Right from our childhood we have been told that ‘reading is a good habit and that we all should inculcate the habit of reading good books’. But have we ever wondered on the concept of ‘good books’ seriously? May be yes or may be not…the answer perhaps swings from one balance to the other. As a kid, I had this habit of collecting books- especially the children classics. Though some them are yet to be read and completed, yet I still cherish those days when buying new books was a passion. Buying books is still a passion but these days the choices have changed and with it, the reading habits as well. Don’t know if I have been able to find my ‘good book’ or not (about which my elders and teachers and father used to tell).
Going by the definition, rather say concept of a good book, I can presume that a good book is one which gives us wholesome entertainment and also bombards us with missiles of new information and knowledge and enhances our intellectuality my manifolds. But again, there are certain books which are intellectually not very rich but still they are considered as good books- primarily because of their popularity and readers’ acceptance.
With the publishing of the first book of the world till the latest bestseller, our reading habits have also changed and with it the concept of a good read has also taken new turn. While the old school still believes that classics and masterpieces are irreversible, the new school however thinks that classics and masterpieces keep on changing with time and in every era we have new classics and masterpieces. The debate is a long one with no particular victor or a vanquished!
Blast from the past
The year was 2013 and the place was a coffee shop of Guwahati. One budding but renowned English writer with Assamese origin was supposed to sit of a story sitting. The crowd was a closed one and I was lucky enough to have been invited to the story sitting session. Though I was not much into non-fiction then or I am even now but the said session however attracted me: simply because I wanted to get acquainted with a gen-x writer who was being compared with some of the contemporary greats of the past.
As the evening unfolded and discussions began, I sensed one thing that though the writer was a gen-x writer but his roots were firmly grounded in the past and he found it difficult to snap the knot.
“Classics are classics and nobody can ever make himself or herself free of their influences,” he firmly said.
And he was absolutely true to this claim as when I read his book later, I realised that it had all the thespian ingredients of the classical golden era. Moreover, his narrative was very much simple and it resembled to the style of those writers of the early 19th and 20th century who believed in picking up the daily mundane incidents and pen the same down in a highly narrative but lucid manner. But whatsoever, the book is indeed gripping and all I can say that it can be termed as one of the classics of the modern era!
Going further back, I remember one such conversation with a senior from Darrang College, Tezpur, who is a voracious reader. Those days I developed a love for the writings of Anuradha Sarma Pujari, a new-age Assamese author whose books always carry a powerful female representation. When I told my senior about my choices of Assamese books, she simply laughed and said, “You are yet to get the cream of the Assamese literature. You are yet to read the greats.” And when I told her that I have read Mamoni Roisom Goswami, Birendra Nath Bhattacharyya, Abdul Malik, Shilabhadra and Rita Chowdhury, she again said, “Mamoni baidew is powerful, but brother you still have not read the cream. The Assamese literature also has greater writers than the ones you have just named.”
Her answer left be flabbergasted and I wondered if my reading habits were indeed poor? But what if I have not read Homen Borgohain or Shakespeare, but I have read the other greats; so why did I not qualify as a good reader? Perhaps, it is the perception of an individual and I gave an extra attention to what she had said and I doubted my literary sense. But when my elder brother also echoed similar thoughts, which my senior had said, I seriously began doubting my reading sense and since then I stopped reading fiction and concentrated more on non-fiction- that is hard-hitting and to the point.
Richa Baruah, a friend of mine, once during a discussion told me that during her MBA coaching classes one of the faculty members trolled those who had grown up reading Mills & Boons. For the teacher, M&Bs are simply waste of time and they hold no literary value.
“But sir, I have developed my English from M&Bs,” said Richa, countering the teacher’s statement. To this, the teacher said, “Whatever, but still, such books are nothing but a waste of time and as far as developing English is concerned, well M&Bs are no guidebooks. They simply present a section of the elite society English.”
This conversation again made me wonder, if M&Bs are so poor then why do millions of teenagers across the world indulge in reading them? More than that, why are the publication houses still publishing them?
While explaining me the idea of the topic for the said article, my editor told me an anecdote where Sarat Chandra was complimented by one of his readers as being a better writer than Rabindranath Tagore, and that the reader did not understand why was the latter applauded more for his works than Sarat Chandra. To which, Sarat Chandra replied, “Well, it’s just that I write for you, while Rabindranath Tagore writes for me.”
The anecdote is simple and witty, but somewhere I feel it holds true for a number of writers and readers. For instance understanding Khalil Gibran is not a normal man’s cup of tea whereas hating Chetan Bhagat seems to be the rule of every ‘elite’ readers of the country.
“Writers write for themselves first, for the world later,” said Chandan Sarma, a budding Assamese writer. “If I am not satisfied with what I write, I am sure the readers will be equally disappointed. And in the process if my writing turns to be poor for a section and good for the other or highly literary for some, I cannot control that. Every writer in the world first writes for self, then for others,” he further says, adding, “And as far as reading is concerned, I think the norms have changed. The classics of the yesteryear are classics no doubt but we have modern day classics as well. We have bestsellers, which might not be classics, but they are good books. Take for example Bhu Bharasta– the latest Assamese bestseller that was released at the NE Book Fair this year. The writer, quite brilliantly, writes about daily happenings in a humorous way. And it has been able to penetrate the minds of the readers. Now this book might never be regarded as a classic as it perhaps lacks the so called ingredients of a classic. But as a reader I enjoyed reading the book and I have suggested the name to few others as well.”
Reading is a personal matter and we all read those books which attracts us literarily. It may be a classic or a bestseller, but each and every book has a charm and a charisma of its own. Reading only the classics don’t make one an intellect or reading bestsellers make one dumb. Every book comes with a message and it is up to us to grab the message. Gone are the days when a good book meant only the ones written during the Victorian era. We must not confine our reading periphery to a certain class and we must indulge in voracious reading.
“Read lit erotica and you would know how far can a person’s imagination travel,” quotes Arimatta (pen name), a writer in the making.
Writing is all about imagination and reading is about understanding and relating with it. If my columns in this magazine make an impact on the readers’ mind then I am a successful writer and if not then I am a failed writer. But efforts given by me are at par with any award winning writer. Winter has fallen and hence it is time to grab a book, get under the quilt and start reading. It is happy reading hours!
(The article was published previously in Good Times of North East. It was originally written in December 2015.)