Reading has always been one of my favourite pastimes. As a kid, I didn’t just read books, I devoured them. My earliest memory of reading is of Bimbo and Topsy (in the good old days when ‘bimbo’ was a cat’s name and nothing else), a book I read so many times, I could quote the entire thing from memory. I don’t even know if I was old enough to properly read back then, or if someone read the book to me, but even then, I knew books would hold an important place in my life.
I loved reading, and through most of my teenage life, I did it in spades. I wasn’t always reading quality stuff (*cough* Sweet Valley High), but I never got bored. The mini-bookstore/library across the road from school became my hiding spot after school hours. I would deliberately ask my Automan to pick me up on the second trip back home so I could spend more time picking out a book (or in the case of popular books that needed payment, reading it on the spot so I could finish it before someone borrowed it). I remember feeling guilty for having to pay 40 rupees to read Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the agonising wait and the uninhibited joy at finally being able to hold the beautiful, ginormous book in my hands. I even enjoyed reading for school. (One year, we had to read The Scarlet Pimpernel, but predictably, some kids started spoiling the ending for those who were trying to take it slow by shouting it in the corridors. It was one of those times reading ahead came in really handy. I shudder to think what would have happened if the last few Harry Potter books had been released during those times… it would have been a bloodbath.)
Suffice to say, I was a bookworm through my school years. And then, of course, adulthood set in and with it, the usual excuses people give for not being able to read. University life was all about attending lectures and tutorials (I wasn’t the bunking type), being stuck in lab and using whatever little free time I had to be social. Unfortunately, the internet also stepped up around that time, and YouTube and Facebook became better ways to be anti-social (at least you could still be in touch with friends by recommending videos or scribbling on their “walls”, even though they were next door) than reading, and the habit slipped.
I only realised how much I missed the feel of a good book in my hands when I started working. Of course, that was also the time I realised that it’s possible to come home after a day of work so tired, you want to do nothing but crawl into bed and sleep forever. Naturally, reading took a backseat. Demoted to the boot, even. By this time, I was a permanent resident of Singapore, and could therefore use the library facilities for a very, very nominal amount (practically free), but I rarely did, because there was no way I could finish a book in a matter of weeks when I only had time to read in the evenings after work. Reading, however light it is, requires a functioning brain, and in those days, work left me so exhausted, I couldn’t imagine doing it on a regular basis.
And so the months went by, and every time I thought of getting back into reading, my workload seemed to double. There was a short period of time when a couple of friends and I tried to reignite our dwindling passions by starting a book club. It went disastrously because none of us took the initiative to head it, and because everyone’s work schedule was so different, we just couldn’t coordinate our reading ones. Some people would finish their book early and have to wait a long time for others to catch up, or we’d spend an inordinate amount of time deciding what to read because of our varied history, and it was all just too much work to be successful.
A few years ago, I joined Goodreads, which made a significant difference to my reading habits. Goodreads is great for people who love reading, people who’re into compulsively keeping track of stuff and people who are incapable of making decisions about what to read next. I fall right in the middle of that Venn diagram, so it’s perfect for me. (You should be able to see the Goodreads widget somewhere on this homepage.) Another good motivator was moving in with Sujata, who, at least during the period she was my housemate, read at alarming rates. Watching her torpedo through a dozen books a month made me realise I could make time for reading if I wanted. She also introduced me to the Game of Thrones series, which was just the push I needed to come out of retirement.
Last year, I went one step further in cementing the habit. While adding already read books to Goodreads, I’d realised that I couldn’t remember whether or not I’d read certain books, and in some cases, I knew I’d read a book, but couldn’t remember the content in any detail. I decided that to make my reading a more conscious effort, I’d write reviews for everything I read (didn’t matter if it was three lines or a properly formatted review, as long as I’d written some words about the book), and it’s been going great so far. Every once in a while, I read a book that’s not easily reviewable, and spend the second half of the book worrying about what I’ll write, but it always sort of works out in the end, and the entire process makes me remember the books in much greater detail.
My challenge for the year is to read 10 books, and I think I’ll be able to manage that decently, especially with all the free time I have now. I was a little worried when I left Singapore that I wouldn’t have access to a proper library here in my little South Indian city, but I needn’t have worried. Singapore offers mobile versions of its library, and it takes me very little effort to (legally) download an ebook from their vast collection. In some ways, it’s even more convenient than borrowing books from the physical building, though nothing will beat the feeling of sitting in a cool, quiet corner of a large library and burying yourself in a good book.
It feels so good to be reading again. Even now, I don’t spend more than an hour a day on it, and I’m not always reading books I love, but it’s nice just to know that I’m expanding my world view and exposing myself to good writing. I’m also getting to the point where I’m happy to experiment with genres I wouldn’t normally have approached a few years ago. I hope I never lose the habit again or become too intimidated with the pressures of “real life” to pick up a book, but more so, I hope I never stop enjoying reading. My next goal is to try and surround myself with more people who enjoy it, too, and maybe give that book club idea a second shot.
And if, after reading this, you find yourselves inclined to dust off that book you’ve been meaning to read for the longest time, and get through a few pages, I’ll consider that a small step in the right direction.