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.
- 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.)
- A few years ago I read the first part of Don Quixote and the first novella in Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy, City of Glass, in close proximity. For those who do not know, the latter contains a surprisingly playful and intriguing mini-dissertation on Cervantes’s masterpiece.
- 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?