My pile of books

Ask anyone, why doesn’t he read books. In comes reply. ‘I don’t have time… Books are expensive… I don’t know what to read… Reading keeps me awake at night… Reading brings me to sleep… Reading is too hard… I just never got into the habit… Can’t I just watch the movie???, and all that trash. Heavy readers grow up to derive pleasure from reading & appreciate the libraries, big and small, and bookstores splattered here and there. Those that don’t read, don’t understand what could make a ‘booky’ want to obsess over books, and how could, for him, when stuck at home, books become his something go-to. For those that don’t get hooked to books, can reading be so helpful in one’s life? Though reading might seem like simple fun, it can be important for reasons that even the avid readers themselves don’t know.

When someone else’s thoughts are in your head, you’re observing the world from that person’s vantage point. Not only are you taking in sights and sounds that you couldn’t experience firsthand, but you’ve also stepped inside that person’s mind and are temporarily sharing his/her attitudes and reactions. Stepping into someone else’s vantage point reminds you that the other fellow has a first-person, present-tense ongoing stream of consciousness that’s very much like your own but not the same as your own. The books that you choose to read are your preference. It’s easy to enjoy books when you’re merely reading for pleasure. But a chief factor seems to be the household one’s born into and the culture of reading that parents create within it. Reading will seem more like chocolate cake if it’s something that parents themselves take part in happily and regularly.

I owe my love for books primarily to my mother. While we’re still toddlers/preteens she’d read us storybooks, Islamic anecdotes, Ikhlaqi kahanian, biographies of prophets, Aesop’s fables, besides magazines like khilona, shama, shabistan, Urdu newspapers, Reader’s Digest, and some weekly/monthly English magazines. She wouldn’t serve breakfast until we read Quran in the morning. It wasn’t long before we knew names like Shakespeare, Dickens, Chaucer, Wordsworth, Hardy, Kant, James Austin, Bernard Shah, courtesy of our well-educated father. As we entered into teens my elder brother, managed to get his hands on Urdu novels, authored by Gulshan Nanda, Anis Mirza, Sadiq Sardhanvi, Nasim Hijazi, Manto, etc. besides detective novels by Ibne-Safi, H. Iqbal, and Dracula horror by Bram Stoker. Books were available for rent. We’d finish reading them in one sitting, even if it meant staying awake throughout the night. We won’t mind trekking miles to the SPS library at Lal Mandi to borrow books. For ghala-dhar shops, in Kalamdan-pora, in the interior city, we’re regular customers for old/used (radhii) magazines, storybooks, and novels.

Information center at Residency road stocked up English newspapers and magazines. While we visited the center regularly we’d occasionally buy Illustrated Weekly, Filmfare, Sportsweek, Science Reporter, Competition Success, and so on. As we’re still in teens, my elder-brother, used sleight-of-his-hand to grab English novels. James Hadley Chase, Herald Robbins, Ian Fleming, Fredrick Forsyth, Irwin Wallace, Arthur Hailey, Irving Wallace, Alistair Maclean, Sidney Sheldon, Dominique Lapierre, Larry Collins, Michael Crichton were some of the authors that we’re crazy about. Hawking, Dale Carnegie, Wayne Dyer, Alvin Toffler, Desmond Morris, Theodore Levitt, Thomas Friedman, R K Narayan, Khushwant Singh, M J Akbar, Gurcharan Das, Orwell, Gladwell that we read during our thirties were soon replaced by Matt Ridley, Jared Diamond, Thomas Gray, Allan Pease, Peter Diamandis, Ray Kurzweil, Steven Pinker, , Daniel Golman, Tapscott, Nick Bostrum, Max Tegmark, Randall Manroe, Thaler, Daniel Kahneman, Dawkins, Haikal, Karen Armstrong, Ziaudin Sardar, Akbar Ahmed, Raza Aslan, Kaplan, Ahmed Rashid, Harari, Frans de Waal, Sapolsky, besides economic/business/political magazines and English dailies.

After marriage, most of my contemporaries discontinued reading. Hats off to my wife; she continues to tolerate my books. Having seen their bibliophage father buried in books, for children everything I speak is bookish. They strongly believe their book-smart papa derives knowledge from book-learning, which’s polar-different from the practical experience of a street-smart. Nevertheless, they, privately admire that reading sharpens mind, imagination, and writing skills. Once in a coon’s age, children may oblige me by reading a book that I recommend. They’d rather me send them a half-a-page review of the book instead of bothering them to read. Even though I WhatsApp them the clips of important passages/pages from the books I read, I really wonder if they ever care to read them. (Readers may visit the comic strip, https://ghazalqadri.com/papa-loves-mama-books).

Reading the way I always did, as-a-kid—sprawled-on-a-bed, on-my-back-on-the-floor, under-the-covers-with-a-flashlight, channeled that sense-of-wonder, curiosity, absorption, and innocence, into creating a cubbyhole/reading-nook to provide me a sense of safety/protection. Having since discovered my niche with the popular e-readers, I enjoy my reading time anywhere in any format. Amazon’s Doppelganger-marketing has been of great help to me in shopping books in paper, kindle & audio-book formats. It’s wonderful to hear a voice in my ear that isn’t my own. Though I’m the least multitasked while driving, nonetheless, when I listen to audio-books I simultaneously jog, exercise, or do chores. Having embraced audio-books, e-readers and screens I still prefer paper.

Audio-books & screens, fail to adequately recreate tactile experiences of reading on paper. I forget what I read when I’m done. Text on screens is intangible, ephemeral, and not part of the device’s hardware. A reader of digital text might scroll through a seamless stream of words, tap forward one page at a time or use the search function to immediately locate a particular phrase, but it’s difficult to see anyone passage in the context of the entire text. The superior topography (left and right pages plus eight corners), the ability to show where the book begins and ends, and how far one has traveled after flipping through pages make text in a paper book easily navigable. One feels the paper and ink (& underlining/highlighting a sentence), smoothness or fold of a page with one’s fingers & the distinctive sound when pages are turned. People expect books to look, feel, and even smell a certain way. When they don’t, the discrepancies create haptic-dissonance to dissuade people from using e-readers. The convenience of a slim portable e-reader outweighs any attachment they might have to the feel of paper-books.