Monday, March 27, 2006

A Fiction Journey

"when you're in a bookshop with shelves and shelves of books, how do you know which one to pick up and start reading?"

In reply to Ekerhart's question which I have not forgotten; just taken forever to answer considering current travails, my answer is this.

For me, reading is a spiritual experience. This is because when I read, I am invited to another person's mindspace. I walk into a variety of lives and times, discover, learn and enjoy. Different books appealed to me at different ages. My earliest reading memories were those little fables (aesops I think?) that mom and I read together. And Dickens because my father loved him. I also remember spending my afternoons at the local library after school (on those days when there was no homework. Ah yes, gentler times then). I started with Enid Blyton, especially Five Find-outers, Secret Seven, The Faraway Tree (or something like that where pixies and gnomes sat down for scones and English tea. I used to wonder about all that while munching my karipap. I know Enid Blyton is not popular these days but she so-coloured my childhood). Then I moved on to more grown up ones like Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys. Every year, I used to write 'detective' in the career ambition slot that was required for the annual school record.

There were also the special books like Heidi, Black Beauty, Charlotte's Web, Chronicles of Narnia and always, always Anne of Green Gables who companied me through many years in true kindred-spirit fashion. I honestly think that it should be made compulsory for every little girl to read Anne. One day, I will go to Prince of Wales Island in Nova Scotia to pay homage to the red haired Anne Shirley.

When puberty hit, my shelves were filled with Sue Townsend's Adrian Mole, Judy Blume, Paul Zindel(I so looooveee the whole Pigman series). I also enjoyed adventure stuff as well like Count of Monte Cristo, Prisoner of Zenda and everything by Alexandre Dumas, translated ones nevertheless (all these swashbuckling adventures were my fathers influence).

At times books were my saviours. Between ages 15-18, I must admit with great embarrassment to have read at least 100 Mills and Boons. I remember M&B's being passed around and the giggly instructions to focus particularly on pages x and y which were the steamiest. This was such a highlight for us girls in our small town. I was the geek kid, too tall, too quiet and too studious. All the uber cool girls in school hung out at KFC (MacDonalds, the next-big-thing in teenage hangout places would only open its first outlet in my town when I was 18 or so). I, being a nerd, would look from afar at all this. I was never part of the 'cool gang' that enjoyed coke (drink not drug) at KFC. What more, I walked around in clothes my mom made for me. Can you imagine how utterly un-cool that was? M&B's came to the rescue during those years. All the brooding, muscular and good looking men always fell passionately in love with the mousy, plain jane (me! me!). I was a loner; pimply, frumpy and swishing in strange dreams. God knows those M&Bs saved my teenage years.

Later, I progressed to more mature romances: everything by Jane Austen, Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, Rebecca and Thornbirds. I have to also admit about the Danielle Steele (shudder) and Sydney Sheldon that happened around this time.

Some books choose you. I really believe that. This is because some books fall on my lap at the most appropriate times. Like Catcher in the Rye and Franny and Zooey. I read D.H.Lawrence's Sons and Lovers when I was 21. Just the right age when I was looking to be consumed by blinding, writhing passion. I wanted to be like Miriam. I wanted to have fallen in love madly and perseversly enjoy a broken heart. If I were to read it now, I would still enjoy Lawrence's prose but would never relate to Miriam the way I did then.

Along the years, I there have been so many intimate encounters.
Books that have made me cry: A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry (of hopelessness and hope), The Glass Menagerie by Tenessee Williams (of manufacturing illusions) and the ultimate cry-fest, Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller (the latter two being plays).

Books that made me depressed: A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth. Why did Latha marry the shoemaker of all people? The God of Small Things. I know its fashionable to pan this book but I don't think anybody has ever explored children's voices the way Arundhati Roy did. Everything by Virginia Woolf (ha, ha....if you are feeling happy, just read To the will start making you wallow in sadness). Everything by K.S.Maniam who explores hypenated Malaysian identities with such pain.

Books that made me gape in awe: Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe for its grand simplicity. Anna Karenina by Tolstoy for its sweeping majesty. The Potrait of the Artist as Young Man by James Joyce. I still feel that I know too much about Stephan Dedalus and his bed wetting habit. And Lolita for being the work of a master wordsmith.

The rainy day books. On particularly cold miserable days, I want to snuggle up with some flighty varieties, ones who never take life seriously like Jeeves the butler and those crazy people in Malgudi. Or macabre according to mood which P.D.James satiates.

Sometimes, I feel overwhelmed about all the books that I have to read. New titles keep popping by the second. The Guardian Book Review, the Times Literary Supplement and London Review of Books tend to highlight latest must-haves.

Thank you Ekerhart. For asking. I wouldn't have recounted the books that were weaved along my growing up years otherwise. The other books that made a rend in my mind were listed here.


Blabarella said...

I was on the same track as you were, .. until age 18. Sadly, when I reached that age, other things came into my life which took me away from reading. I was, admittedly, mostly at fault.

And now, 16 years later, I am trying to reculcate the reading habit again!!

And this looks like a good list to start with!! Thanks, luv!

may said...

wow, so many books! similar readings during childhood, I think we all had our share of Enid Blyton's, Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys. oh yes, M&B too!

I must say I've been slacking quite a bit on my reading. probably spending too much time online than with a good book, it's too distracting! LOL! I'm still on Anansi Boys, I hope I'll finish soon.

Maya said...

Ah! so that's how one gets to be a smartie pants, eh? :)

Just the other day I was telling someone of how much I cried reading Mistry's A Fine Balance, that I actually looked forward to feeling sad and depressed and cry my eyes out.

LOL..he chided me for being the typical Tamil melodramatic woman. I said, "Excuse me, but I am a Tamil melodramatic woman."

Let me know when you get here...perhaps I can get crash on your date with Blabs? I am absolutely shameless abt these things.

Maya said...

Oh! I forgot...a wonderful and telling literary journey. Congrats! Mine will pale in comparison. I may have the books, just never seem to find the time...*SIGH*

I am sure I will turn 60 someday.... :)

Jane Sunshine said...

Blabs: I think we all get caught up with the daily drill. I myself enjoyed recollecting all these books as I haven't touched a work of fiction for soooo long now. But now that you have the luxury of time for the moment,you can enjoy books again!

May: Neil Gaiman rocks. You will enjoy the book for sure.

Maya: Smartie pants?!!! I wish I can sit and discuss all my dumb blonde days with you. Which we certainly will when I am back. Will email you. Especially as you cried over Rohinton Mistry. I already know that we are going to vibe so well. I look forward to depressing books all the time. We must laugh ourselves silly about this one.

Anonymous said...

i do think that the shoemaker was the most suitable boy, for dashing its the triple M boy.

u know what Jane, I got this crazy idea, why not we set a deadline (eg like 5 yrs from now (when hopefully I will have enough money)) and actually make the trip to Prince Edward Island.

i once met a girl from there and she said that its like a mecca for Anne's thousands of bosom buddies

Jane Sunshine said...

Atn: Yes, yes, lets make a solemn pact. I am dead serious. I know one other hard core Anne Shirley fan (my younger sister) and let's promise to do it in 5 years time. Deal?

bibliobibuli said...

forgive me for not dropping by for a while

just loved hearing about those special books in your life

agree with youa bout latha's choice in "a suitable boy" ... how could she?

it upset me a lot

my colleagues at work told me i was crazy "this is asia. we're a pragmatic lot. practical considerations win over romantic notions any day"

Themadi said...

you can always tell a good fiction novel by it's very first page. If it invites you in, warms you up and you finding yourself turning the page; ahh..then you got yourself a book to read:)