Books

February 22, 2007

For as long as I can remember, books have been my constant, faithful companions. They have been my refuge in troubled times, just as much as they have been a delight in times of leisure. They have filled up long, lovely summer holidays, and lured me away from all manner of ills, such as exams, boyfriends, TV, and work.

As a child, endowed with a vivid imagination, I would read while eating, walking, talking, being driven to school and back, and even – if I could – while sleeping, or pretending to sleep. In my imagination, I saw events unfold around me that had nothing to do with home, school, or family, and everything to do with Noddy, Winnie the Pooh, the Famous Five, the Secret Seven, William, Nancy Drew (for a short while), Biggles, Hercule Poirot, Lord Emsworth and all manner of other exotic people and locales.

More than ten years ago, straight out of college, I started making a list of books as I read them. Inevitably, the list of books grew into a series of book reviews. They were short, they were entirely subjective, they gave away nothing about the plot, but they were book reviews even before I knew what a book review was. Looking back over this list, I find that the number of books I’ve got through in the last ten-odd years is about 150, which number seems dismally small to me, when there are so many thousands of books out there that I simply must read.

My mother always had an eclectic collection of books. Over the years, it has grown so alarmingly that now it has practically taken over their house. I do believe that if you consider any subject under the sun (or, for that matter, beyond it), you’d find a book on it somewhere in their long miles of bookshelves.

Our own modest collection, begun with whatever Amit and I could salvage of our favorites from our parental homes, is not even a fraction as impressive. But there’s hope yet. Our bookshelves, few though they are, are overflowing, and there’ s no dearth of unread books at home. To photograph them, as Andy has done, I’d need to assemble them all into one bookshelf, an effort highly taxing and likely beyond the realms of possibility. For my part, I don’t let these minor considerations prevent me from acquiring more books at every occasion.

As for the matter of top ten books – my list would simply be too long! I could, however, attempt to list my top ten authors, but I’m not at all sure this list covers all my top ten authors. For whatever it’s worth, though, here goes (in no particular order):

  • P G Wodehouse
  • Charles Dickens
  • Gerald Durrell
  • Georgette Heyer
  • Agatha Christie
  • Dick Francis
  • J R R Tolkein
  • Enid Blyton
  • Herge

After much thought, I can’t think of a tenth. I can think of a lot of one-book wonders, but don’t want to include them in a list where the others have multiple works, many of which I have read more than once. Herge, of course, is not, strictly speaking, an author, but TinTin is such a wonderful character I could hardly leave him out of this list. Noticeably, J K Rowling didn’t find a mention in my list, somewhat to my own surprise. For me, she rates in the second list, the top 100, along with such luminaries as Bill Bryson, James Herriot, Ruth Rendell, Jane Austen, Rex Stout, Ed McBain, M Scott Peck, GK Chesterton, Robert Fulgham, Danielle Steele, Thomas Hardy, Douglas Adams, Homer, and sundry one-book-wonders (who merit a list unto themselves, maybe, some day).

The internet is a fantastic thing, and fills up many hours both happily and productively and lets you keep in touch with old friends and make new ones, and read about lots of things you might otherwise never have read about. But, for old-fashioned book-lovers like me, there’s nothing quite like curling up with a good book and in its pages meeting friends, old or new, and getting lost with them in a distant world that exists only in those pages and in your mind.

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