In my line of work, that is, typing semi-interesting things on a Word document, emailing them to a semi-enthusiastic editor and then waiting for semi-remuneration, one tends to read a lot. Now, I am well aware of the reputation that Indian journalists have. But a surprising number of them, in my experience, are actually well read.
I have had one editor who could quote American novelist Philip Roth chapter and verse, another one who was a walking encyclopaedia on graphic novels, and several colleagues who had consumed every single notable book published in their area of expertise—economics, banking, technology and so on.
And while I am not a particularly well-rounded reader—fiction continues to be something I struggle with, irrespective of most genres, context or critical acclaim—I do still chomp through a fair number of books every month. Most recently, I’ve enjoyed books by Michael Foley, Nicholson Baker, Sanjeev Sanyal, Valerio Varesi and Soji Shimada. Those are the books I’ve completed. I have dozens of half-read books on bookshelves, on top of the toilet cistern, on Kindles, on iPads and on my audio-book phone app.
In this week’s column, I want to tackle an issue that often comes up in my interactions with people everywhere, including at home, when I am spending time with friends and family.
And that is the issue of people who say they “don’t read books”. As far as I am concerned, reading is a fundamental life skill. Saying that you “don’t read anything” is like saying that you cannot operate a zipper or that you do not believe in oxygen. That is not life, it is a travesty. Sadly, however, like most inexplicable and absurd things, you often find people who say they “don’t read books” as if it is some kind of an achievement. Idiots.
Those guys are beyond the scope of this column. However, I do want to help people who would like to read books but somehow find it difficult for various reasons. Perhaps they used to read in school, lapsed, and now find it hard to get back into a reading routine.
Let me help if I can.
First of all, I would like to tackle the question of genre. There is a universe of choices out there for anybody who wants to read. Don’t like critically acclaimed fiction? Try some non-fiction. Don’t like history? Try science. Don’t like science? How about some amusing travel writing? Walk into any decent book store anywhere and you are probably going to be shocked by the choices you have at your disposal. Dabble shamelessly until you find something you like. Trying reading lots of free samples on a Kindle device. Or join a library. Try a genre that is closely connected with yourself and your work. Or try something completely unexpected. I assure you, there is a genre out there for you. But please banish the thought that the reading centres of your brain have atrophied. They have not. It is never too late to become a book lover again.
Second, you actually do have the time. Really. You just have to set aside a little every day. Or set yourself a reading target of a chapter a day. Commutes to and from work are really useful for a quick catch-up.
Designated driver? Don’t worry. Try audiobooks. I listen to one every month and find it a fantastic way to while away my time on buses, trains or long walks. And you never know when that flight is going to get delayed. Start with something that is thrilling, like Max Brooks’ World War Z, or the Tom Clancy novels narrated by Michael Prichard. I always carry a free audio recording of Edward Gibbon’s The History Of The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire, which I downloaded from Archive.org.
Once you do find a sliver of time for reading, cultivate it. Be a little selfish if you have to be.
Then there is the question of attention span. This is a genuine problem, thanks largely to the Internet and social media. Again, the trick here may be to start with genres that are forgiving. Anthologies, perhaps? I dip in and out of Bill Bryson’s A Short History Of Nearly Everything for this precise reason. You can read it in almost any order. And every single chapter in that book is great fun.
So if you’re a lapsed book reader, why not give it a shot this weekend? Pick up something, anything at all, and try escaping these earthly bonds for a few minutes.