Saturday, September 30, 2023

Getting to know books: Beyond the stories


Are books all about the stories they contain? Can a book have its own story? What changes when you read the same book many times over? A self-proclaimed bibliophile’s take on what it means to get to know books beyond the stories held within their pages.

I grew up around books. I grew up around people who loved books, in an era where books were one of the few sources of magic and wonder.

There’s hardly a childhood memory that doesn’t feature books.

There’s one of 6-year-old Me, visiting evening bazaars with my maternal grandfather only to get lost in comic books at the newspaper vendor’s stall.

Almost four decades later, I am still that little girl, sitting cross-legged on a stool, her nose buried in a book. The bazaar sounds have ebbed away. It’s just me and the book now.

As a kid, the school library was my incentive to make it through school every day. If the day had a library session scheduled, there was nothing that could keep me home – not even the looming punishments for incomplete homework and forgotten tests. I could be found outside the library with my nose pressed to the glass doors.

The lower school classrooms had tiny wooden cupboards that acted as the class library. More than reading books, I enjoyed taking everything out and arranging them in order, making sure the books didn’t have any dog-eared corners or torn pages. It was my version of playing Doctors with books.

The same school had a gigantic library for the senior school – or so it seemed to 8-year-old me.

This library was my happy place. Large French windows looked out into the wilderness that was our school grounds, a carpeted floor, long rows of wooden cupboards with glass doors on both sides of the room overflowing with countless books. To be allowed in there was the best part of my day.

I was lucky to spend a few holidays helping the librarian identify, re-arrange and catalogue books that needed to be replenished or replaced.

Those handfuls of quiet days spent in the school library were where my love for books grew beyond just reading them.

A book had a story to tell, not limited to the one within its pages. I needed to know more about the book itself. I took it upon myself to reunite every misplaced book with either those of the same series or by the same author. I loved flipping through the pages, finding tiny notes written by previous readers.

I wondered about the readers’ experiences when they read those books – months or perhaps years before me. Being with those old books made me develop a kinship of sorts with their readers from the past.

The icing on the cake was to be allowed to buy old books that were to be discarded. Where else could you buy 10 books for a mere 20 rupees? It was like hitting the jackpot. I was spoilt for choice.

Years later after travelling across multiple cities with me, these books now live their ‘happily ever after’ in my library. When I re-read them, it’s like meeting an old friend – a friend who has always watched over me from my library shelf.

Being around books gave me hope. A hope that I could discover more than what the academic books had to offer. I could delve into a book and let my imagination take off to a different world, to experience a diverse range of people, cultures, lifestyles, emotions and relationships. As I read, I could experience the story alongside the characters, live their lives with them, in a different part of the world, at a different point in time.

As a 90s kid, my access to books was limited to the ones available in the local bookshops and libraries.

Growing up, I threw more tantrums to buy books than for any other childhood demands. I had a pact with my Mom. If I cleared the school tests and reviews, I could splurge a part of her monthly ‘savings’ on buying a book. I wasn’t going to chase the 90th percentile like other kids. I was busy chasing the ‘passing marks’, to be allowed to buy a book month after month.

I loved the deep corners of bookshops and libraries, acutely aware of how the outside sounds got muffled, the deeper I buried myself into a corner stuffed with books.

Fast forward to adult life. Every time I changed cities, I went searching for bookstores and libraries –searching for a home away from home, my safe haven in a strange new city.

When I’m around books, there’s this sense of homecoming and belonging, no matter where I am.

To me, a book isn’t just a story or a topic you read about. To hold a book is to be with a silent friend. A friend, who has so much to say but never speaks. A friend, who knows exactly what I need to hear at any given moment. To know what this friend has to say, all I need to do is to flip through the pages of the book.

A book’s genre doesn’t matter. I have learnt equally from Pooh’s shenanigans, Darrel River’s tempers, Heidi’s Grandfather, Dobby’s faithfulness, Swamy’ adventures and Rusty’s childhood as I have learnt from The Power of Your Subconscious Mind, Ikigai and IchigoIchie.

Today, I am the proud owner of a quaint little home library. I don’t have the latest trends in my wardrobe or a fancy car. I have my books.

I love to have the neighbourhood kids come over and browse through my collection. I get to listen to their opinions about the ones they read. I get to watch them gradually develop their own unique reading paths.

In my own way, I hope I’m passing on the legacy to love and enjoy books to the next generation of bookworms.

Over the years, I have curated for myself, what I call my ‘Annual Reading List’. While fellow bookworms scramble to read 52 or 100 or 200 new books in a year, I happily browse through my humble list of favourites, seasoned with an occasional new one – at my own pace.

The book’s contents remain the same, however, the person reading them – Me doesn’t.

When I read the same book one more time, I discover something new. It not only reveals a new facet of the characters or the storyline but also a change in my perception of them. It’s like watching a ray of light pick up a new angle on a broken piece of glass. Each time the glass turns, a previously undiscovered part of it comes into focus.

With each read, I’m amazed how the same book can give me a fresh outlook of where I’m in my own life’s journey and about the roles that I’m playing that year.

To the world, year after year, I am the same person.

To my books, I’m a new reader who has lived and experienced life for another year and is here to spend time with them as a totally different person.

Every year and with every re-read, I get a chance to know Me a little bit more.

Also Read: Mumma’s promise

(Saumya Dahake is a full-time mom and a passionate writer. She worked as a Product Consultant in the corporate sector.)

(Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the author’s and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.)


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Share post:


More like this

The growing need for security at the Edge

By Rahul S Kurkure With the growing focus on cybersecurity,...

Improving mental health in India: Challenges before us

By Siddhartha Mitra Mental health remains a major issue in...

Carbon fibre in EV is the future

By Nikhil Das and Tilak Gowda Carbon fibre is known...

CXOs believe there’s no conflict between climate goals and growth

Is there any conflict between the climate goal of...