, through books, in the lives of others that are also the heads of others, in that act that is so intimate and yet so alone.”
I have a number of books flooding my bookshelf that I yet have to read. And I have an endless list of books that I want to read and explore. I aspire to be a good writer one day. I do not yet know what a ‘good writer’ means. However I know for a fact that I need to be a dedicated reader in order to write what can be deemed as good. With this, I return to Solnit’s powerful articulation of a book and an insight to her exceptional mind:
“The object we call a book is not the real book, but its potential, like a musical score or seed. It exists fully only in the act of being read; and its real home is inside the head of the reader, where the symphony resounds, the seed germinates.”