Books are a big part of my life. I love books and read anything I can get my hands on. While some may call my taste eclectic, others will be quite right to call it indiscriminate. I find that books offer me a lens into the world and human behavior and I appreciate different angles and viewpoints. So, I do not feel any need to distinguish between high-brow literature and low-brow pulp fiction. I do have to admit that in recent years I have chosen to not finish a book, if I feel a lack of connection with it.
I recently read Pat Conroy’s My Reading Life and am now in the process of reading Arnold Weinstein’s Morning, Noon and Night – Finding the Meaning of Life’s Stages Through Books. Both are books that provoke thoughts about being a reader. They are both books that remind me that reading is not just passive consumption but, ideally, the intersection of two thinking minds.
This brings me to the point that I want to note down today. My appreciation of a book has often depended a lot on my life situation. While we speak of great books and classics that will stand the test of time, I believe a reader can enjoy and appreciate a book only if they are in the right state-of-mind for it. My personal example is Lord of the Rings. I read the books in my late teens, and I honestly cannot remember whether I just stopped with The Fellowship or if I did try The Two Towers. Suffice it to say, I did not complete the trilogy and whenever talk of the books came up, I said that I did not understand the big fuss about Tolkien. Friends have looked at me pityingly. Then came Peter Jackson and the 21st century re-canonization of the trilogy and I picked up the books again. This time I read it from a different perspective. I know, you may well think I was seduced by Jackson’s visualization and there is some truth to it. But I am a ‘the book is better than the movie’ kinda girl and so I picked up the books to find why the films worked for me. Tolkien’s richly imagined Middle Earth and the dark fascination of the ring resonated with me in a way that my younger self just did not appreciate.
Am I saying you have to be older and wiser to get some books? NO. I revered Thomas Hardy as a literature student. I am not inclined to pick up a Hardy much these days. I think we are open to certain experiences in life at certain times. Much like meeting the right person at the right time, our level of enjoyment of literature depends on when we meet a book in the course of our personal journey. This philosophy helps me take a different attitude to reading even though it makes me a poor book critic – I can’t easily dismiss any book because it may just mean I am not right for the book!