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This post started out as a comment to [ profile] kadambarid's post. Since it has become outrageously long for a comment I've decided to make it a post instead.

I used to shop at Blossoms in Church street, Bangalore a lot because of the discounts. No such luck here in HYD, in fact the book shops here don't have what I want most of the time. Despite this I seem to pick up book(s) every other week from Crossword. It doesn't help that S also loves her books, so we have this perennial space jam for our books.

During my relatively impoverished college days in Madras I used to browse through books in expensive stores like Odyssey that had open racks, air conditioning and seating, and then shamelessly head to a deep discounting wholesale book store which operated more like a pharmacy and hand in a list of books I was ready to buy. Occasionally I'd feel very guilty and buy a book from Odyssey as well. Funnily, I only read books about computers and hackers at this stage in my life. Right now my bookshelf doesn't have (m)any of those books. Yes, life is indeed like a box of chocolates! My father keeps reminding me occasionally that there are two giant cartons of my books on programming and systems that are taking up a lot of space in their store room in Madras. I always dodge the question. In truth, I don't know when I'll ever get around to reading them again. I hate throwing away books, even books I know I won't read much anymore. Not even the books on accounting, marketing and law from my undergrad days that stopped being interesting to me over a decade ago.

There was this unfortunate time that I had to literally throw away my books. I was relocating back to India from the US, and I had sold or given away most of my belongings, but I was hanging on to a few books anyway. I suspected I was over the luggage limit, but didn't realize by how much, until I began checking in. The overage charges for the luggage made me swoon, and I knew I had no logical reason to hold onto the books. What I'd save in overage charges could buy me three times the number of books I was carrying. I was really sad, but I had to leave my heaviest books next to a garbage bin at O' Hare. I hope someone saved them, and it didn't end up in a landfill.

A couple of months back I picked up about 15 books from Strand in NYC on a whim, and I had to buy a separate bag to carry the books back to HYD. They weighed a ton, and I wasn't even headed back to HYD directly, I had to stop over in Zurich. I rued the day I visited Strand because the books weighed the most, and I had to carry my bags up 6 floors to the apartment (they don't like elevators in CH). Of course it's another matter that I couldn't resist grabbing a few more books in CH to make my journey back even more miserable.

I'd only partly read a library copy of Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon a long while back, and it's bothered me ever since. I wanted to fix that, except the main Strand store didn't have any copies, but their annex branch in Wall Street did have a single copy. Predictably, the next day after dinner in Brooklyn, I changed two trains and had the last copy safely in my hand.

I was reading Salman Rushdie's "Enchantress of Florence" around this time, and his frequent references to "Babur Nama" started in me a hankering to read it. Quite coincidentally I came across an English translation of it the next Sunday morning at the Borders near Penn Station. Having just missed my train which pulled away just as I was entering the platform, I had decided to cancel my Sunday plans anyway. So I plopped down in a chair and over coffee and bagels almost finished reading Babur Nama right there in the store. It must have taken 4 or 5 hours.

I find I don't need to finish reading my books all the time. I'd definitely like to complete reading a book, but sometimes I'll lose interest half way when I have a sense for the plot, or the material bores me. In the case of Babur Nama, it was a bit of both, a diary, which is really what it is, gets repetitive after you've read most of it. is a somewhat outdated list of books that S and I have collected over the last two or three years. I know it doesn't account for our latest two shopping trips, and it is missing numerous titles, but it does give some idea of the state of affairs. This list is mostly for myself; I look at it occasionally to find a book I haven't yet read, or to ask myself how all of these different books have shaped my thinking, and who I am.

What I'd really like to do is take a reading vacation. Pack all my unread books, and take them with me to some quiet beach or forest hideout and start reading. So far I've only done this for a week at a time, and that's hardly enough to even get started. Perhaps I'll get the chance to do it for longer, like maybe a month of long walks in the country, quiet time with the books and the solitude of nature.

I've done this kind of thing once before, when right after grad school I had a few months of idle time waiting for my work permit. I didn't exactly start out planning to do so, but I went through 75% of the IMDB top 250, and many other movies that weren't on it. Watching 3 movies a day sometimes, it got pretty obsessive. I also did other stuff during the period, but this is the only remarkable activity I remember now. Let me tell you that watching that many critically acclaimed movies in an already depressed state of mind (because of the work permit delay) can actually be still more depressing. Given that most of the best movies are an enquiry into human values, this isn't very unusual.

I don't know much about philosophy. I know more now, than I did back then, but reading philosophers isn't yet a favorite activity of mine. No surprise then, that looking deep into the meaning of all these movies, I independently came up with the concept of nihilism. I was quite convinced about the pointlessness of life, and the chaos that is human existence. I don't think much about it now, even if I self realized the concept, because believing in nihilism makes life very difficult.

I hope a reading vacation won't do the same, but I suppose that depends on the books I pick :-)

I love the American public library system, but for it, this sort of a movie vacation wouldn't have been possible. I wouldn't even need to buy books now if we had similar libraries in India.

I'd like to follow that reading vacation with a writing vacation. A long month of walks in the country, quiet time with the word processor and the solitude of nature. Perhaps I'll even produce something publishable!

Hey Srini!

Date: 2008-10-10 07:43 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
What a dream that would be - a reading vacation! When I was young my dream was to be locked in a library with just the basic amenities and food and water.
Sigh! Now you've conjured up impossible dreams! And yes, space is a constant problem with my books as well. I inherited some old books from my grandfather (Pearl S Buck and the like) and absolutely HATE to throw them away. My daughter has her own collection and so it looks like we'll soon be engulfed!


Date: 2008-10-13 10:04 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Ah yes. The books in the house has crawled out from the shelves in an very Edgar Allen Poe style and invaded all flat surfaces. Under the bed, on counters, inside the wardrobe. It's the lack of space. As for me, I read everything I buy. But there are a few books that I lost patience with. For my reading vacation, I want to be nice to those books.


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