My Encounter with Books and other Reading…

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That’s my study table and the stack of books I have NOT read! ๐Ÿ™‚

I wish I were a superhero!

You know the ones kids like me worship (I am the quintessential Peter Pan, never growing up!).  I wish I had the combined powers of my childhood favourites Phantom, Mandrake and Flash Gordon! Then I would not have to worry about the small niggles of life, and concentrate solely on saving the world! ๐Ÿ˜€

As a kid, I first encountered The Phantom or โ€œThe Ghost Who Walksโ€ in the comic strips published in The Telegraph (not the London newspaper; this one is published from Calcutta). It was….hero worship at first sight! Boy, can you imagine what it meant to a 6-year-old to meet someone who had 2 guns and who could fire them simultaneously and never miss!

The comic strips published in The Telegraph were probably my first encounter with leisure reading. As is my nature, initially I wanted the easy way out, and would ask my mom to read it out for me… till the day, she decided enough was enough and said, โ€œEither you read it on your own, or you donโ€™t.โ€ After a few days of tantrums, the rebellion petered out and I was on my own, reading all the adventures of the superheroes from this world and beyond! I was well and truly hooked.

Next up were the wonderful creations of Enid Blyton, The Famous Five. I still remember the first one I read: Five Run Away Together, in the fifth standard. I too dreamt of running away to my version of Kirrin Island and eating all those wonderful sounding food items which as an Indian kid growing up in the pre-satellite TV age, I had never heard of, leave alone eat. Jam Tart, Treacle Tart, Sardine Sandwich, Scones, Bacon, Sausages, Ginger Beer and what not!

As I grew up and reached mid-teens, I also discovered Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew and The 3 Investigators. I lapped it all up. This continued till the 8th standard. Then my father gifted me The Complete Works of Sherlock Holmes. The first one I read was The Hound of the Baskervilles. I still remember that after reading it, for days I would be so scared to go to any dark place, even to the toilet! This was during my schoolโ€™s summer vacation, and I would literally shiver in the afternoon sweltering heat, while reading the story. Now that I look back in time, I realise that my entire school years, I would only read mystery and adventure stories. No fairy tales for me! ๐Ÿ™‚

The next phase shift happened after my 10th standard. A book named โ€œOf Human Bondageโ€ written by a certain Somerset Maugham came in my possession and changed my reading habit completely. I consider it Maughamโ€™s not just longest but also the most boring. Of course itโ€™s a masterpiece, but I really struggled to finish it, especially the part where he stays in Paris. After that there was no looking back. I would have finished reading each of his short stories, and most of his novels, in the next 3-4 years. I still consider him my favourite. It is rumoured that Maugham was once considered for the Nobel Prize, but did not win it, as he was considered too popular! Imagine that!

Around that time, I also saw the BBC production of Middlemarch on TV. I liked it and read up a few books written by George Eliot, viz. Adam Bede, Felix Holt, the Radical and of course Middlemarch. For the uninitiated, George Eliotโ€™s real name was Mary Ann Evans, but she wrote under a male name, so that her work would be taken seriously!

The one good fortune I have had my entire life, is that different people have recommended various books, and I was meek enough to take the advice and in turn fortunate enough to have read a good variety of books.

I still remember that summer afternoon, when I was browsing books in the British Council Library. There was this elderly lady beside me. She looked at me, and suddenly took out a book from the shelf and said, โ€œThis is a very good book for boys your ageโ€. It was โ€œOut of the Shelterโ€ by David Lodge. I never saw the lady again, but to this day, I am grateful to her for recommending that wonderful book.

Somewhere down the line, the mix of reading became more diverse. My high school physics tutor introduced me to โ€œSurely you are joking, Mr. Feynmanโ€ by the Physicist and Nobel laureate, Richard Feynman and to Gabriel Garcia Marquezโ€™s โ€œOne Hundred Years of Solitudeโ€. My mom encouraged me to read Daphne Du Maurierโ€™s classics like Rebecca, Jamaica Inn and my favourite, Hungry Hill (you must must read it!). I read a few books on the holocaust, notable amongst them, โ€œInside the third Reichโ€ by Albert Speer. This got me interested in a subject, I used to abhor during my school days- History! If you are interested in history of the Middle East, I would recommend โ€œFrom Beirut to Jerusalemโ€ by Thomas Friedman, the Pulitzer Prize winner, who probably is more famous for his book โ€œThe World Is Flatโ€. I still have not read that one! Try out โ€œHistory of the Sikhs – Vol. I & IIโ€ by Khushwant Singh, if you want something about Indian history.

Off late though, I spend more time buying books than reading them. With most of my time consumed in editing the photos I click and counting the number of โ€œlikesโ€ they get, I only get time to read magazines!

And the lack of time ensures that I take ages to finish any book I start. Quite a fall for someone, who never misses the chance to brag about how he finished The Fountainhead, in a single day! ๐Ÿ˜€

For last one month, I have been reading โ€œThe River of Smokeโ€ by Amitav Ghosh( one of my favourite authors) and re-reading The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks, the New York based Neuro-surgeon, whose books deal with unique medical cases he dealt with. Both are excellent books. I also strongly recommend Hungry Tide and Sea of Poppies (first part to River of Smoke) by Amitav Ghosh.

But, if asked to pick the most enjoyable phase of my reading journey, I would pick the adventures of The Famous Five. Enid Blyton had this way with words, which captures your imagination for good…. I want to have a Treacle Tart right now! ๐Ÿ™‚

What kind of books do YOU enjoy reading?

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41 thoughts on “My Encounter with Books and other Reading…

  1. Wow, your reading list is so impressive!! I can understand that as a child you enjoyed Phantom so much, maybe it’s a boy thing, but I wasn’t so hooked to it, so you are the first one I know who finds it fascinating! ๐Ÿ™‚ (I preferred the minty Phantom cigarettes!! Do you remember them?) I wish I could get my hands on a few of the books you have mentioned, they sound very interesting! As a child, in my 8th standard, I read a riveting book called ‘Flowers for Miss Harris’, a story of a London charwoman who saves up for years to go to Paris to buy herself a Dior gown. Lovely book!

    • Hehe…it definitely is a bot thing! ๐Ÿ˜€ Minty cigarettes…hmmm..I don’t seem to remember them!! “Flowers for Miss Harris” sounds interesting…when you were reading it..I wonder if you would have imagined, that you would one day be settled in Paris!! ๐Ÿ™‚ BTW, all the books I mention are very easily procurable…

  2. I have a strange habit of sometimes reading a book from the end. That is read the last chapter and then the second last and so on.

    I see that Mandrake comics are missing from your list!

    BTW: I think I have read most of the Phantoms.

    • Haha….that sounds a lot like Benjamin Button! ๐Ÿ™‚ And, Mandrake is definitely in the list…along with Phantom and Flash Gordon!! Of course, people of Bengal have a strong affinity for the masked crusader of Bangalla( After all, Lee Falk named a whole country after Bengal)! ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. I also love Agatha Christie/ Alistair Maclean / Perry Mason and off late Satyajit Ray’s Feluda. Although I have read only the English translations- I love them..

    • Well well….most of the authors/characters you mention are also favourites of mine…i could not include all of them, because then this post would have to be made into a book! ๐Ÿ˜€ But, i think have some 15-20 books of Agatha Christie..Perry Mason I have not read too many…same with Alistair Maclean…but yes, PG Wodehouse is again a BIG favourite…Jeeves can make me roll with laughter in an empty room! Sadly, I haven’t read Harry Potter, though I am told the books are very good…And about Feluda…shamefully for me, even though I am a Bengali, I cannot read/write the language very well, so I think I have read only one of his novels, Badshahi Angti…in bengali! Thank you for dropping by! ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. Sorry also missed the Harry Potter series.. Love them. Dont know why..Aliataor Maclean- always the herione is called Mary.. and the hero – John (mostly).. April Wednesday in Golden gate was an aberration ? and of course wodehouse..

  5. This sounds so familiar…buying more books that you can read. I sometimes wish there was a parallel universe in which I could lie down and just read day after day ๐Ÿ™‚

    My favorite Somerset Maugham book was The Painted Veil although this was one of the rare cases when I liked the movie better than the book.

    Speaking of Noble prize, Haruki Murakami is an author that definitely deserves one. I have read almost everything by him that has been translated into English and I love his seemingly absurd universe and lonely characters. My personal favorites are Kafka on the Shore, A Wild Sheep Chase, and Norwegian Wood. Haven’t started 1Q84 yet but it won’t run away from the book shelf…

    Hey, by the way, I read Hungry Tide and now I think I need to go to Sunderban again!
    I read some reviews on Sea of Poppies and they were very positive, but then it seemed that the second part was not as good as the first one? So I am still wondering whether to read them altogether.

    You have missed out on “fairy tales” if you didn’t read them as a child. You should try and read some now. I used to like the fairy tales by Vilhelm Hauf (not sure if his books are available in India), as well as E.T.A. Hoffman. Oscar Wilde has also written lovely “fairy tales”, but I would rather call them stories. My personal favorite is Hans Christian Andersen because I love how he breathes life into everyday objects we don’t usually think worthy of our attention (such as a bottleneck).

    I like books with a good/complex storyline. Touching stories. Such as those weaved by Khaled Hosseini (The Kite Runner, A Thousand Splendid Suns and And The Mountains Echoed), Isabel Allende (The House of the Spirits, Of Love and Shadows), Neil Gaiman (The Ocean at the End of the Lane), etc.

    If you are looking for a gripping yet serious novel, I recommend The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: trust me, you will find time for it once you have started reading it! Warning: you may need a few cups of black coffee in the morning!

    • Hey Simona! I agree totally…I wish there was some way I could spend more time to read books..and not curtail on my other activities! ๐Ÿ™‚ But, I think its the right strategy to keep buying the books even if you are not able to read them right-away! After all, when you fin the time, the book might go out of print!! ๐Ÿ™‚ So, I intend to keep buying them..and stacking them up!
      Murakami is one author I still have not read, even though I have already gifted books by him to people, based on recommendations! ๐Ÿ˜€ Have to read his works soon…
      About Amitav Ghosh’s works…i will very strongly recommend that you go ahead and read “Sea of Poppies”…trust me on that one..and yes, “River of Smoke” might be a little slow, but it is an excellent book nonetheless…I am reading it at present, and enjoying it thoroughly! Go ahead..read it.
      About fairy-tales, I have already bought the complete works of Hans Christian Andersen, more than a year back…don’t ask me when I will finally read it!! ๐Ÿ˜€
      I have read The Kite Runner, and enjoyed it immensely…I will definitely keep in mind to buy books of Allende and Gaiman….and I have seen the movie of Girl with the dragon tattoo in english and the other 2 parts in swedish, and liked all three movies immensely, but I am worried, that now that i know the story…the suspense element would be missing, if I read the books,,,Thanks for dropping by and thank you for your suggestions… ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. We read similar types of books when we were kids! I loved the Three Investigators, the Famous Five, and also some of the Secret Seven. Oddly enough, I didn’t want to pick up Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys – I suspect it had something to do with the names of the these series! My parents also bought me the complete collection of Sherlock Holmes – it’s a massive heavyweight – and I remember reading it during the exam period.

    I read a lot less in my teenage years and 20s. Busy playing and dating, I suspect. Happy to be reading regularly again and I think I’m trying to make up for lost time… though now I’ve bought way too many books than I can manage! I just ordered a copy of Amitav Ghosh’s River of Smoke today during Bookdepository.co.uk’s 24hour sale. Hope it would make sense to me as I’ve not read Sea of Poppies, or anything by him.

    • Hmmm…reading books during exams…that sound familiar…the only time when I got scolded for reading books was when I hid Arthur Hailey’s Airport inside my textbook, and pretended to be studying, while reading the novel…I still feel there was nothing wrong in that…only wrong was the fact that I got caught by my mom! ๐Ÿ˜€
      May I give an un-solicited advice? Please please buy the Sea of Poppies and read it first…you will enjoy River of Smoke much more, if you read the first part first…and let me tell you this…you will learn a lot about China during the Opium Wars by reading the second part( its not a spoiler)..also, it has well-researched references to Singapore…very engrossing read…but read it in sequence…Also, I would suggest Hungry Tide…another masterpiece.
      So, you read similar type of books as a kid…what sort of books do you prefer reading now?

      • I guess we all have to push some boundaries and sometimes we get away with it (and sometimes not) ๐Ÿ˜‰
        I’ll take your advice on Sea of Poppies. Have many books still to be read, so will not rush into River of Smoke. I’m looking forward to learning more about this bit of history around the Opium Wars!

        These days – I’m referring to the last 1+ year when I’ve resumed regular reading – I’ve been reading lots of translated literature including works by Stefan Zweig, Jose Saramago, Antal Szerb. Also picking up classics (e.g. Stamboul Train by Graham Green) at secondhand bookstores, as well as short stories. Quite a mixed pot, though mostly fiction.

  7. I LOVE reading. I especially loved it as a kid.

    Right now I’m into memoirs, of any sort, really, though ones with humor are the best! Things like “The Mindful Carnivore” or The Glass Castle.

    As a kid I really loved The Boxcar Children, Nancy Drew & The Hardy Boys, Anne of Green Gables series. I didn’t read it until I was an adult, but I could re-read The Chronicles of Narnia a bunch.

  8. When I was a teen I had a huge collection of comic books, both vintage and new. I too wanted to be a superhero. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Although I read a lot of comics back then, I also loved going to the library and picking up mysteries and classics like Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, To Kill a Mockingbird, Farenheight 451, and many, many others. I will still read almost anything and I LOVE history. Thanks for the suggestions. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Hey Elizabeth!! Are you serious?? You wanted to be a superhero! But, I was under the impression that only boys are supposed to dream of being superheroes!! ๐Ÿ˜› I think I read all the classics I could a lay my hands on, when I was in high school. Now it is more of contemporary literature and non-fiction, when I can get the time to read. Thank you for your wonderful comments! ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. I read “Delhi – a novel” by Khushwant Singh when I was in India. Great book, highly recommended. I also have some books in my shelf that I haven’t read yet. Plus some that I’ve started, but haven’t finished, mainly because of the lack of time, not because the books weren’t any good.
    That India traveรธl book that you have there was extremely popular on public transport in India. I brought one with me and on every train & bus, people wanted to look at the photos of the different sights in India.

    I recommend that you read this triology by Louis de Berniรฉres.
    โ€˜The War of Don Emmanuelโ€™s Nether Partsโ€™
    โ€˜Senor Vivo and the Coca Lordโ€™.
    โ€œThe Troublesome Offspring of Cardinal Guzmanโ€

    Hilarious stuff and well written!

    • Oh! You have read Delhi- a novel! That’s one book o Khushwant Singh, I recommend to everyone! Its awesome! And the book on India is the Lonely Planet India…I think that’s the best book for a traveler to find out about the place he/she is visiting! And thanks for the recommendations…will definitely keep them in my “to buy” list! ๐Ÿ™‚

    • It definitely is still good for the kids…and I sincerely hope it remains good for generations to come! All the best to P for all the exciting adventures with the Kirrins! ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. Hey Sayantan really interesting read….I can actually relate to most of what you have written…and I totally agree with you about the five…”famous five”….it seems like a perfect life …I still dream about the 5 you know…

    • Thank you Howard for taking the trouble of reading the post!!! I had a feeling you would relate to it…and yes, Kirrin island and the kids have shaped our childhood. …

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