Yes, that is the journey books have taken over the course of thousands of years once human beings started writing down the knowledge instead of just talking and remembering. Earliest known books were in the form of stone tablets where writers had to carve on stone using chisel and hammer. From there the books progressed to palm leaves, cloth, paper and finally the digital form on tablets. I am using the word tablet to represent all kind of digital book readers including but not limited to Kindle, iPads, computers or smart phones here.
You could write a page worth of data on a stone tablet and it would still be difficult to carry it along. Today you can load thousands of books in regular digital tablet and carry it anywhere with ease. Difficulty in creating stone tablet also meant that only most important knowledge was carved. Today everything gets published in digital form and you find it so difficult to search for real knowledge in lot of junk that gets written. Of course, the knowledge from stone tablets was available to very few privileged people but this digital abundant junk including all the knowledge is available to a much larger set of people and in coming days will be available to everybody in this world.
My book reading started with paper books and there was a time when I felt that I will never transition to digital version. It was the process of relocation from one country to another that changed my thinking. I realised that there was no way I could carry my collection of hundreds of books with me and it was time to switch to Kindle. Digital book reading is convenient, easy to carry, buy and use though not same as paper books.
I wonder if they can make my Kindle smell like a fresh or old book depending upon the kind of book I am reading. Or maybe it can be made to look and smell like stone tablet or palm leaves (the experience that I missed in book reading).
As a reader, we believe that we search for good books but sometimes I really wonder whether it is other way round. It seems to me that Books find their readers and not vice versa. There are times when I have picked up books that I wanted to read based on reviews, past experiences and knowledge about that author. In such cases, I can say that I was the seeker and searched for the book. But how do I explain when I have picked up books at random without any idea about author or subject and realising that the book I picked was the one that I needed the most at that time in my life. Something about the title, front page, location of book on the shelf, your mood, type of shop or any number of other factors come together and result in love at first sight. In such cases it was probably the book that was seeking the perfect reader.
It is probably like finding a true friend, guru or love of your life. It happens when the time is right and you need it most. Similarly, you end up with the book that you need the most. In my case it is the book that provides me the helping hand. For others who are not book readers, it may be friend or guru. It happened to me with “Don’t sweat the small stuff”, “Predictably Irrational”, “The Secret”, “Glimpses of World History”, “The Language Instinct” and many more. I did not know that I needed that kind of book but it was right on spot.
In some cases, I have picked up a book at random and it has remain un-read in my bookshelf for years. Probably the time was not right when I picked it up. But then someday I started reading them and realized that the right time had come to read that book. Even if I had read them earlier, I would not have appreciated them as much. It also tells me that I should continue to browse in bookshops and not end up doing online shopping of books. Probably there is some book lying in the corner of that bookshop waiting for me to pick it up.
We have all heard and probably said it sometimes “I just could not put down that book, once I started reading it. I had to finish it before doing anything else”. I have known people who have stayed overnight to finish the book that they started reading. There are people who leave everything else that they are supposed to do and finish the book that they started. I do not know if book reading has been the cause of conflict among the couples as TV watching is, but I would assume that there must be some cases of this as well.
The addiction that I am talking about is not reading books all the time. It is about getting hooked to a particular book and story and finding it difficult to do anything else and there is almost maniacal tendency to finish the book before thinking about anything else. Not every book can have this kind of effect on its readers but some authors have mastered the art of writing such books. Dan Brown and Jeffery Archer’s name comes topmost in my mind. They have a tendency to finish each chapter of their book on a suspense note and then you start reading the next one and then next one and so on.
I have myself been through such times when I could not put down the book that I was reading. In most of the cases I have regretted it later. The adrenaline rush that you get when you are in the middle of suspense takes away your energy once you finish the book and there is a time when you find yourself lost and sometimes unable to do anything else or start a new book. All these are symptoms of addiction and then withdrawal. It sucks you in and then leaves you completely high and dry. I have sometimes felt that the books where you are able to take a break and still enjoy it as much are much better. They are more like slow wine that takes you at a high and keep you there for a longer time.
I have always wondered about the relationship of travel with reading and writing. Is it necessary that you need to be a good traveller to be able to write well or maybe get time for reading? If you like to read different books then definitely you get to know about different places and cultures and the desire to go and visit those places also becomes stronger. Perhaps that is one of the reasons that people end up traveling more when they are fond of reading or at least they wish to travel more. Typically, for an avid reader books are always a companion when they are traveling.
Traveling to new places and experience of meeting with different people also enhances your world view and that definitely helps writers as well. I think the whole idea of being away from your normal routine also opens up your senses for new experiences. You are able to see the differences between your way of living and other people. Travel need not necessarily be to a different country or a different city. It could as well be within the same area as well. I have come across some stories by writers about their own city that they have experienced in walks around lesser known places.
When one is traveling then it is important to be observant about your environment. It is important to blend in and go beyond the tourist circuit. I have seen some people who get very comfortable talking to local people and mingle with them whereas there are many others who are just interested in looking at buildings. At some level, I am telling myself that if I were to become a writer some day then it is important to pack bags and go around the world and mix with different people and cultures.
There has never been any doubt in my mind about the joy of reading from the time I have become conscious of myself, from very early childhood. Books have always given me pleasure of learning, finding about things, places, people and everything about this world. The joy of sharing, however, I have discovered more recently. Till some time back, books were meant for myself and they were source of joy and information for me. There were times when I could share some information with friends as story-telling but the primary joy was still in reading.
This change where I started finding joy in sharing came more recently. I found that sharing of thoughts and information with other readers of books was also pleasurable. This pleasure was also of different kind. When you start sharing, you are not just repeating the words that you have read in the book, but you are sharing what you have understood in your own words. In a way you take the role of an author who is creating a new story that may be very closer to what you have read but it is inherently your own version of it. I guess that makes it more pleasurable.
Another aspect of sharing is finding those other readers who may have understood it in same or different way. In this way a small thought evolves in different ways and takes on multiple shapes and can give rise to many new thoughts as well. When I share books with somebody, I am never talking about a single book. My thoughts are a mix of multiple books that I might have read thereby creating some unique combinations that I myself could not realize until I started sharing.
I wonder whether someday I will discover the joy of writing as well.