I’ve always been a book-a-week kind of person. I used to be evangelical about this to the point where I looked at not reading as a character flaw when I was on the Marriage Market (as opposed to being, you know, an incompatibility issue). Thankfully, I’ve mellowed over time and I’m not too judgmental about those who don’t enjoy reading. My own reading habits however, resemble Amit Chaterjee’s (The character from A Suitable Boy. But you knew that)
But I too hate long books: the better, the worse. If they’re bad they merely make me pant with the effort of holding them up for a few minutes. But if they’re good, I turn into a social moron for days, refusing to go out of my room, scowling and growling at interruptions, ignoring weddings and funerals, and making enemies out of friends. I still bear the scars of Middlemarch.
– Vikram Seth, A Suitable Boy
A sentiment better expressed by a more contemporary cultural icon:
Memes aside, I’m not very well-read by conventional standards. I score rather poorly on the “How many of these have you read” type of quizzes for two reasons.
My first reason for missing out on “must reads” is fairly simple. I tried reading some books too early and I bear the scars of many a bad pick. For instance, at the ripe old age of fourteen, I went to the library and picked up the first Stephen King novel I found. Unfortunately, it was Gerald’s Game. The plot of the novel as summarized by Wikipedia:
The story is about a woman who accidentally kills her husband while she is handcuffed to the bed as part of a bondage game, and, following the subsequent realization that she is trapped with little hope of rescue, begins to let the voices inside her head take over.
Let’s just say I wasn’t able to get beyond the first three pages. It was the early 90’s and I was a model pupil at an all-girls’ Convent school. Unlike today’s teenagers who’ve been weaned on the Fifty Shades trilogy, I only had a vague idea how even vanilla sex actually worked. Needless to say, I was never able to read Stephen King again. I have read a bit of Michael Crichton and Robin Cook but it’s not the same, is it?
Another disadvantage of reading books too early is that you don’t really grasp them completely. For instance, how much does a twelve or thirteen year old really understand Miss Havisham? How much of Ayn Rand can you understand when you’re sixteen? On second thought, sixteen is probably the latest one should read Ayn Rand.
The main reason behind my reading gap, however, is that I missed the prime time for reading and experimentation – college. All I could lay my hands on in my college hostel (located outside city limits) were the Harry Potter novels, Mills & Boon romances, and the occasional Sidney Sheldon or two. You don’t figure out what to read googling “100 books to read before you die”. You need friends who love reading for that. Looking back, that’s probably why I was so miserable and angsty throughout college.
I did start reading again once I started working and thanks to F.D. my new found love for sci-fi and fantasy keeps my Kindle warm on a lonely night. Yet the missing years continue to rankle.
Perhaps this shall be the year I get around to reading some of the classics I missed.