2018– Finding ‘beauty’ in books

I have always wanted to read 100 books in a year. I haven’t seen that year yet but every year, I keep hoping that this will be the year when my dream of hitting a century will come true. in 2018 I read a whopping 70 books, which is a great achievement in itself but it still falls short by 30 books. 2017 saw me obsessed with this ‘reading challenge’ of 100 books and I was reading like a maniac. Seeing my manic reading spree, a friend of mine had asked me (and rightfully so) about this obsession with the number 100. Shouldn’t reading be about the quality of reading rather than the quantity? Yes, it should. Absolutely. But there is a tiny part of me which is still stuck with the number and I cannot seem to get it out of my system. I suppose it is one of those things that I cannot help having. It is called an eccentricity. Returning to 2017, I ended up reading 84 books and I was still unhappy. So close and yet so far. But if you ask me what those books were and if I could remember the ones that left a mark, I would probably be able to name 3 or 4. I’m sure many of you are going, ‘See? I told you’. I know because a part of my brain was doing the same. 84 books and nothing to show for?! How ridiculous is that? I decided to be more methodical in my reading. So, I ended up reading the entire Harry Potter series, which was brilliant and fantastic and nothing that I had ever experienced before! But there were quite a few others which are worth mentioning and which have transported me to different places and inside the hearts of some remarkable literary characters, which will stay with me for a long time to come.

There was Inga, of the eponymous book, by Poile Sengupta. A remarkable character of remarkable complexity, Sengupta’s prose immediately caught my imagination and took me away to a different world full of intrigue in the dark corners of the house and darker corners of the mind. It is a beautiful gem of a book that I stumbled upon by accident. It is one of the pleasant accidents that has left a deep cleft in my reading experience. Talking about clefts, how can I bypass the cleft chin of the breathtakingly handsome Paul Newman in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. I managed to read the Tennessee William play this year, the movie version of which I have watched multiple times. There were two other plays that I read this year– Macbeth and Death of a Salesman. Two very different genres, but two really brilliant plays. I also read Moby Dick as a graphic novel this year. The original classic is still in my to-read list, but that’s another story for another time. I also traveled in time with a hamster (Time Travelling with a Hamster) and also with a child in A Wrinkle in Time and in Tom’s Midnight Garden. An author who disappointed me was E. Nesbit and a character who failed to impress was Eleanor Oliphant. I just could not wrap my head around Nesbit’s prose and Oliphant’s oddness. But I found beauty in Nesbit’s imagination and Honeyman’s language.

And then there was Arthur Less. I fell deeper and deeper in love with him and some more, especially at the end. The magic of the story was truly and comfortably manifest in the magic that Andrew Sean Greer weaved with his style. It is no doubt, one of the most stylish books that I have read till date.
Life has not been kind to him. People have not been kind to him. He has not been kind to himself. So, as you stumble on in the dark with him, finally crashing on a couch, almost ready to give up on him; someone switches on the light in the room. At first, you shield your eyes but once your eyes get adjusted, you look at Less and the room you have been in and realize that it is completely different from what you have imagined. You have not been deceived, no. There was nothing in his story if not Honesty. But suddenly, you see him through someone else’s eyes. You are overjoyed because Less has not done badly in life after all.  And then there was Theo Decker in The Goldfinch. It is an epic of a book, both in verbosity and in depth of content.
The brilliance of this book is in its prose. It transports you to a higher level of consciousness. It is almost as if you enter the hallowed portals of an elite institution and with the very act of stepping in you get an education on high culture. At first, you feel like you don’t belong (and perhaps till the very end, you don’t) but then the story whispers to you from the depths of the darkness that is Theo Decker. It coaxes you and you grope in the darkness, always trying to find a way out into the light. The only light in the dark, at the end of the tunnel, is, of course, The Goldfinch (the painting) itself.

Looking back to 2018, I can contently say that I have met some beautiful characters, read some beautiful writing, and found beauty in the mundane and most surprising of nooks. So, like Donna Tartt says, “…isn’t that the whole point of things–beautiful things– that they connect you to some larger beauty?”  A resounding yes, Ms. Tartt, a resounding Yes!

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