Reading a good book can be an intense and life-changing experience. Passionate readers treat books like lovers.
When someone asks me to recommend a good book, I feel painfully responsible, as reading to me is an intensely personal experience. It’s almost like someone asking me to recommend a good lover. An intense engagement with a really good book is no less than a passionate affair; it engages the mind and emotions and distracts one from all else for the time it lasts. And when finished, it leaves behind a vacuum, an ache of loneliness, loads of thoughts, and life-changing lessons to be learned.
Of course, not every book can achieve this impact, but many do and these are the ones where the author has been as intensely involved in the writing as you in reading it. When in the middle of a really good book, I tend to carry it everywhere with me. It’s like I can’t let it go even if I don’t get the time to read; its physical presence comforts me with its hint of a promise of a good time ahead. As I work in an office, the book is in my bag next to me, while cooking, it watches me from atop the microwave; as I eat, it is right next to my placemat and as I sleep, it nestles next to my pillow. I confess that I have often mused about an invention that allows you to read as you shower.
Wait, this is going to get stranger. Inexplicably, if anyone opens the book to where I am reading it, I feel violated, almost as if someone has eavesdropped on a private conversation. Well, maybe not so strange, because I do have the habit of marking passages and of writing my thoughts in the margins as I read along. When I read a good thought or a beautifully constructed sentence, I like to keep down my book and savor the thought for quite some time, as you do with wine, enjoying the swirl, of its silken seductive warmth in the mouth, allowing it to deliciously slide down the throat and then stay awhile with the aftertaste. People sympathize with me over the long drive to and from the office, but frankly, I look forward to the hours I get to read. Books also make me an asocial travel companion. I normally put on my most forbidding look while traveling to prevent men from trying to chat me up or women from trying to figure out the state of my marriage and general well being.
My preoccupation with what I’m reading makes me a dreamer, yes, but those around me indulge this habit and have learned to live with the sight of me mooning around the house with my book of the moment.
After a good book ends, I cannot possibly start another for some time. Sometimes the impression left behind lingers so intensely that I need to treat it with a few quick reads the kind that is more entertaining and mindless, rather than engaging and mindful. And then, I’m ready for the next big one.
It pains me to hear that the reading habit is dying out. I want my children to inculcate the habit of reading for all the conventional reasons, reading makes you smarter, more knowledgeable, improves vocabulary and writing skills, helps analytical thinking, is therapeutic, makes one empathetic, improves memory, reduces stress, and prevents Alzheimer’s. But I also want them to read for the very reasons I enjoy it. I want them to feel the pleasure, the pain, the indulgence, and the expansion of mind that a good read brings. And I want them to know and feel the silence that comes after ingesting a really good book.
And yes, for all those who ask me to lend them my book after I am through it, please understand it won’t happen, at least, not for the books I have engaged so intensely with. I may buy you a fresh copy of the same, but share or lend mine? Not likely. Remember how I look at a good book?