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Some mothers have 'em

While people continue to be distracted by other diversions, the total number of people reading, is rising. Or so writes Benita Sen.

books Updated: Dec 11, 2003 13:14 IST

It’s been a long while since William Caxton picked up the art and craft of printing at Cologne and produced Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye, his version of a French romance. Since 1474, when Caxton snuggled down among the pages of history for printing the first English book, things have never been so good for reading as they are today. Reading material has moved from the tangible papyrus, cloth, tablet and paper versions to the e-realm.

And while people continue to be distracted by other diversions, the total number of people reading, is rising. It’s probably a matter of quantity rather than quality, with so many of us populating the world and with world governments taking it on them to letter their people.

But the fact remains that the grand total declares that more is being read. Notes Maina Bhagat, event manager of Oxford Book Store in Kolkata, “Since more is being published, obviously, more is being sold and read.”

And, it’s still fashionable to read, never quite mind what you read. That’s why, virtually every 10-questions-to-a-celebrity page ask something about the celeb’s reading habits. Cynics may claim that the answers are doctored but what’s heartening is that, even if they don’t read, few have come out openly to admit so.

While there are statistics and observations on macro-level reading habits and publishing trends, very little material exists at the micro-level, and that’s where I wish someone would sponsor some thorough study. In the meanwhile, I find it fascinating to follow reading habits wherever and whenever.

At a city bookstore this weekend, I watched with interest a teenager browsing through the general non-fiction section while his mother showed corresponding interest in the children’s section. She kept trying to draw his attention to the shelf she stood before, but he continued rifling through the section most kids would give a wide berth. When she realised it was pointless, she settled down to some serious browsing, picking up books, flipping them over to read the back cover, chortling over descriptions, and putting most down. Some – a Blyton, a Dahl and one Indian collection – she read excerpts from, her smiles broadening.

I didn’t have the temerity to butt into the son’s browsing, since there were no smiles I saw there, but the mother was inspiring!

We soon struck up a conversation. Her first consternation at speaking to a journalist melted away when she heard I write for children, too, and I read children’s books as a matter of joy and journalism.

Indrani Dey, mother of serious browser Soumya, is as avid a reader as being a conscientious housewife, mother and teacher allow. She enjoys reading, period. But what she enjoys most now, in what she calls her second childhood, are books meant for her son and younger. Her big crib? Her son doesn’t share her passion for the books for young people. Instead, he reads authors like Deepak Chopra which she enjoys, too.

Currently, he’s following the Presidential pen through Ignited Minds. She finds it exasperating that the child has to read each of these books a number of times to make some sense of it. But then, where did he pick up the habit? Indrani grew up reading Faulkner and Poe in the book-lined library of her lawyer father.

I rest my case.

First Published: Dec 09, 2003 10:55 IST