Thursday, January 21, 2010

Books in my life

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows
[Bloomsbury; 248 pp.]

I had my sleeves rolled up, while we waded knee-deep among tomes in the stacks of a bookshop, marauding for books for the library of a private club. Dr R., as well-thumbed in his knowledge about books as a writer's thesaurus, casually added an intriguingly titled paperback to the steadily increasing heap of goodies on the floor. I could never resist an odd title, cover, or binding; so I picked it up, and bought a copy. What a lovely investment that was! Thirty percent off the Indian distributor's price; subsequently read by four people (and still in circulation!); so almost free for me!

Let me say straight away that this is another book about books; fictionalized, I agree, but with what a heady recipe—books and the love of reading, letters and the urge to write, WWII, good amongst evil, evil by itself, love for life, rebellion, goodness. Let me also say that one is reminded of the classic 84 Charing Cross [of which another time] while reading this, but there the resemblance ends. Despite mind-numbing ideology, despite merciless peer pressure, despite the repetitive madness that has overtaken the world over the millennia, there be hearts that beat to a different drummer—that people a civilization of goodness and fuel the only sanity there is.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society  is a paean for those who stamp ownership rights inside a book, no sooner it is bought, by inscribing their name, and sometimes, address. It begins with a letter written to the owner of a book, from one who now owns it. Friendship blossoms through the mutual pleasure of reading. Stories are spun in real life and real time…and the work takes flight.

I read it in such a dappled daze that there is not a single pencilled remark or underlined passage that I could quote for you. But I can say this with complete conviction:

If you are a reader of books, and moreover, if you love books, this one takes your hand, leads you to your favorite sofa, tucks you in, warms your heart, and soars your spirit.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Books in my life

The uncommon reader by Alan Bennett
I acquiesce to a friend's suggestion, and begin jotting in this blog, a few lines about books that I've read, am reading, or hope to read in the future. My reading habits are notoriously meandering, snagging at benevolent rocks, swishing through clumps of reeds, tickled by overhanging branches, running a short straight course, slowly stagnating in fanning deltas, amalgamating into the soup that holds aloft our collective and individual continents.

Books about books is a genre I warmed to late in life—thus qualifying as an opsimath. I came to it, of course, book by book, but once arrived, a whole new world lay ahead. I wandered onto this uncommon path by way of a genetic urge to collect. Philatelist father…bibliomaniac son. By the way, dad too was afflicted with the gentle madness once, till he passed it on to me. Not that I'm complaining! But about this journey, another time. Now about a little gem that I read, in one sitting, a few days ago, and then passed on to the missus of eclectic reading tastes, who, thank heavens, pronounced it 'unputdownable'.

The uncommon reader of Bennett's endearing work is none other than Queen Elizabeth, who stumbles upon books late in life. As she begins to be drawn into the world of books, her life changes, as do her views about people, administration and governance. Feeling and emotion towards fellow humans bloom in her, despite her equerries' disapproval. The immortal world of words casts its spell and Her Majesty begins to think about what she's reading, and begins to change subtly. Books begin to clarify her thinking, her development as a monarch and a human being…And through her charming infatuation, Bennett speaks about reading and books and their place in our evolution as humans. I'll leave you with a couple of quotes:

'The appeal of reading, she thought, lay in its indifference: there was something lofty about literature. Books did not care who was reading them or whether one read them or not. All readers were equal, herself included. Literature, she thought, is a commonwealth; letters a republic…books did not defer. All books were equal…[reading] was anonymous; it was shared; it was common. And she who had lived a life apart now found that she craved it. Here in these pages and between these covers she could go unrecognised.'