Title: I’d Rather Read: Your Favourite Authors on their Favourite Books
Subject Category: Contemporary/Non-Fiction
Reading this inspiring little book was such a wonderful experience and I’m grateful to the contributors and its editor Sudeshna Shome Ghosh. It was like sitting in a cosy room near a blazing fire listening to like-minded people. Being Chennai of course the fire was replaced by a cyclonic fan, but that didn’t matter because the fourteen book-loving contributors exude their own warmth and comfort. It was so helpful to be reminded that, in this crazy, fast-changing world, book lovers have resisted extinction unlike thousands of other species. These particular ones include my hero Abdul Kalam, heroine Sudha Murty, and many others, such as authors Roopa Pai, Jerry Pinto and Ruskin Bond. Space constraints limit me to the mention of some, but all the pieces are enjoyable and heart-warming. Indeed, I’d say one of the best is the Introduction, which tracks the book-love of the editor. It’s a book that will be enjoyed by a huge age range, all genders, and may even enlist non-readers into the fold when they witness the joy and emotional sustenance that “bookies” are privileged to access.
There’s the interweaving story of the struggle and victory of the reader; battling with economic, social, and homework challenges. Abdul Kalam endearingly says that he was “rather penniless” but managed to access books through his brother-in-law Jalaludin and other benefactors. A kind bookshop owner allowed him to borrow books for a small fee. His list of favourite books includes the Koran, the Gita and the Bible. One of his most endearing lines is: “Till today I read all sorts of books.” Wonderful Kalam, we need a few more of you.
As children, we were all masters of the trick of reading “storybooks” while pretending to be doing something legit, like homework or test prep or talking to guests. Like Subhadra Sen Gupta, I also found atlases very useful because their size effectively hid the smuggled storybook. Some of the contributors to this collection hid under beds, others resorted to pooja rooms, and this successful hiding and fooling adults of course added to the enjoyment of books. I found so many other shared experiences: Anita Nair’s Soviet books; madly copying the current favourite’s style in an attempt to be a “writer”; Jash Sen’s summons to her parents to come home and rescue her from The Hound of the Baskervilles; the friendly torch under the mattress that enabled Ruskin Bond to read old books, new books, classics, thrillers. Nilanjana Roy loved books so much that she ate them, starting with a small bit and finally devouring a whole page. She writes movingly about the feeling of liberation when she learned how to read some words at last; no more begging adults to read to you because the pages were full of black ants which said nothing. But then, that wonderful reward… “It was the sense of power, of owning some words at last after having to beg them from adults for so long. I turned the page and there were no more ants.”
But enough. You can read the rest of the inspiring experiences and memories for yourself.
There is a constant mourning of the fact that there aren’t enough books for Indian children, with Indian contexts. But hey, look at the joy and wealth that these Indian writers gleaned from the Empress of Blandings and Heidi and Katy and Enid Blyton’s humungous output, and William and The Coral Island and all our other favourites. William never tasted rice and dal but boy was he a part of my life! And as for Katy, she was a member of the family even though I called her Katty for a long time, until suitably enlightened by an American school friend. So, let’s not be too exercised about the need for an Indian tapestry; a good book has a universal tapestry that transcends geography. Roopa Pai is perhaps referring to this when she talks about the abiding popularity of Enid Blyton in spite of the politically incorrect gollywogs, sexism and such. After all she did live in a certain era, and that wasn’t her fault. Oh my, how we used to lend, and exchange, and fight over Enid Blytons!
Jerry Pinto says it best. His lovely poem “I’d Rather Read” ends with:
I won’t play in the team you lead.
I know it’s an eleventh man you need
I’d rather read.
Parents, take note of Abdul Kalam’s recommendations, and make readers of your children. That’s very different, mind you, from making them read.
Story/Content: 5/5 stars
Language: 5/5 stars
Design: 5/5 stars
Zai Whitaker writes for children and her books include Kali and the Rat Snake, Andamans Boy, and Cobra in My Kitchen. After teaching at the Kodai International School for eighteen years, she has returned to work at the Madras Crocodile Bank, which she helped established in 1976.