At age two, I was that child who had memorised the books my parents read to me regularly and I could read what was on all the pages out of familiarity. A few years later, I’d progressed to reading on my own, and very soon after that, I was constantly devouring the new books I got from the library each week. Hundreds of stories by Enid Blyton, all of the books by Roald Dahl, and tons of authors who I couldn’t even begin to name now filled my every waking hour. By age 12, I would frequent the school library and was best friends with the teachers and assistants there, which assured me the first issue of each new Anthony Horowitz or Rick Riordan book that released. Of course, I read a lot of unknown authors too, and had probably risked my life on several occasions as I made my way everywhere with my nose stuck in my latest book.
My reading speed and book count were impressive all through my middle school years, especially as I had not really been exposed to the worlds of TV shows and movies. As this happened, and I grew a little older, I regret to admit that I began to read fewer and fewer books. School work took its toll on me and the number decreased further, until I found myself enrolling in a college course on literature, unable to name even 5 books that I had read in the past year.
I have encountered many others who face the same woes – they’ve lost the affinity they had for reading as children, and no matter how hard they try to get it back, it’s not the same. Sure, we all pick up a book now and then, but is it really the same? For me personally, I’ve found that when I read simple, familiar books, ones that I was unable to put down as a teenager, I rush through them with the same speed and enthuse that I would have even back then. On the other hand, when I try to read heavier classic novels, as I feel is expected of me in the age and setting I am in, I find it harder to make time for them and end up pushing them into the back-seat of my life. Using this discovery to my advantage, I have spent the past several months reliving years of my childhood with books by JK Rowling, Christopher Paolini and the like, who delve in the spheres of dragons and elves, magic and mystery.
I wish I could report that this was all positive, and my reading habits are something I am proud of again, but I found myself being sneered at by a peer recently, who commented, “oh, this again? Read something of worth, why don’t you?” I said nothing, but her comments had struck a nerve, as I must confess, I often fall victim to a fear of social scrutiny. Ideally, I would continue to read that which makes me truly happy, while also widening my repertoire to include more sophisticated choices, which I am well aware would also benefit me academically.
The best solution, I realised, would be to speak to peers around me who I know do read, and find out what they do. Ria*, the first friend I spoke to, is also a literature student and a very avid reader. She told me she actually reads about 8-10 books every month! Not only is she constantly discovering new books through recommendation lists on the internet, in newspapers, and in bookshops, but she also re-reads several old books, because as she put it, she “love(s) discovering new things in old and loved books.” Further, she said, “I read a lot of books I chance upon in bookstores, although most of my reading time is dedicated to chasing up on my lifelong and ever-growing reading list. Naturally, I love paperbacks most, but I make do with PDFs and ebooks for ease of reading while travelling and in the dark and such.” Much like myself, Ria is an avid fiction reader above all other genres. “I love my classics, but I’m a glutton for fantasy, YAF (young adult fiction), sci-fi, and select autobiographies,” she said.
Ria certainly appears to be an exception to me, as no one else I know has maintained such a high frequency of reading at this stage in life. The second person I spoke to said she reads up to 5 books a month, but “only if (she’s) inspired”. She too admitted to having phases of less reading, saying “most of the year is actually full of less-reading phases. But then I have a few months when I’m super inspired and I read the entire year’s quota in a month!” She reads thrillers, fantasy novels, romance, and the Japanese author Murakami, likes getting reading suggestions from friends and the popular bookstore Blossoms, and says she can usually tell how much she is going to enjoy a book based on its first chapter. Despite being a literature student, she says that this has not changed what she reads much, as she isn’t a huge fan of classics, which is primarily what is focussed on in literature.
Ria too said that she did not particularly feel compelled to read books just because they would be expected of a literature student. Studying it as a subject has changed her viewpoint though, as she attested. “As our course is replete with intense reading material it does impact the way I perceive literature in general, and it has altered the way I read literary works, if not my taste.” This seems to be a common viewpoint among some of the others to whom I posed the same question, although some do also say that their reading choices have been influenced by it as well. “I know a lot more about what to read, and it also sort of shapes my opinions. Studying literature has luckily in no way reduced my love for reading; in fact, I’ve fallen more in love with it. And yes, of course I’m expected to read – or have read – certain things as a literature student, but I don’t find that a problem,” says yet another literature student with a pre-existing love for reading.
Speaking to them all makes one thing clear to me – I may choose to change the books I read and my reading style, or I may keep them just the same, but I should certainly never lose my passion for the same. Yes, I may be looked down upon for sticking to the same childish books that made me happy as a child, but that should not stop me from enjoying them. The one thing I will try and change for sure is to expand my horizons, be it more Indian authors, more classics, more meaningful philosophical texts, or just more new literature. I’ll start small and get bigger. And who knows, perhaps I’ll attend the Bangalore Lit Fest that is happening next week which I’d so far avoided committing to.
(*Names have been changed)