I haven’t felt like this in a while, the familiar after-effects of bingeing. Sated, like a python that has swallowed a large prey. I sit still, digesting and assimilating the contents. I am reluctant to move, preferring instead to stew in the juices that have spewed forth in response. I breathe deeply, trying to nourish myself on this feast.
I am in the stage that follows a reading binge. I did that a lot when I was a kid. Spent many solitary hours each day to finish a good book. Even today, ideas of others, made incarnate through words, with beautiful language, ignite my metabolism and saturate my thoughts. Many of the books I read attempt to answer existential questions, other kindle more enquiry. I can’t see it, but books stimulate neurons that connect, reflect, radiate and reinforce new ideas. Another level of consciousness is born.
As a child, there were times when I was happier in the company of books than people, not because I didn’t understand people but because I understood the world through books. The world was larger then. Books were the road and the aircraft that whisked me away. No one in my family had left the shores of India. The English language books I read talked about places that I could only imagine, times that belonged to the past, people who had blond hair and blue eyes, wore hats, ate scones, owned slaves. I read comics and classics. Murder mysteries and romance novels. I loved Scarlet O’Hara, Sherlock Holmes, John Galt and the town of Macondo. Sidney Sheldon, Agatha Christie, V.S. Naipaul and Enid Blyton equally enthralled me. My reading binges made the scorching summer holidays bearable. I measured a good school break in terms of number of books I read. Finish one. Start another. A mantra that worked.
Growing up demands sacrifices. Life has a way of sneaking up on you, diverting you with visions of pleasures you could have once you get a job, a promotion, a husband, children, a home theatre, a dream holiday and any number of gadgets. It’s all good stuff but I had traded my uninterrupted reading marathons for a regular grown-up life. Reading affords me a joy like no other. I don’t read in order to be instructed but I have to admit that books have been my deepest influence. Life lessons come from living and books provide those in a compact form, within the pages of a bound volume.
I finished reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s Signature of All Things today, all 880 pages of it. A grand novel that moved slowly but kept my interest going. A lot happens, very slowly. Not a racy page-turner but a book that haunts. I feel sluggish. Heavy with the weight of ideas, with the results of the author’s research, the depth of scientific enquiry and insight that is necessary to bring forth such a book. I remember feeling exhausted after I read “Gone with the wind”, confused by Ayn Rand, and impressed by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Like a sweetheart from long ago, books can evoke feelings that are hard to define, not entirely unpleasant or complicated, they appeal with a hint of nostalgic charm.
As a reader I admire books and their authors. As a wannabe writer, I feel inadequate. There are days when I feel there is nothing left to write, all the great writers have written before me. On other days, I know I could never say the same things as well as they have. But reading is the prelude to writing. And appreciation must precede attempt. The key is to stop and watch. Watch and admire. Admire and learn. What we appreciate, we tend to imitate. The beauty of creativity is that it is impossible to duplicate the talent that belongs to another. While we may strive to write like an author we admire, our inimitable essence tends to shadow everything we create.
My mother and I attended a music concert many years ago. It was a beautiful rendition of a traditional song. “I wish I could sing like that. I wonder what it will take for me to get there” I said aloud. “The fact that you can appreciate this music is the first step. There are so many who cannot see the beauty in this, and you can. With this first step of appreciation, you can move towards your goal” she replied. I thought about it then. I understand it now.
On the days I am paralyzed by self-doubt, there is one sure way to get moving. I make sure I read. And I ensure I appreciate. Thank you Mom.
A parent is inexcusable who does not personally teach her child to think – Elizabeth Gilbert in “The signature of all things”