DO YOU READ? WHAT KIND OF BOOKS?
I spent 6 months to read through “A Suitable Boy”. Since his description is excellent, I felt as if I had been living with its colourful characters for half a year.
When you see someone’s bookshelf, you get to know about the person way deeper and quicker than through conversation. How does your bookshelf look like?
Today I talk about books and reading, personal history and all.
WHY BOTHER TO READ?
For non-readers, reading books is probably a cumbersome ‘task’. Nowadays most information can be taken on the internet easily, including images and visions. Then why bother?
For me, it’s simply a joy of exploring kahani, stories, and of going into someone’s thoughts which I can never think. I feel that I get more insights about human beings than I get in daily life.
There is far less visible information in texts than images/visions. Therefore, you need to use your imagination, read behind the lines, divine the feelings of the characters, examine the logic. Yes, it’s indeed cumbersome. But you have more freedom to reproduce the world of the book and discover your own treasure. You even unknowingly grow your skill of empathy since you get to see the views of various people.
HOW ONE BECOMES A BOOKWORM
In the interviews of/essays by the book lovers, they often say “there were lots of books at home as far as I remember…”. This environment naturally lets them start reading books.
My mum is a born bookworm. My grandfather used to hide books from her for the fear of her eyes becoming short-sighted. But in my childhood, I don’t remember seeing her books at home. I guess she didn’t have the luxury to spend time on her books due to her work at home, housework, and rearing kids single-handedly. But she bought books for us kids and read to us. Her policy was not to buy new books/toys one after another, so I memorised the contents of the existing books and would start chanting the texts in the next page before my mum turns the page.
Reading aloud to kids before they learn how to read would let them become familiar with books. They gain the skill of recreating the visions in their mind through the words. The bedtime stories for me were as exciting as the cartoons on TV. I would ask for my favourite stories again and again and would be scared or laugh at the same points every time.
I learned how to read fairly early and started reading books on my own. My mum’s attempt to grow another bookworm was successful.
In my primary school (1-6th Standard) days, I frequented to a public children’s library and read through entire series of “The Fiend with Twenty Faces” ---> “Arsène Lupin” ---> “Sherlock Holmes” (exactly in this order, as the complexity and intellectual ‘coolness’ increase!). I also enjoyed foreign juvenile literature, or “Pippi Longstocking” Series, “McGurk Detective Agency” Series, etc. As for domestic ones, I remember reading all by Hisashi Yamanaka or “Korobokkuru” Series by Satoru Satoh.
During my junior & senior high school (7-12th Standard) days, I read just about anything following my interest. There were many books, especially classics, which I couldn’t get what’s so great about, but anyway I read till the end to see what happened (to me!). I was given certain pocket money monthly to learn to manage my expenses in a planned way. But when it comes to books, my mum was indulgent. Every time I cadged her for books, she couldn’t say no.
In my university days, since I lived in a university town with used book shops everywhere, I often made an ecstatic ‘book hunting journey’. Also, I borrowed a lot from my co-habitants of the university dormitory.
In this dormitory, I realised how mediocre I was. My co-habitants were reading outrageously both in quantity and quality. They read ‘wisdom of mankind’ books a lot ---> They become even wiser ---> Since they are wiser, they read even greater books ---> They become even more crazy wiser… They were repeating this cycle. They were crazy wise, not to mention knowledgeable. They were crazy sensitive and crazy insightful. I felt I was such a dumb every time they said something so accurate and insightful.
I read all sorts of books, especially ideological books and sensuous/art books, wishing to come closer to the level of the people around me.
JAPANESE LANGUAGE EDUCATION - THE MOMENT YOU START HATING BOOKS
In Japan, schools force kids to write a ‘book report’ during the long summer holidays. It is a mixture of review and essay. Before the summer holidays, ‘recommended books for book reports’ for each age group hit the shelves of bookstores. A big newspaper company holds a ‘book report contest’, and after the summer holidays, they spare pages of their paper to publish entire reports. The selected pieces were vividly telling what the student felt about the book while relating to their life.
I couldn’t really figure out how to write a book report. I would write the entire synopsis with tiny bits of my remark inserted. My mum would scold at me for my poor work and I would revise it in tears. As a result, I would submit reports with pretty much of my mum’s ‘guidance’ (if not ‘editing’). They were selected often as one of the best reports at school, but my class teachers must have noticed that someone had lead me.
Books were already my friends before the book reports happened to me. Otherwise, I would have hated books as something they force me to read or to write something on. But nowadays, apart from this old tradition of the book report, I heard that schools are trying various new methods to let kids befriend with books.
In the subject ‘Japanese Language’ in Japan, I remember we learned how to read and comprehend the texts in details. At least in public schools, reading materials were very tiny (only one textbook per year even at senior high schools), and we would check paragraph by paragraph to consider the description. It was reeeaaally slow. Furthermore, the teachers’ aim was to lead us to the ‘right answers’.
When I sat for ‘national preliminary entrance exam’ for universities, in the exam paper of Japanese Language, I found a passage from one of my favourite novels. My heart rate jumped up to double with joy. But, since I was too emotionally involved in the world of the novel, all the options for the answers looked out of point. Sure enough, my score was poor for that section. I thought the test giver didn’t understand the novel at all!
Because the entrance exams are like that, the school curriculum also is detailed, paragraph by paragraph. But in senior high school, I think they can start making students to read one whole book and do some discussion in the class. That’s also the way to learn reading.
CHALO BOOKWORMS, UNITE!!
On the internet, I often see questions like “what are the best books to read? ”, probably from the people in their pre-book era. My answer would be “start from any book which attracts YOU!”. You don’t need to impress others. OK to have some ‘impure motives’. Once you finish one book, you’ll surely see what you want to read next.
They say that half of the adults in Japan (including the university students!) read less than 1 book per month on average. In India, probably the gap between the readers and non-readers is bigger, along with that of the financial status.
Every time I see the guardsmen of the buildings sitting at the gate staring at nothing, I can’t help feeling that they have so many hours for reading if they start. Even 5th Standard drop-outs can at least read and write somehow, I guess. The access to books in India is limited compared to Japan, but some old paper recycle wallah sell old books. Regardless the financial status, I think making the first step is possible for anyone, and it's a very big step for one's life.
Starting from short and simple books, and gradually shifting to various books, and finally and secretly, achieving richer insight and richer knowledge than the goers of expensive schools… isn’t it cool? I admire people like the protagonist of ‘Serious Men’ by Manu Joseph. I really hope to launch a project which powerfully supports people to read books, in MIRCHI KOMACHI in future.
And, I guess YOU like reading since you survived through this longish post (lol). Please let me hear a bit of your history of reading. How did you learn to read books? Which books did you enjoy when you were little? How did your interest shift? I want to hear your kahani.
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