Book thoughts

So I read this blog post elsewhere, and it made me think. I suggest you go read it first. If you don’t want to know what I think, you don’t have to come back. It’s a fine article in itself.

Back? OK.

70 books a year is not a bad goal at all, and means that I should read about 6 books a month. Some people would say it’s an ambitious number, but it’s do-able, provided you do not select 900-page tomes all the time. But to quantify something like a to-read list is sobering, in a way. It draws needless attention to your mortality, and snubs all your claims of being “well-read”. I mean, seriously, at this rate, you are going to do a mere 1400 books in 20 years. It shows you how stupid your “best-of” lists are.

The other thing that a number like this fails to take into account is rereads. One of my long-term goals was to read my favorite books all over again. I am rereading The Count of Monte Cristo at the moment. I was planning to begin reading Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn and Little Women after I finish this, but the heart yearns for more Dumas. Others on the shortlist: His Dark Materials.  Lee Siegel’s Love in a Dead Language. From Balham to Bollywood. Let’s not even talk about comics and manga – there are too many on the reread pile at the moment. Do rereads count in the number put forth in the post? Needless information: the version of the Dumas classic that I am reading shows 1793 pages on the iPad. I am on page 499 at the moment, having spent about 2 days on it.

It’s somewhat coincidental that I came across this relevant quote in Monte Cristo. In the section where Abbe Faria meets Edmond Dantes for the first time and dazzles him with his wisdom, he also has this to say about reading and knowledge:

In Rome, I had nearly five thousand volumes in my library. By reading and re-reading them, I discovered that one hundred and fifty books, carefully chosen, give you, if not a complete summary of human knowledge, at least everything that is useful for a man to know. I devoted three years of my life to reading and rereading those one hundred and fifty volumes. I could recite you the whole of Thucyides, Xenophon, Plutarch, Livy, Tacitus, Strada, Jornades, Dante, Montaigne, Shakespeare, Spinoza, Machiavelli, and Bossuet.  Observe, I merely quote the most important names and writers.

This makes me shudder a little, to think that 150 books are all that matter. That can’t be right. Right?

I am focusing on Step Five right now. Random Web surfing wasted a lot of read-time. You know it, I know it, everyone knows it.

I totally disagree with Step Three. I need to read multiple books at the same time, the more different the better. Often, I find myself switching from one book to the other in a single sitting, and it makes me appreciate both the books better, gives my mind more time to digest whatever I’ve read and be a little more excited about reading. It’s a kind of Attention Deficit Disorder thingie, but it always works for me.


4 thoughts on “Book thoughts

  1. Amulya says:

    The first time I encountered The Count.. was in school. An excerpt of his prison break. Gulmohar English. 7th standard. I fell madly in love with Edmond Dantes :) Oh, the throes of young love.

    But I disagree with step one itself. To speed read is to not read a book. You render the craft useless by merely skimming its surface. A well-written book is a carefully curated library of words, images, feelings. To pick, and choose which words to keep, and which to skip, is an art. This is why a visit to the library always leaves me distracted. The books I didn’t take.

    My point is, the starting point itself is wrong then. To speed read, is to know what you want from a book, beforehand. You will never find serendipity, then.

    A Wodehouse, for example, would be offended that you haven’t taken the time to relish his word play. The bugger prollie spent a good few days on something that you sacrificed, eager to get to how Bertie Wooster’s aunt showed up. You would be spurning Marquez – that you haven’t reciprocated his tender offering of a complex sentence that winds down a long and scenic road.

    I find it odd to set yourself a goal of X no. of books. You listen to music, write long letters, marry and read for love. Whoever said wisdom comes in a set number of books? For so many of us, just the Mahabharatha and its countless subplots and versions, is enough. Books tell you what you need to know at whatever time of life you are in. And this is a variable, that depends heavily on how much you read. If you’ve read 10,000 books by now, chances are, you’ve had 10,000 lessons. At least.

    I’ve had times in life when the reverse has happened. The lesson first, the experience next. I have done things, unconsciously, and made books come true. Yeah, weird. But I digress.

    I envy that you can read many books at the same time. I can’t. I’m always itching to finish one fellow off, like it’s love in white heat. Consume and burn and die a singular death with one book at a time.

    And step six – I do a little more.
    Sure, I have a set of books I want to read/own. And then there are the books I pick up because I find the plots, blurbs, beginnings, middles, author intros so fascinating. I discovered Ha Jin, Upamanyu Chatterjee (ok, fine, after English August), and even (slightly embarrassed for prior-ignorance) Philip Roth like this.

    So. Yeah. *Ahem*. Well. Sorry for the cliche, I can’t think of a better ending to this rant.
    Happy reading :)

  2. John McCrea says:

    Hi Satya.
    Wonderful snowflakes drift lazily, slowly, drunkenly earthward and I cast my lazy, bored eye over your post and think, what if, what then.
    What if? What then?
    Books are read. But some books are not. We are actually in a cosmic balletic operatic ovulating throbbing feel of words. Words, man. F**king words. Did I say words?
    Don’t speed read them, fool.
    Someone writerly, literally, literarirly, Jaipur Litfestarily wrote these words, strung them together one after the other, composed them, one drunken, brave, awkward-asking-you-out-but-not-quite-but-maybe-I-am-after-all traipse of a pose of literaurely bravura that you gotta stand back and applaud, stand back and applaud and weep, stand back, applaud, weep and then shed copious, mothafuckin odious, odomos-esque mosquito repelling tears of joy and just soak in the stratospheric, atmospheric magic realistic, magical realistical joyous feelings of….feelings, where the f*** did this sentence start and where is it ending and just give me a booker-your-mom’s-a-hooker-prize already alright?
    And you wanna speed read them? Fuck is wrong with you?
    Satya, I wanna come clean.
    Once upon a time, I read As in, red, fool. And then I read some more. And then I red so much that I glowed like a magenta fucking setting sun on a distant Martian summer evening where Ray Bradbury-esque gusts of inspiration carried me far and wide into a wonderful world of slow reading, slowly reddening, deeply maddening, infinite confounding, infinitesimal particles of acid jazzed, self-aware bundle of words, of feelings, of like, pure, wondaful, supadupa emoshuns that made me cry buckets of self-aware tears.
    Now I just watch youtube, man. And that’s the coffee-ground-bitter-truth-of-it-all, Satya. Everything you wanna read has been pithily captured in a moving sequence of quite literally moving images and sounds that bring shame to your archaic, arachnaic (fuck is this not a word??) bundle of meanignless shapes and forms that magickally assemble themselves into like, magical bundles of words. F**king words.
    In the end, Satya, John McCrea is right and you should sell all your Hitman pages to your friends. Or even better, gift them. Which is totally the rule #0 of reading comics. Love your friends. Give them Hitman pages.

  3. Pingback: Another Book Meme | Angst In My Pangst

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