Don’t scorn at those who read Twilight just because you’ve read Ulysses
TOPIC: Why we love books
Without a reader’s imagination, books are as dead as paperweights the reader is the final artist in the journey of a book.
It is morning when I begin to ponder the question ‘Why do we love books?’ The lawyer in me wants to solve it like a case. Who are ‘we’? Are all book lovers the same? What about vacuous new-age Indian novels, ill-stitched patchworks of melodramas and stock characters? Surely readers of such books don’t count as a part of the elite book-reading community.
But the more I think about it, the more my reflexive rejection of seemingly inferior reading habits seems hasty. After all, what is reading but a hobby? People’s tastes may differ but like any people who crowd around a hobby, readers too must have some common strain running through them, that unites them in their peculiar pastime.
Around lunchtime, my mind throws up a false clue: intelligence. People who love books are the intelligent people of society. They are intellectuals, whose prodigious minds demand serious topics and whose vast mental capacities cannot be satisfied by the humble distractions of the TV set. This is an attractive option and I do not want to discard it lightly. I try hard but it rings false. My mind flounders as it tries to justify hours spent laughing over Wodehouse novels as ‘intellectual pursuits.’ I cannot honestly say that reading John le Carré’s potboilers or RL Stevenson’s adventures made me feel intelligent. I felt thrilled, yes, but intelligence had nothing to do with it. Meanwhile, reading Sherlock Holmes made me feel stupid for not guessing the killer sooner. No, I politely tell my mind to come back with a better answer.
It is now evening and my mind is still sulking from the rejection when the answer leaps at me: Imagination! Readers are an imaginative bunch. Without our imagination, books are as dead as paperweights.
Through the writing process, the writer pours his universe from his head into words printed on paper. The writer sends these out into the world, little universes of thought bound in cardboard and paper. When a reader opens the book, he isn’t just reading the writer’s words – he is transforming the words back into the sights, sounds and smells of the universe. Writing is a collaborative art and the reader is the final artist in the journey of a book.
The completeness of the migration of the writer’s universe from his mind to ours, depends on readers. And this is where the readers’ imagination is crucial. As readers, we have to be willing partners in the writer’s project. We have to allow him to take us away on flying carpets, pirate ships and time machines, to ancient palaces, spaceships and faraway cities.
Reading makes us patient (as anyone who has survived the first 50 pages of any Salman Rushdie book will testify) and curious. It leaves us with a sense of having stepped into another’s mind and returning richer. Reading – for those with an imagination – is a key to hidden worlds that bring us joy and hope and yes, sometimes sadness and dejection.
As I climb into bed, I resolve to be nicer to people reading stories involving glittering vampires and teenage girlfriends. I decide that when I come across such people, I will remind myself that however disparate their tastes may be, they are one of us. They are at least closer to discovering the beauty of RK Narayan and Ernest Hemingway than those mindless others whose chief excitement in life is competing for Facebook ‘likes’. It’s not much but it’s something. And so I sleep.
Know the Writer
Name: Sushrut, 27
You’ve been a Brunch reader for? Three years
Do you think the Readers’ Special is a good idea? It’s a nice feeling for Brunch readers to see others like us share opinions in a common space
What would you change in Brunch? I would add more personal profile stories.
A quirk you have? I make too many Star Wars references
From HT Brunch, February 3
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