Musings of a Reader: The Beginning

Talking about books is one of my top favourite things to do. It’s right up there with eating French fries and, you know, actually reading the books I love talking about. This was why I refused to study literature as an academic subject for a long time. “You mean you get to discuss books at length? And you get graded for it? That seems too much fun to be real. There must be a catch.”  Thankfully I got over it, and was ecstatic to discover, in one of my first literature classes, that I could gush about the many qualities of Mr Darcy and it would count as my assignment. The joy! The point being, talking about literature, to me is just plain fun.

The interesting thing about reading is that on one hand, it is a fairly solitary exercise. It is just you curling up with a book and escaping into a world that is created by someone else, but somehow feels just yours. The thoughts you think and the experiences you have while reading a book seem strangely personal, and completely unique. But on the other hand, passionate readers will surely attest to that urge you have after finishing a book that blew your mind, an almost physical need to make someone else read that book and share your joy. John Green, an author I really like, wrote in The Fault in Our Stars, a book that completely ripped my heart out (in the best possible way), about this need to share the love of a book with others. He writes, “Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book.”

(Which is another great thing about reading. You go around thinking a thought which you feel is just so strange that it can’t be articulated, but then you read a line in a book articulating that exact same strange thought in a way that you never thought possible, stringing together words in the best conceivable combination to give voice to a thought in your head you had assumed nobody would ever have thought. It is one of the best reading moments.)

So, really, when you think about it, there is a contradiction in what constitutes reading. It is something you do by yourself, but it not only reminds you of the connectedness of all human beings, it actually encourages you to form more connections as well, through your shared love of books. Which is all really just a roundabout way of saying that I think a column where I get to talk about books is a really, really good idea.

Before I actually begin discussing books, let’s establish some rules. First of all – and this is really important to me – there will be no literary snobbery-ness. By which I mean that there will be no categorization of books into the dichotomy of ‘literary fiction’ and‘genre fiction’(otherwise known as ‘books read by the masses and which therefore have no merit whatsoever’). I find it really odd that books which are popular are just assumed to be pulp fiction that is unworthy of being read by ‘serious’ literary people. I admit, you can’t really consider Harry Potter to be on the same level as Cervantes’ Don Quixote or The Adventures of Amir Hamza, but does that mean it is of no importance at all? Of course not, and whoever says otherwise has clearly not read the books (Diehard Potterhead, here!). And while it is pretty much impossible to argue that Twilight is a great masterpiece of modern literature, that does not mean it is not entertaining and that there is nothing in it that the reader can take away (Yes, despite the recently ended trend of Twilight-bashing – has it ended yet? – I will admit that I enjoyed the series when it came out and feverishly went through all four books).

There’s an opposite form of literary snobbery, where you assume all the ‘classics’ are just boring, overrated books which you must slog through. It is equally, if not more, dumb than the other form of literary snobbery. There is a reason classics are being read since hundreds of years. There is a reason why The Great Gatsby is the ‘great American novel’ and there is a reason why The Catcher in the Rye has been translated into almost every language in the world, and there is a reason why Shakespeare is, well, Shakespeare.

I think being a literary snob just leads to a bunch of missed opportunities, honestly. If you’ve already decided that you know what great literature is all about, you will miss out on the chance of happiness at coming across great books. I think it’s okay – great, even – that you are able to enjoy Wuthering Heights as well as The Hunger Games, that you are able to be awed by Ishiguro and Kundera, as well as be entertained by the myriad chick-lit authors out there.

The second rule is that despite being a column about books, discussion about movies and TV shows which are adaptations of books are totally game. Mostly because I will take any opportunity I get to talk about how completely and utterly fantastic the BBC’s Sherlock is (if you haven’t watched it, you’re missing out), and how, contrary to popular opinion, I think Colin Firth was a ‘meh’ Mr Darcy, especially when you compare him to the guy who played him in the 2005 adaptation – completely swoon-worthy, I tell you. Plus, occasionally I might talk about movies and TV shows which are not adaptations of books, because I might just want to and, well, art is art, right?

The third rule is that I will not stick to literature written in the English language. Although I am just beginning to discover Urdu literature, I have vowed to read more and more of it, and I intend to share my experiences with it here. I will also discuss literature of around the world, both written in English or which been translated into English (not that I’ve read a lot of that, either, but the ones which I have, I thought to be excellent). This might be challenging, as I don’t really know how to put into words much of what I think about some of these books. Nonetheless, I will try.

So here’s to discussing books (and other forms of art)! I can’t wait to get started!

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