That lost personal touch..

This morning, at the library, it dawned on me, how little person to person contact we have these days. I go in, take the books I want to return to the machine, return them, browse through the shelves, select books, and then self check them out.

Libraries have always been in my top of my list of  ‘happy places’. Ever since I remember. I actually remember how the first library I visited looked like. It was the library of my school’s primary section. I remember how I used to wait for the library classes – we had a period reserved for the library. We were not allowed to take home books until we were in Class 3, and I remember waiting impatiently to reach Class 3.

Our high school library was just as good. And our librarian was a darling! She was a wonderful, sweet tempered lady, with whom I used to discuss books. I remember waiting for Scarlett, the sequel to Gone with the Wind. When the book got released, I was in Class 10. Our school term was almost over. We had study holidays to prepare for Pre-ICSE, and we were not allowed to borrow books(time-pass books, that is). But I managed to convince my librarian to let me borrow it 🙂

I have had a wonderful time talking to librarians, discussing books, getting recommendations. I would have never read authors like Elizabeth George, Sophie Kinsella had it not been recommended by the librarians of the libraries I have frequented over the years. One of the librarians I met was a software engineer who quit her job to open her own library. How I wanted to be her at that time 🙂

In London, I used to go to the library almost every day. It used to open late, and I would often finish a book in the time it took me to get to work and back. So on the way back home, I would either drop off my book, or pick up new ones. After daughter was born, and after I took time off from work, we used to visit it even more. I think she must have been just as comfortable in libraries as she was at home. And what made my library visits so memorable was certainly the interaction with the librarians or library assistants.

That was before the age of self checkout machines. In London, our library had just started introducing them, and they refused to work most of the time, so I always ended up at the counter to borrow books. When we moved to Leeds, everything changed. The self checkout system here worked much better. I hardly had any contact with the library staff. They were almost always busy serving older customers who found it difficult to use the machines. And that is when I realized that although I have been frequenting my current library for over 3 years, but I don’t seem to know any of the staff! I know the checkout staff at my local supermarket better than that! And they have a much larger staff!

And that is only thanks to those soulless machines which I interact with these days.. The mere thought of all this, makes me yearn for the days gone by when the librarian would checkout each book, stamp it out, and talk to you about whether they read that book or not. Sometimes exclaiming that they had no idea that this library stocked this book, sometimes  asking me how I managed to read so much, while I tell them how I used to dream of being a librarian as a young child.. It makes me feel a little sad..  a little nostalgic for the days gone by, a little sad for that lost personal touch..

Late night reading and Book reviews

I have been reading loads these days. There are days when I sat up reading until late at nights and feeling sick and woozy in the mornings. I am just not a night person, but with a good book in my hand, I can’t not finish it before going to sleep.

The other day, I read under a duvet with a flashlight 🙂 Reminded me of my childhood. Also reminded me to get one of those book light which can be clipped on to the book while reading – that would have been far more comfortable to read with! Growing up, I used to read so much that my parents used to worry that I get marks in school simply because the teachers liked me. So they used to try and regulate the amount I read, and I used to find ways of reading all the same.

As I said here, I have been picking up books rather randomly from the library. I never seem to get the latest bestsellers, so I just go by my instincts and seem to end up with great books(thankfully!).

I finally managed to lay my hands on Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s Arranged Marriage. This had been on my wish list for ages but had been evading me. Well, all I can say is that it was totally worth the wait.

The collection of short stories depicting women in various situations brought about by their circumstances. Be it an abused woman’s story narrated by her little daughter, or the new bride who finds herself a widow in America, or a happily married woman who finds one day that her husband wanted to leave the marriage and grab at a chance of real happiness. Each of the stories brought out the feelings of the protagonists, ending in despair, triumph or just accepting what life throws at them. Every story was a wonderful read and I was disappointed when I came to the end of the book. To say that I loved it, would be an understatement. Waiting to get my hands on her other books.

 

Amongst the other books I read, Joanna Trollope’s books stood out. I had read her Brothers and Sisters earlier and quite liked it. Last week I picked up two of her books. Marrying the Mistress and The Rector’s Wife. Both were amazing reads. In Marrying the Mistress, she picked up a really sensitive topic of a much married older man taking the decision to walk out of his marriage to marry his mistress who was young enough to be his daughter. How the various relationships in both their lives were affected and how many individuals one decision of this sort could affect and how each of those people behaved was beautifully crafted. And not for a minute did anything seem tacky.

The Rector’s Wife is about a village priest and his wife who are trying their best to live within the set expectations. So far, Anna, the rector’s wife had performed her role in every way possible, but her daughter being bullied in the local state school and her son’s aspirations to travel propels her to get a job in a local supermarket to earn some money.  This causes a lot of raised eyebrows in the parish. Trapped in the expectations set by her role as the rector’s Wife and the need to be independent and do something that she wants to do, she gets pulled in all directions and widens the gap between her and her husband.. Again, I love the way, Trollope has woven the various relationships, including the emotions of her teenage son and her supportive mother and mother-in-law.  I could not put the book down until I finished it off in one session.

I am now reading Trollope’s Next of Kin which is right now, just as gripping.

 

The love of books, the joy of reading..

We just got back from a whirlwind of a trip to London. It has been over a year since I went there and for me, it was all nostalgic.

On the London underground, I spent all my time showing Poohi all the stations – my old work place, husband’s old workplace. She has been on the tube millions of times , but I think this was the first time that she understood what was going on.  She was a little spooked when I told her that the tube would go under the ground. She was very worried that ‘We’ll never, ever get out again!’ 🙂 It must have been one of the few times on the London tube when I did not read while travelling.

For my husband, tube travel was something he never enjoyed, but for me, traveling in London was the time that I loved – because it was completely ‘me time’. I used to carry books and of course, London Metro or the London Lite( free newspapers) used to be my staple reading on the way and back from work. These newspapers used to be free and would be handed out outside stations. I used to be one of those, who, even in an inch of space, would still manage to read.  I think I used to read a lot more in those days because of the uninterrupted time I used to get on the tube. There was a time when I used to travel around 3 hours one way and the only positive part was the reading time. But then I used to read in crowded Bangalore buses, and while waiting for the ITPL shuttle – I actually used to get funny looks then. One of the things that I loved about London as soon as I landed here was that everybody had a book/newspaper in their hands. I was no longer the odd one out.

Bones’ post on reading, touched a chord. Like her, I am not a book snob – I read anything and everything. I remember the first fairy tale that I got when I was 5 or 6 years old. I have not looked back since. Reading has been a passion and an addiction for me. I actually feel uneasy if I don’t have reading material around me.

As far back as I can recall, I used to be fascinated by books and stories. My mom and dad used to tell us stories at night, read to us when we were little. I think, it was all that storytelling that started me off on reading. I started on Reader’s Digests out of sheer boredom during my summer vacation. My maternal and paternal grandparents used to live in the same village but mom and I used to be at my maternal grandparents place, and we used to visit at my dad’s place in the evenings. Now I used to hate that, because my dad’s side had loads of cousins while at my mom’s side, I was the oldest and the only one for a while. So I used to yearn to go over to my dad’s place. In utter boredom, I flicked through my granddad’s collection of Reader’s Digest and started reading those little anecdotes at the end of each article. There was no looking back from there. I started reading the articles next, and before I knew it, I had read every issue that he had and his collection ranged from the ’60s. I then graduated on to P G Wodehouse and used to spend every waking moment reading!The magical, mystical world of books that I would disappear off to, oblivious to everything else around me! My mother used to say that nothing would break my concentration once I started reading.

Those days, I used to be fascinated by all the delicious food that Enid Blyton used to describe! Her eclairs sounded nothing like the Cadburys eclairs that we used to get. And I had imagined scones to be something, oh so yummy! Only to my intense disappointment when I finally did eat it! The eclairs, however, more than lived upto it’s reputation.  Sardines – I used to think was something yummy too! Until my granddad showed me what it was! I used to wish and wish and wish that my parents send me off to a boarding school! One of our friends threatens their daughter that if she gets naughty she would be sent to boarding school – and those were the days when I would yearn for that life! These days, of course, Indian authors seem to evoke the similar kind of sentiments. I read a book by Lavanya Sankaran, the other day. The Red Carpet, was a set of short stories set in Bangalore and it evoked a nostalgia, a wonderful feel of the city.

The funny thing is that the kind of stuff I used to conjure up in my mind while reading, might have been far, far away from what the author intended.  That I think is what I like about reading. The words would allow me to  dream, imagine, in my own way.  That, I think, was the reason, why most of the movie adaptations of books leave me disappointed! When we read, I think , each of us conjures up our own versions, our own mental image  of the book. Reading for me, is my way of vicariously, enjoying different lifestyles, cuisines, cultures and countries.

I was also lucky in my teachers at school. Even my Maths and Physics teacher was an avid reader. I remember that he had recommended Alex Haley’s Roots and reading that was a revelation for me. I remember being blown away with Gone with the Wind. Waiting with bated breath for the sequel – Scarlet and then being so let down by it! For me, so many memories are linked with books. Books that were gifted to me, books that I got as prizes. Books that have served as milestones of my life. One of the things I always wanted was a library in my home. And I intend to ensure that that becomes a reality once we move to India for good.

These days, I try and pick up obscure books that I have never heard of. The libraries here are amazing in that respect. The huge collection they have, ensures that I can experiment different authors. Some time back I had picked up a book by a Srilankan author. I had never heard of her- but loved the book. I have learnt to rely on my instincts more these days. There was a time when I used to haunt the best sellers and pick them up. These days, I go for books that I have not heard of, and I have to say that I have been fairly lucky so far. I do get some good books. Over the years, the one thing that has not changed for me, is the passion for books and reading.

The only thing I regret is that I cannot read in Malayalam. My parents had a wonderful time when they came to London. They found lots of Malayalam books in the library there and they made the most of it. Maybe, one day, I will try and learn enough Malayalam to read a book..

The world of books opened a new horizon for me. My love of reading has contributed significantly to the way I think, the way I interact with people.. If I could gift anything really precious to my daughter, it would be the love of books.. The joy of reading…