Notes on Reading: Varieties of Reading Experience!

Over the years I’ve come to realise that I read a book or, more generally, a class of books best when I’m truly ready for them. How do I know if I’m truly ready? Or rather how do I become ready? This seems to happen when:

  • I read an infectiously enthusiastic review or commentary that leaves me craving a book or a class of books.
  • I read (and enjoy) a book of non-fiction writings that occupies the same thematic space as a set of works of fiction.
  • I somehow manage to finish reading a book so representative of its thematic class that I’m hooked and am compelled to read all of them, or at least as many of them as I possess or can lay my hands on.
  • I happen to observe another reader lost in a good book.

For instance:

  • I bought John Crowley’s Little, Big on the strength of Harold Bloom’s essay in The Book That Changed My Life: 71 Remarkable Writers Celebrate the Books That Matter Most to Them. It did take a while for me to sink into it. During that time, I had discovered Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and Robertson Davies’s Fifth Business. Shortly after having finished Little, Big, I had also worked up an appetite for Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. And then, in less than a couple of months of discontinuous but sustained reading, I had devoured the García Márquez, the Davies, and the Murakami. (If memory serves right, in that exact order. There’s something there.) Little, Big had helped me crack a set of books loosely linked by magic (sur)realism…
  • Margaret Atwood’s excellent collection of essays on (mostly) dystopian science fiction, In Other Worlds, put me in the right frame of mind to approach her MaddAddam Trilogy—I started lapping up Oryx and Crake the moment it came in the mail. And then The Year of the Flood. And then MaddAddam. What a ride!
  • I was compelled to take a reluctant break from my MaddAddam marathon when I couldn’t lay my hands on The Year of the Flood. This interlude proved to be a blessing—I finally got around to reading Hope Mirrlees’s Lud-in-the-Mist and A.S. Byatt’s Possession, two books that have much in common: Fairy Tales, Detective Stories, Christina Rossetti (on whom Byatt’s Christabel LaMotte is modelled and whose Goblin Market is said to be one of Mirrlees’s inspirations), and Literary Theory.
  • Having meant to read Terry Pratchett for a long time, I finally bought and read and loved The Colour of Magic after having noticed a girl engrossed in it on a bus-ride from Chennai to Bangalore! (In retrospect, I know that she was reading a single-volume TV-adaptation-tie-in-edition of The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic. It had a rather Gandalfy looking Rincewind on the cover. And a Twoflower who didn’t quite seem to have four eyes.)
  • Most recently, I went from Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter’s The Long Earth to Pratchett’s Thief of Time and The Wee Free Men to Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane. This has left me with a renewed interest in Fairy Tales. And at the moment I’m particularly intrigued by J.M. Barrie’s take on them in Peter Pan and Wendy (Never read it in full as a kid).

And right now, Isabella Kratynski’s writings have whipped me into a delightful frenzy over China Miéville’s novels. I don’t know if I’ll be launching into a Miéville marathon and go from Perdido Street Station to Embassytown to Kraken. But I’ll keep you posted!

Have you had any such reading experiences?

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3 Responses to Notes on Reading: Varieties of Reading Experience!

  1. Stefanie says:

    I just finished Perdido Street Station a week ago and can vouch that it is fantastic. 🙂

    • Surendran says:

      Now that I have enthusiastic recommendations both from you and Isabella, I have no reason to put off reading it other than the fact that I’m in the middle of Embassytown at the moment!

  2. Kitsune says:

    I used to consume a huge amount of books during my teenage years, partially due to requirements and partially due to my infinite curiosity. Now I feel grateful and fortunate that my school forced me to read many good books that I would not have read at the time on my own initiative. My fiction reading decreased in my 20s, and I do not read much fiction now, but I do read a huge amount of non-fiction and professional literature.

    In terms of “being ready”, for me it is all very calculated. I’ll look at a potential book, examine the reviews, read the synopsis, then assess whether it is worth my time. Now most of my time is spent on writing rather than reading.

    Nevertheless, sometimes a book can come into your life just at the right time. That happened recently to me. I thought, “Why? Why after all these years of searching, reading, contemplating I did not discover this book earlier?” Well, it just might be the case that I was not quite ready for it in terms of my development. Reading something at the right period of your life can have a substantial impact, just as reading something intended for a younger audience may not bring you the same level of joy and insight as it may for the right reader.

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