Inspiring Older Readers

posted on 28 Aug 2016

Books in my life

( This article first appeared on August 4, 2015 on Chtira Soundar's website which can be accessed on this link)

My reading list is growing. With new prize longlists and shortlists and books of friends, books from India, books that I read long ago that I want to read again, books I want to learn from – so many books.

I’ve got an accumulated stack of books that have been signed for me – friends, eminent friends and celebrity authors (not the kind of celebrity authors who were celebrities before they wrote a book, the kind that are celebrity to me because they write amazing books.)

So I decided I have to organise my reading, keep track of what I’m reading, perhaps recommend some books to others and I looked around for a reading journal. There are a few available in the stationery section. But I didn’t fancy giving up my reading time to update my entire history of reading and my current TO-READ list.

Then I looked for online journals – to keep track of the books. I checked one called LibraryThing – but didn’t like it as much and they also charge after 200 books. Then of course I had a Shelfari account because they are part of Amazon and I had a GoodReads account. Choices are good that we can choose what we want. But they force you to try them out and choose – takes longer to decide.

But while researching this – I found a useful article about other book related sites and I’ve fallen in love with BookLikes. I think BookLikes is great for librarians, classroom book blogs and personal book blogs too. But as in life and in this post, I digress. For the purpose of what I came to tell you, I’ll keep it to GoodReads. I’ll be telling you all about my BookLikes adventure soon.

At this moment I’m still on GoodReads and I uploaded my entire list of books – To Read, Already Read to GoodReads. Because I uploaded 8 to 10 years worth of reading history – GoodReads assumed I had read all of them in 2015. I wish!

Just like I’m obsessed about front-facing shampoo bottles, order of keys in my keyrings, wearing matching jewelry and  such, I’m also obsessed about being honest about the “Date I finished Reading” on every book.

So that’s a lot of books to update. But I started on it bravely. As I went down the list thinking about when I would have read it – it evoked memories, emotions and emotional memories.

As I read down the list of books to mark their date, my past began to unfold in the form of a book list. I could make out the patterns of my emotional life, what happened when along with the dates for the books.

§  Oh I read that one when I moved into my new flat

§  That one was when I was sad with a breakup and wanted a Pick me Up

§  This one was during the course I did with Andy Stanton at Faber

I couldn’t believe how these books have been transplated into my memory along with life-changing events.

I remember, a few years ago, giving up writing for 6 months due to one of those yo-yo relationships – you know when someone can’t make up their mind about you. I completely broke down because that person was my first reader.

More than life, it affected my writing.  writing.jpgThat’s when I picked up this amazing book. And here I am with more books written and published and still writing. It really freed the writer within me.

From Faraway Tree that made me tell stories to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime that showed me possibilities, the list of books that is weaved into my life is very long.

Books do so many things to people. Some movies do too. But I think books stay with you longer because they force you to imagine. The nerve cells in your brain fuse and expand trying to figure out the words on the printed page. They go to your long-term memory and emotional memory. (Those who watched Inside Out know what I’m talking about! What a movie, that would stay with me for sure. I digress again.)

When I started updating the month and year of reading a book I realized some books I read almost as soon as I bought them. Some books I bought on release day. Some books were left on their own on the bookshelf. They call out to me sometimes – “you’ve to read me!”.

I remember not just what I was feeling or experiencing when I read these books, but also what happened after. Did my life change? 

poemcrazy.jpgI found this book in a NY bookstore near Wall Street nestled among the writing books. What a joy it brought me. I spent the weekend walking the riverside and writing poems – they might not be good poems, but they had a bit of me inside them.

More recently I read Gangleader for a Day, We are Completely Beside Ourselves, Us Minus Mum and Elizabeth is Missing and so many more. I loved Luminaries and I loved the silly Red Eyes at Night by Michael Morpugo.

Each time, it changes life either in the core or in the edges. Like a real experience does. That’s what I like about reading.

I watched Kite Runner in the cinema and I cried for nights. Then against my own advice I read the book. I cried for weeks. I couldn’t stop thinking about that boy. I was living his pain and I was devastated. I had always liked kites as a child. I made them at home and took them up to my terrace. But this story has now imprinted itself into the word KITE in my brain. Every time I see a kite, I think of Kite Runner.

I have a new stack of books now. Signed books from YALC, signed books from book launches and in a frenzy of catching up on authors I loved reading in the last two years. That’s what happened when I took stock – I realized I loved a book and then I checked for more books by the same author and ended up buying more than I have space for – in shelves and in life.

Well, a girl’s gotta do, what she’s gotta do. READ!

So do you have a catalog of all the books you’ve read? Do you think of them interlinked with life? Or is your life on a parallel track to the train of books that rush past you?

Tell me if a book changed your life. Tell me if it has folded a memory like a dog-ear in a book for looking back. Tell me if it has changed your outlook to life, how you see others, how you see yourself. Is it a window to you or a mirror or both? Is it a doorway to other lives, other worlds, other perspectives?

Chitra Soundar

August 2016