Saturday, 29 October 2011

Growing up with Fiction

CS Lewis in one of his books on criticism talks about how "literature illiterate" people tend to dismiss books as "read" after a first- reading of them. Books, he says, have a life of their own, and deserve to be respected, read, re-read, enjoyed in parts, in full or in any form we may choose. I passed such a hurried judgement on one of my currently favourite books- The God of Small Things. Infact, I did not even complete the book when I first thought it was "pseudo".

And some years back, I had had the audacity to dismiss God of Small Things as being unworthy of a Booker prize and of all the publicity and reception it got. Again, I had the audacity. And then two years back I re-read the book. I loved it. I fell in love with everything in the book. It has become my favourite- I quote it when I am happy, when I am sad, when I am bored or when I see owls, children, Banana Jam or even stray dogs. Sometimes even to describe my own silences.

The book is powerful and mesmerizing. Some of my friends, who are Malayalis, find the book offensive- but I loved it. Never once did I get into the politics of Kerala, the culture it represented or anything ethnic or geographical. From the beginning- from the point she describes the house to the last page- I fell in love with the book. And since the narrative is dreamy and magical half the time I did not even realise it was Kerala or any real place. The narrative stole my attention and I was too busy living the lives of the two-egged twins and amused by their weirdness that I forgot it was a novel- a text- and entered the world of childhood head-first. Two years later, I still haven't shaken off the magical hold it has on my world. The children are too real and very honest to forget.

I think this transition- from hating the book to falling in love with it was a direct result of having grown-up atleast a decent bit. I think books tell us where we stand, where we are and help relate with ourselves better. Reading is an active process. It requires a reader who is active, sensitive, open and ready to engage in a dialogue with the text. From one book I read just last week (recommended by Senior.S of course)-
"After a while it occurred to me that between the covers of each of those books lay a boundless universe waiting to be discovered...."-  (Shadow of the Wind, Carlos Ruiz Zafon)
And that is precisely what books do to us. They open up an entire universe, a new world and reveal themselves, unfurling at their own pace. It becomes a journey through the pages led by the story for the reader. It is a joyful, pleasurable experience that lingers on long after the book is over. It is interesting how a tangible thing can remain in our minds long after the book is closed. I remember Senior S asking us once in a Critical Theory class if we knew when a book was over, and one of my classmates S, answered, reasoning that a book should be over when we "closed it or finished the last page". Of course. And it did not make sense to me that time. I thought a book could never get over. You end the book, as in you finish reading the book when there's nothing more to read- but so much goes unsaid, there are stories that go beyond the covers and words- and it is upto the reader to fill them. They are like the ellipses, the ideas are implied, they are hinted at, but are not concrete. They are created when the reader interacts with the text. Even after he's reached the back-cover.
Senior S returned this wonderful world by recommending two books- Shadow of the Wind and Wandering Star. I recently finished Shadow of the Wind and only when I was reading it did I realize that I had stopped reading. I had stopped reading for pleasure, but had been reading only to make a study of the books I read. I chose books that had critical acclaim, I chose books that were beyond my experiences, I had been reading what the publishing world had told me to read. I had ceased being an interactive reader. I was acting like a critic- a very stuck-up, pretentious critic that not only did I miss out on the story, and the narrative- I had killed the pleasure involved in reading. I had stopped it from being an experience. I had tried to manipulate and mutilate my understanding and experience to compartmentalize them in already made up boxes/stereotypes- which meant that I was not an active reader but more of an empty box that tried to fill itself up with what was being told and what was acceptable. I had forgotten to make an interaction with the text- I had failed to bring my experiences, sensitivity and background to the text- I had efficiently eliminated all that was necessary to enjoy the experience of reading.
Now, after Senior S' light hearted style of recommendation- I realised two things- 1. I was rushing through life and living it way too seriously than was necessary. She keeps saying "Have fun. Keep having fun." I had forgotten that- entirely.
2. That unless I was a reader who was sensible and sensitive- I could never make a critical appreciation of any text. Period. Makes sense. Unless you invade the text, i.e. go beyond the words, the worlds and the covers- reading doesn't happen. And when reading hasn't happened understanding cannot happen. Logical. I had forgotten the basic lessons.

Shadow of the Wind returned that joy to me. It returned the essence- and now I am a conscious reader- a reader who has fun and enjoys the experience that a book offers. 


  1. SO now I have a book waiting for me to hold it and affect me! :)
    Api your words just do not fail to hold on to our attention...You should take up writing "seriously". Contemplate. Write. again contemplate. DO NOT critique your writings. And do not delete any thing just because they seem to be irrelevant at this point of time. Its a humble request from your devoted reader. :)

  2. @tequila! :P

    You sound like one of my teachers. :D But yes, you should read God of Small Things and Shadow of the WInd. I liked them.

    And about deleting, I am not sure- I am not just the same person anymore- and those posts are so embarrassing. And thank you :)