In the beginning, there was struggle; there was force, and always other things I could do. There was also the gross reality of it all; that it was just a hobby, something I took to when I had ample time, something I naturally do when I am waiting for somebody at coffee shops — one hand mindlessly yet knowingly stirring a white cup full to its brim with coffee, they say, but milk and froth actually; the other hand just so it can have something to do – a book, any book.
I will tell you the truth – there was always a part of me that thought it was too much effort. Reading is not easy. It cuts into a lot of things you could rather be doing. The first page is the hardest unless there’s sex. And then there are the devil things we call memories. And words that take you to these memories. I didn’t have the discipline and neither the self control to omit memories while reading. A sentence, and sometimes an image was enough to make me stop reading, and push me into seeing what the word represented about my past, and my life. More often than not, some are memories of things that have not happened yet but are events nonetheless because I have imagined them so much and so fiercely that they become an actual event and therefore a memory.
My eyes fall on these dead words like fingers to mouth when you are eating but don’t know what because you are watching something. So when I realise I haven’t understood a thing, I go back, reread and wonder how I managed to read and not read at the same time. This happens a dozen times before I frown at myself and make a serious attempt.
So when I struggled with reading practically all my life and began to really worry about what this meant only now, I came across the second half of Zadie Smith’s ‘On Beauty’. And then there was Sarah Waters and Rohini Mohan and as of today, Nabokov. Three books in two weeks is too good to be true, for me. I don’t know what did the trick, maybe it’s the urgent demand from myself to become a writer immediately, if there is such a thing. Maybe it’s to see if late bloomers can do it too, maybe it’s another lameass attempt at making up for lost time in Jain and everything I didn’t learn there. Whatever it is, I can’t complain now because I am happy. It could be better though.
With On Beauty, I paused and reread words I had read, took time to live in them, to think of my own stories where her lines could be altered and borrowed. There is just as much conversation as there is silence in that book. With Pnin, it was breathless. Not the writing, my reading I mean. Sentences that begin in the first line are punctured with commas before the full stop ends the trial at the end of some 10th line. I have a Pnin way of reading books now. With Rohini Mohan, there was anxiety propelled by the story, the plot, and the characters; all of which I had to cautiously balance with my need to pay attention to metaphors and narrative. This became an exercise in itself.
The curious mix of these books and the different kinds of reading they demanded from me in the past 2 weeks have somewhat made me less impatient, if not a better reader. And I am trying to see what it has done to my writing. Next up is Madame Bovary. The rule is to finish the first 25 pages in the first sitting. And seeing as how that hasn’t happened with this one, I am guessing it’s going to be a while.