Thursday, September 07, 2023

Why I chose to give away my books

Some of the abandoned paperbacks.

Each one of us has a unique relationship with books. We have so many anecdotes and stories to tell about the books we buy, collect, read, hoard and never read. Till, one day, something — I don’t know if it’s age, wisdom or common sense — propels us into doing what was once out of the question: Downsize our collection. Give away books we have been holding onto for god knows how long. Free up space, in cabinets, on shelves, up in the loft. And start again, one book at a time. Go back to the basics of reading.

At least, that was my plan.

I owned very few books in my youth, the years between 14 and 25 when I read the most number of books. In those days I read novels in just two or three sittings; sometimes in half a day and started on a new one by night. I borrowed my books from private circulating libraries, British Council Library and American Library. Then somewhere down the years, my career and family life took precedence. I stopped going to the libraries owing to the distance and lack of time, and instead started buying books, more than I could read. Not that anyone or anything stopped me from reading like I did before.

Over the next three decades, I accumulated so many books that several of my mysteries, thrillers and westerns followed me to every new place of work, where they sat quietly in office desks and cabinets, and seldom got a chance to tell me their stories. Then came the tech-induced comforts and distractions and my goal to read a certain number of books and short stories every month – in other words, reduce my TBR pile – went out the window.

About a year after the onset of the pandemic, I decided enough was enough. We were in the middle of home renovation when I took an inventory of my collection and removed nearly two hundred books, which I eventually gave away to anyone who was interested or sold them to footpath booksellers at throwaway rates. I’d no other choice. Some of these books remained unread for years. My logic was that if I hadn’t read them up to that point, I sure as hell wasn’t going to read them now. Fortunately, most of the books I weeded out were secondhand and didn’t cost a lot of money, though the parting did hurt for a while.

Now I have fewer than a hundred books, mostly paperbacks of some of my favourite authors and a few nonfiction; the latter comprising a dozen books on the craft of writing by seasoned writers like Stephen King, Francine Prose, Ray Bradbury, Anne Lamott, Benjamin Dreyer, Annie Dillard and Bill Bryson. They’re my writing companions – offering valuable lessons from their own experiences of storytelling, and helping me both as a reader and a writer.

In these past three years, I have been compensating the “loss” of my books by purchasing ebooks or downloading them from public domain and online libraries. I read these on my Kindle and Samsung tablet. Of course, I also buy paper books – no more than half a dozen a year – from Amazon as well as secondhand booksellers and book fairs, depending on what I find. I haven’t bought a book in a new bookstore in years.

The thing about de-cluttering books, to borrow a phrase from George Bernard Shaw in another context, is the illusion that it has taken place. No matter how many books we discard, there are always plenty around the place. I guess the only way to pare down our books is to read them as soon as we buy them.

Thursday, August 31, 2023

A visit to a book fair in South Mumbai

My wife and I frequently travel to South Mumbai, roughly 22 km (17 miles) from our home in the suburbs, to spend a few delightful hours among its art deco buildings, historical landmarks, art galleries and cultural scenes; walk along the sea-facing promenades; visit footpath booksellers and book exhibitions; shop on the causeway; and eat at traditional restaurants.

The island city holds a special place for us and has an old-world charm that takes us into another time. You can read more about our recent trip to the island city at our new website Pocketful of Happiness.

Here are a few pictures from a book exhibition that we went to. There were literally thousands of books – fiction and nonfiction, paperbacks and hardbacks. Most books cost no more than a dollar or two. We bought a few. The book fair was organised by Ashish Book Centre and held near Churchgate, which serves as the headquarters of the suburban Western Railway network.


© All photographs by Prashant C. Trikannad

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Reading Ann Patchett

Excerpts frequently influence whether I should read books by authors I have never read before. That and a Twitter post is how I learnt more about award-winning American author Ann Patchett who writes both fiction and nonfiction.

I was drawn to her writing when I read about her latest book Tom Lake, which is described as a “Beautiful and moving novel about family, love and growing up” or in the words of The Guardian, “A truth that feels like life rather than literature.”

Those are the kind of books I have always enjoyed reading, and hope to write someday, now more so since my wife and I launched a website Pocketful of Happiness which stemmed from our desire to be happy (possibly, at all times) and spread a little joy among our readers. Books like these have a feel-good quality about them. 

Ann Patchett's writing has been variously described as warm, poetic, illuminating, rich, poignant, funny, powerful, compelling and stirring. This was evident from the many excerpts I read including this affecting passage from This is the Story of a Happy Marriage (2013):

“People seem able to love their dogs with an unabashed acceptance that they rarely demonstrate with family or friends. The dogs do not disappoint them, or if they do, the owners manage to forget about it quickly. I want to learn to love people like this, the way I love my dog, with pride and enthusiasm and a complete amnesia for faults. In short, to love others the way my dog loves me.”

It prompted me to buy the book along with These Precious Days: Essays (2021). Both are personal  and literary collections of essays and memoir.

I look forward to reading one of these books as soon as I finish Agatha Christie’s The Murder on the Links

Wednesday, June 01, 2022

5 things you can do to beat writer's block

© Peanuts by Charles M. Schulz

The India-based Reputation Today, a widely-read print magazine and website on the public relations and communications sector, has published my article titled Five things you can do to beat writer’s block.

This is my second piece for Reputation Today which caters to PR and communications professionals. The first one The bull's eye of PR writing appeared in September 2021.

Here is an excerpt from my latest offering:

Writing is a bit like wearing clothes. Just as you have an awful dress day, you can have a bad writing day. It takes away your confidence and nearly ruins your day.
Imagine this scenario.

You wear clothes to work that don’t make you feel good about yourself. They’re either ill-fitting or you don’t like the combination. You can’t wait to go home and change. Sound familiar?

What’s worse, it happens on a day when things are going your way in the office — a promising lead, a great presentation, an appreciative client, boss on leave, an easy day at work, a party in the evening… And yet, something’s off. Oh yes, these clothes!

Now the writing equivalent.  

~ End of excerpt ~

If you liked it so far, I hope you'll click to read the rest.

Sunday, May 29, 2022

When it's time to turn the page on book-buying

Photographs by Prashant C. Trikannad

About a month ago, I found myself among books (not my own) for the first time since March 2020. I visited a Books by Weight exhibition hosted by Butterfly Books of Mumbai, and in a rare instance of self-restraint, left empty-handed. It's not that I didn't find good books. It's just that I didn't feel like buying any. I wonder if working from home for two years (and even now in a hybrid setting) might have had something to do with it. Barring evening walks, an occasional social visit and grocery shopping in the neighbourhood, I'd hardly been out until that day.

I was also aware at the time that there was no point in adding to my collection of books, many still to be read. Only last November my wife and I gave away over a hundred paperbacks and I'd no intention of replacing those with a new lot that would probably remain unread for months and years.

As I grow older, though not necessarily wiser, I'm more convinced that it's time to own fewer things and actually use those things. And that goes for books too—read and give away. As my wife said to me one evening, "What are you finally going to do with all your books? It's time to move on." She'd a point: it wasn't as if I'd a treasure chest of rare and valuable books, not counting a few out-of-print western paperbacks and some others with swell covers. I think what she also meant was that I needed to grow out of this irresistible urge to buy and hoard books. There was a time for it and that time had passed.  

We both still have many books, I more than she. I'm also still holding on to my comic-books, some of which are quite old. I don't know what I'm going to do with them once I retire a few years from now. Paper has a shelf life too. So these days I mostly read ebooks on my Kindle and an 11-inch Motorola tab. Both the devices are reader friendly, convenient and a space saver where paper books are concerned. No doubt, books have a charm that ebooks can never replicate, but I have to be practical and draw the line between the two, maybe 70% ebooks and 30% paper books.

I'll still buy the odd paperback from secondhand bookshops and book exhibitions, but that would depend on what I find and then again only after I ask myself, "Is it really worth buying the book? Wouldn't a Kindle edition do just as well?" The answer to those questions will henceforth shape my book-buying habits. Having fewer books doesn't mean reading less.

Sunday, May 22, 2022

Reading the good stuff for mental well-being

Photo: Priscilla Du Preez/Unsplash

I say this from experience.

Reading is one of the most effective home-based therapies for mental well-being.

While serious mental health issues may require medical intervention and counselling, other concerns like stress, burnout, worry and anxiety that we often experience in our day-to-day lives can be managed—and even overcome—by reading books, and especially inspirational books, stories and essays.  

Personally, I find spiritual literature extremely uplifting—it does these four things, often within minutes after I start reading.

It elevates my mood
Soothes the mind
Makes me emotionally resilient, and
Fills me with a sense of calm.

Reading the good stuff makes me feel good about myself, my environment and my ability to make it through the passing storms of life, even though more often than not those storms are little more than blips on the radar or minor interruptions.  

This is not to say I don't read other books, like the mysteries, thrillers and westerns I'm fond of. It's only that, whenever I feel a bit down in the dumps, I know I can dive into books that fill me with a positive energy and make me happy. They're always on standby.

Does reading help improve your state of mind?

What kind of books do you read for inspiration and mental wellness?

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Book-buying in the time of the pandemic

If I have missed one thing during the pandemic-induced lockdown and work from home, it's my frequent visits to secondhand bookshops, pavement booksellers and book exhibitions. Since working remotely, March 19 onward, I have bought just two books off Amazon India—a used but rare Corgi edition of Sudden and a new Fantastic Four: The Coming of Galactus comic-book digest, both featured here. The Sudden paperback with the eye-catching cover art was like winning a lottery. I was both surprised and delighted to find it on Amazon India for only Rs.295 ($4). My favourite western is not easily available at used book sales in Mumbai.

But I did buy books in the weeks and months leading up to the virus outbreak. Here are a few with their synopsis, actual covers and original year of publication.

The New Collected Short Stories by Jeffrey Archer, 2011

"This brand new edition brings together three of Jeffrey Archer's classic collections of short stories—To Cut a Long Story Short, Cat O' Nine Tales and And Thereby Hangs a Tale—showcasing the master storyteller's skill like never before. Every reader will have their own favourites: the choices run from love at first sight across the train tracks to the cleverest of confidence tricks, from the quirks of the legal profession, and those who are able to manipulate both sides of the Bar, to the creative financial talents of a member of Her Majesty's diplomatic service—but for a good cause. In `Caste-Off', Jamwal and Nisha fall in love while waiting for a traffic light to turn green in Delhi, and in `Don't Drink The Water', a company chairman tries to poison his wife while on a trip to St Petersburg, with unexpected consequences... The stories held in these pages are irresistible: ingeniously plotted, with richly drawn characters and deliciously unexpected conclusions. Some will make you laugh. Others will bring you to tears. And, as always, every one of them will keep you spellbound."

The Twisted Thing by Mickey Spillane, 1966

"This was some household.

"The kid was a genius, the father a scientist of international repute. Money was problem. Not shortage of money but the opposite: too much. The sort of money that brings the envious and the scheming clustering like flies round a pile of ripe offal: nieces, nephews, cousins - a family of mean minds and gross appetites.

"The hired help had its peculiarities too: the chauffeur, an ex-con; the governess, formerly a featured act in strip clubs from New York and Miami; a secretary with a well developed taste in other women.

"Quite a household. And not one to welcome the arrival of Mike Hammer
not when the kid had been kidnapped and everyone else was a suspect."

Snobs by Julian Fellowes, 2004

"The English, of all classes as it happens, are addicted to exclusivity. Leave three Englishmen in a room and they will invent a rule that prevents a fourth joining them."

"The best comedies of manners are often deceptively simple, seamlessly blending social critique with character and story. In his superbly observed first novel, Julian Fellowes, creator of the Masterpiece sensation Downton Abbey and winner of an Academy Award for his original screenplay of Gosford Park, brings us an insider's look at a contemporary England that is still not as classless as is popularly supposed.

"Edith Lavery, an English blonde with large eyes and nice manners, is the daughter of a moderately successful accountant and his social-climbing wife. While visiting his parents' stately home as a paying guest, Edith meets Charles, the Earl Broughton, and heir to the Marquess of Uckfield, who runs the family estates in East Sussex and Norfolk. To the gossip columns he is one of the most eligible young aristocrats around.

"When he proposes. Edith accepts. But is she really in love with Charles? Or with his title, his position, and all that goes with it?"

Sudden: Law O' The Lariat by Oliver Strange, 1931

"The word had filtered out that Sudden was dead—and there was no one around to contradict it. Men who had cringed before, swaggered now; others boasted of their encounters with Sudden, the coward.

"Only one man stayed quiet: a tall, saturnine fellow wearing two guns tied low. When he heard the rumours, he gave a thin smile; and when someone asked him who he was, he said shortly: James Green. James Green — alias Sudden!"

Maigret and the Headless Corpse by Georges Simenon, 1968

"Two brothers find a grisly package clinging to the propeller of their barge in the Canal de Saint Martins, and by the time Maigret arrives most of a mysterious corpse has been assembled, except for the head. The search shifts from finding the missing piece to finding a motive, as the Inspector's keen mind assembles clues from the dismembered torse which lead to a trio of suspects. A flash of intuition linking the principal suspect's sordid life to the whereabouts of her victim on his last day alive closes the case but opens Maigret's mind to the reason for the crime."

I have yet to read Julian Fellowes and Georges Simenon.