Saturday, July 08, 2017

Book Tag: Q&A about reading habits

On June 17, my friend Tracy did a Book Tag post on her popular blog Bitter Tea and Mystery where she answered trivia questions related to books. I found it interesting. She was inspired by book tags at other blogs (links below the post) and I in turn was inspired by her edition of this addictive meme, and especially the variety of books she had read—and continues to read and review across several genres.

I’m not a well-read person. I have a long way to go the book journey. I have many authors to discover, many books to read, and many years before I can sit back and feel good about my reading. So I’m going to be honest. Is there any other way? To twist a famous Kurt Vonnegut line—“We are what we read, so we must be careful about what we pretend to read and the books we pretend to talk about.”

Let’s see how it goes.

What book has been on your shelf the longest?

My paternal grandfather’s 1965 Tudor edition of Shakespeare: Complete Works (The English Library). I’m saving it for retirement, though I bet the bard will have a lot of company by then. I try to read Shakespeare every other year but all I manage to do is brush the dust off the cover, the spine, and the yellowed pages, and put it back in the cabinet.

What is your current read, last read, and the book you plan to read next?

Current Read: The Midden by British satirical novelist Tom Sharpe (one of my favourite writers) and Shall We Tell the President?, an alternative fiction by Jeffrey Archer, one of several bestselling authors I read in college. I like Sharpe’s raw wit and offensive humour. Archer is an old hand at storytelling. Remember Kane and Abel?

Last Read: Past Tense, where prolific writer-blogger Margot Kinberg introduced me to her affable sleuth Joel Williams, former policeman and now academician.

Next Read: To be honest, I have no idea. It’s usually a random choice, though, I’m tempted to read a P.G. Wodehouse or an Agatha Christie from my wife’s formidable collection. It’s been a while since I did. Wodehouse has me in splits even though his humour is stereotyped.

What book do you tell yourself you’ll read, but probably won't?

I’m going to answer this question in a different way. I struggled with the first 30-odd pages of William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury and almost gave up. I had little idea what was happening. It was one of the most difficult books I read in recent memory. Faulkner seemed to be mocking me at every turn of the page—“My narrative style is not for you. Get off and read something else.” I did not like that.

What book are you saving for retirement?

Well, as I said, giving Shakespeare company will probably be some distinguished Russian authors, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Gogol, Solzhenitsyn, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William L. Shirer, Thus Spoke Zarathustra by Friedrich Nietzsche (which I never finished), and a few classics. Of course, it’ll all depend on my eyesight and state of mind.

Which book character would you switch places with?
James Green, alias Sudden, the Texas outlaw. I have liked the character ever since my paternal uncle introduced me to the cowboy when I was 14.

Sudden, created by British writer Oliver Strange, is my favourite Western. He earns both nickname and notoriety because of his lightning draw; branded outlaw for crimes he didn't commit. In reality, Green the gunman is a gentleman, defending ordinary folks against crooked gamblers, ranchers, rustlers and land-grabbers, even as he quietly hunts for the two men who killed the man who raised him. Sudden also has a badge, a secret identity: Deputy Marshal United States, reporting to the governor of Arizona.

While Strange, who never once travelled to America, wrote ten Sudden novels, fellow English writer Frederick H. Christian (Frederick Nolan in real life) wrote another five. You can’t tell the difference. This is the only series in any genre that I have read more than once.

What book reminds you of a specific place, time or person?

I’m usually so engrossed in a book that I never think of relating the plot, setting or characters to real places and people. Such things seldom occur to me.

Which book has been with you most places?

Plenty of spiritual books but mostly Love Never Faileth by the late Indian spiritual teacher and author, Eknath Easwaran, who established the nonprofit Blue Mountain Center of Meditation in California in 1961. This and most of Easwaran’s forty books serve as a useful and practical guide to leading a fulfilling life, through his simple eight-point programme of passage meditation. You can open any page in any of his books and you’ll be like, “Hey, this is for me!”

Which book have you reread the most?

The only books I reread the most are philosophical and these include books by Easwaran and other mystics, including my spiritual preceptor. They have been my comfort zone, my mental prop, for over three decades.

What book outside your comfort zone did you end up loving?

Not one, but two. The Mayor of Casterbridge and Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy. I read these powerful classics over a decade ago, thanks to my wife’s recommendation. Until then, I’d never read a classic, not counting abridged versions in school.

What are your three bookish confessions?

1. I hoard books. I have several unread books that I bought in the eighties and nineties. Though, I have been exercising restraint—so far this year I bought just three books.

2. I will happily miss a bus or a train or an autorickshaw if I see used books on sale, even though I might not buy any and reach home late.

3. I will never lend books I treasure. My Corgi editions of Sudden novels and my comics? Don’t even think about it!

Do you prefer used or brand new books?
There is something about being among secondhand books, which comprise 97% of my modest collection. This includes over two dozen used but mint-condition paperbacks of Don Pendleton’s Mack Bolan: The Executioner. As for new, I buy more Kindle books than paper books.

Have you ever seen a movie you liked more than the book?

Maybe not more than books, but I liked all the movie adaptations of the novels of Jack Higgins (The Eagle Has Landed, A Prayer for the Dying) and Alistair MacLean (The Guns of Navarone, Where Eagles Dare, Ice Station Zebra). I also liked the cinematic versions of Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird and John Ball’s In the Heat of the Night. And that goes for the Harry Potter series, too.

Last page: read it first, or wait till the end

I have never read the last page first, even to end a book sooner, though I was tempted to do so with Irving Wallace’s The Second Lady. If you’ve read the book, you’ll know why. 

Name a book that you acquired in an interesting way.

DC Comics: Sixty Years of the World's Favorite Comic Book Heroes (Bulfinch, October 1995).

Many years ago, I found this DC collector’s edition on sale for Rs 450 ($9) at a new bookstore. I so badly wanted it. But wisdom prevailed, and I walked away thinking I could use the money to buy something more useful, like groceries. Weeks later, I was on my way to the office in another part of town when I spotted the volume at a roadside bookseller, in mint condition and a tag of Rs 125 ($2.5). I grabbed it and hurried off. Book providence, perhaps.

Final two questions, my own.

Which authors you wish you had read by now?

Most Indian authors. There is such variety in Indian writing in English, that I don't know why I neglected it for so long. Ideally, the focus of my blog should have been desi rather than western fiction. I do plan to review Indian fiction in future.

If you didn’t read books, what would you be doing?

If I didn’t read books, I’d be painting or playing a musical instrument. It’s essential to have a life among the arts and crafts; much of everything else is so mundane.

Bottom line: Now that you’ve read my answers, you can see that I haven’t read a lot of books. The important thing is to read, even if it’s one crawling book at a time.

Other notable Book Tag posts
Nancy Elin 

Brona's Books

On Bookes

Howling Frog Books