There was a time when I used to read basically everything I could lay my hands on. From western/cowboy writers like Louis L’Amour, Zane Grey, Oliver Strange (the ‘Sudden’ series) to Harold Robbins, James Hadley Chase, Mario Puzo, Leon Uris, Robert Ludlum…… they were my constant companions. I recall once, during the height of my ‘reading phase’, making a list of all the books I read. Like most things connected to a ‘phase’, the list-making did not last for more than a month or so. But, as far as I can recall, the list added up to roughly five novels a week. No wonder I never really went beyond passing grades in school.
Apart from the time it took to read the novels (though I’m a fast reader), I look back and wonder at how, after finishing one novel, one always managed to get a fresh/new book/novel. The wonder of it all is that I do not remember having purchased any of the books I read in those days. We would just pass on the books we had read to the next person in exchange for an unread book. The other person would then pass on the book to another in exchange for another book and so on the system went. That my father and uncles and one of my aunties were great readers helped because I had a good source from where I could get books to exchange with other readers. Westerns were a great passion then and Louis L’Amour was (still is) my favorite western writer. I don’t know where my supply came from, but I think I managed to read each and every one of his westerns. Then there were those cowboy comics (‘Cowboy Adventure Library’, I think they were called), the war comics (‘War Picture Library’), the super heroes, Phantom/Mandrake/Flash Gordon (Indrajal Comics) and JS magazine which I religiously collected and read till it suddenly stopped. Then came Sun Magazine (weekly) with its posters of our various pop/rock idols which we religiously collected and pasted on our mud-walled rooms….
Reading, for me, has always been in phases. For some reason. There have been long periods, lasting from months to years even, when I don’t read anything apart from newspapers/magazines and then, suddenly, something triggers my ‘reading phase’ and I’m off on one of my reading trips where I jump from one book/novel to the next with hardly any break. I try to rationalize these phases by linking them to the amount of work or other preoccupations that I have in hand. Though my reading phases are linked to my office work and other schedules perforce, there are times when no amount of work or other preoccupations can pry me away from some particular book.
Then, a month after we landed in Tokyo, we discovered the Salvation Army which operates a huge ‘recycled’ (as they call second-hand/used materials here) store every Saturday from 9AM to 2PM. The store or shop is a huge hall half the size of a football field which opens at 9 sharp. People line up from around 8 in the morning to lay hands on the best bargains in town from TV sets, CDs, dresses, shoes, furniture, refrigerators, antiques, musical instruments to books and anything you can imagine which are sold at throw-away prices. Expats form the majority of the crowd with a sizeable number of locals as well as diplomats and, last week, I even saw an Ambassador browsing through the many offerings on sale. We have also become regulars at the shop, having already joined the diehard band of ‘Salvation Army Addicts’. The book section which boasts a very good collection of English books and novels is my favorite section along with their collection of CDs.
With one of my reading phases having been triggered by the Salvation Army shop, I have had the pleasure of going through a number of very good books during the past two-three months. Today being the first day of 2008 seems a good time to list some of the books I finally managed to lay my hands on and read in 2007:
The Grapes of Wrath & Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck made for enjoyable reading but somehow seemed dated and left me befuddled (if that’s the right word) at various points while reading them. But I can now boast that I have finally read these great novels written by the Nobel prize winning writer. Speaking of Nobel-prize winning writers, I also read VS Naipaul’s ‘Literary Occasions – Essays’ and fully enjoyed it. I had read his series on India (India: A Wounded Civilization) many years back which so precisely analyzed India and the Indian psyche and which I regard as one of the best books written on India. His ‘A Bend In The River’ was a novel that I stumbled on at a flea market in Maputo. Loosely based on real events in Mozambican history, it was another of Naipaul’s novels that I enjoyed.
The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger was another ‘known’ book that I finally read. Frankly, I just about managed to go through it and it left me wondering what the book was all about. I also finally got a copy of The Shogun by James Clavell. As gripping as his other novels like The Taipan, I thoroughly enjoyed the novel, based as it is on Japanese history.
The Heart of the Matter, a collection of original short stories written by various writers from NE India including Mizo, Manipuri, Khasi and Assam writers translated into English was a true revelation and thoroughly enjoyable, proving for one that there is no dearth of talented writers (and translators) in the NE. I also finally got a copy of Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus by John Gray. Very insightful and made for an enjoyable read but I got sidetracked somewhere in the middle and haven’t finished it yet. Which, I suppose, means I would have to start from the beginning again to really benefit from the book. Because, in the meantime, I can’t for the life of me recall any of the advice the good doctor had very painstakingly put in the book for better relations between men and women. Further proof that men are from Mars? J
I also finally managed to read The Zahir, a novel by Paulo Coelho. After having been bombarded with recommendations of his previous novels such as The Alchemist from some friends, I found the pace and storyline somewhat of a letdown. Maybe I was expecting too much, I don’t know.
And these are some of the goodies awaiting me: Falling Slowly by Anita Brookner, Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks, East is West by John Delp, The Art of War by Sun Tzu…..
Happy New Year everyone, and happy reading.