My tastes as a reader have largely been shaped by The Hindu Literary Review, a monthly literary supplement of The Hindu. Of its many perceptive voices over the years, Pradeep Sebastian’s has been the one that has consistently conveyed, with infectious enthusiasm through his column, Endpaper, the sheer joy of being a reader and a bibliophile.
Here he is on reading Anne Fadiman’s Rereadings:
In her witty and perceptive foreword, she lists the essential differences between reading and rereading: “The former had more velocity, the latter had more depth. The former shut out the world in order to focus on the story; the latter dragged in the world in order to assess the story. The former was more fun, the latter was more cynical. But what was remarkable about the latter was that it contained the former… ” Nobody gets to the heart of rereading the way Ann Fadiman can; with her characteristically witty and eloquent style she notes: “If a book read when young is a lover, then the same book, reread later on is a friend. This may sound like a demotion, but after all, it is old friends, not old lovers, to whom you are most likely to turn when you need comfort. Fatigue, grief and illness call for familiarity, not innovation.”
And on rereading Rereadings:
I looked at the jacket cover of the book I was re-reading and noted with amusement that it was titled Rereadings. When I picked this book from my shelf, I knew I had not only read it but that I had even reviewed it. And yet I couldn’t resist taking a quick second peek —there was one essay in there that I wanted to re-read, but I soon found myself reading more. Here were 17 contemporary writers revisiting books they love (with Ann Fadiman bringing them together as the book’s editor) and here I was revisiting what they were revisiting!
Fadiman’s anthology isn’t only about the joys of re-reading but also its snares. You could discover, for instance, that re-reading a favourite book no longer offers that thrill of mysterious connection you once felt. Still, re re-reading Rereadings (!) I wondered if this wasn’t the most ideal way to read books? To know one book well than to know many peripherally seems like something worth pursuing.
On Helene Hanff’s 84 Charing Cross Road, he has this to say:
SOMETIMES I think if book lovers around the world know why and how they love books, it’s because of Helene Hanff’s 84 Charing Cross Road. It was the first entry in a genre that is now called Books About Books. Before 84, there were small essays on browsing for books in old bookshops in various anthologies but this was the first book that recorded — wittily, affectionately and accurately — what books really meant to a passionate reader. 84 is also about our almost sacred love for second-hand books and bookshops. Hanff spoke for book lovers everywhere when she wrote: “I do love second-hand books that open to the page some previous owner has read oftenest. The day Hazlitt came he opened to `I hate to read new books’, and I hollered `Comrade!’ to whoever opened it before me.” Elsewhere in the book she says: “I love inscriptions on flyleaves and notes in margins, I like the comradely sense of turning pages someone else turned, and reading passages some one long gone has called my attention to.”
In 2010, Pradeep Sebastian collected the best of his Endpaper columns into a delightful book called The Groaning Shelf and Other Instances of Book Love.