How I Began to Read: My Reading Influences

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I love the bookish prompts that Blogchatter has offered for the August Half Marathon. They give me so much to think about.

These are the sort of questions I love to talk about.

In this post, I’ll talk about how I began to read and the people (or events) that influenced my reading habits.

I was introduced to reading by my parents. My mother is the reader in the family and not my father, but he actively supported my reading habit. He enrolled me at the local library so that I could borrow a few books each week.

Library books – Primary school

Ladybird picture books at the school library were some of my first books. We were allowed a limited number of books, and we had to share them. The teachers wanted all of us to read during “library period,” so everybody sat with a book in their hand, even if they did not want to read.

This was a source of great frustration for me because I would finish my book in double-quick time but I couldn’t get the teachers to give me another book. They didn’t believe that I’d read the book and understood the story. In the time that my friends read a single book, I would have read two or three–if only I could get them.

I think I told my mother about this, which is why she sent me and my father to the local library. I didn’t mind the rigid library rules any more. Come to think of it, school libraries set up these rules to encourage children to read and enjoy books, but I think they achieve quite the opposite.

Libraries and librarians

Over the several years that I’ve switched schools and met many librarians, each one of them glared at me when I approached them to return a book and asked me, in a sarcastic tone, if I’d actually read the book.

I’m stumped. Wasn’t it their job to encourage reading?!

What sort of a librarian are you if you cannot recognize a reader?

Just like acquiring a B. Ed degree does not make you a good teacher, getting a B. Lib does not teach you to instill a love of reading.

It’s something for schools and librarians to think about.

Now, I began to read in such an environment–where “reading” was just another subject, like English or Maths or Science. No wonder many people equate books with schoolwork or reading assignments!

The drive to read

Perhaps it was my parents’ encouragement or maybe I just had an overwhelming desire to read, I devoured every book I could get my hands on. This included some inappropriate (for my age) Harold Robbins books that belonged to my mother!

I won some prizes at school and inevitably got a book , which I would proceed to inhale from cover to cover while sprawled on the floor. This is probably one of my reading quirks. I derive the most satisfaction out of a book when I’m sitting or lying down on the floor. (Judge me all you want, I don’t care.)

My mother recounts a funny incident that happened during my childhood. I was at my grandparents’ place for the summer vacations. It was very hot and power cuts were common. During one such power cut, my mother realized that I was missing. She frantically looked for me everywhere until she found me lying on the floor, under the sofa, reading a book. Apparently, it was cooler there. That’s why I chose that spot.

Apart from fairy tales, I remember reading a lot of books by Russian publishers. This is the late 80s or early 90s that I’m talking about. People my age may be able to relate to this. The books were hardbound, had full-page illustrations, and small chunks of text printed in the corners. I don’t know if my mother has managed to preserve them but I do know that they were my most-loved books. I spend hours looking over the pictures, reading the words (much of it was in verse), and trying to imitate the watercolor illustrations.

Would you believe it – a neighbor introduced me to Archies comics when I was in primary school? She could draw beautifully and she meant to show me where she had found the characters she was drawing. I was hooked and I visited her more often just so I could read those comics! I knew better than to ask to borrow them or else I’d get a thrashing at home.

Middle school favorites

When my aunt discovered how much I loved to read, she began to send a carton full of books every summer. These books were hand-me-downs from my cousin who was also a voracious reader. I longed for the summer vacations just so I could rip the carton open and devour the books. The carton was as big as me — I was about 11 or 12 years old at the time — and I sat leaning against it as I read.

This is when I was introduced to Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew and a whole lot of unabridged classics. Until then, I had been reading Enid Blyton, Roald Dahl, Hans Christian Anderson, Tinkle, and Amar Chitra Katha for the most part. And Chacha Chaudhry comic books, too.

(I still love Amar Chitra Katha, by the way, and I’m planning to introduce my son to them now.)

I’ve lived in Calcutta for most of my early years and the annual book fair was a cherished ritual. Nothing gave me more joy than the pile of books I’d just bought — not the cotton candy nor the popcorn.

I also remember discovering the Sweet Valley High series in the school library, which I read hidden away from my mother because she did not approve of such “garbage.”

I stumbled upon Tintin and Asterix and Obelix, too, at the school library. I wish I could own the series. They were expensive then–they still are–but I had the best “library periods” reading these comics. I even got a dressing down once when I forgot myself in a Tintin comic book and didn’t hear the librarian calling me.

Again, shouldn’t librarians look at such instances with an indulgent eye?! I was doing exactly what should be done in a library–losing myself in books.

Other languages – Bengali and Hindi

My parents also introduced me to Bengali children’s books at the time. Thanks to them, I can read and write Bengali but I’ve not been able to go beyond children’s literature. I just don’t understand the adult stories because I find the language too difficult.

Being a Bengali in Calcutta, Hindi was not my strong suit. I was doing fairly well in class but I couldn’t speak grammatically correct Hindi. (I still struggle a bit but mostly people don’t notice.) I resolved to learn the language better and got myself several Hindi books.

Of these, I remember enjoying a fat compilation of Premchand’s works the most. Strangely, I had no trouble following the language. It did not help me speak Hindi better, but I could now write essays with the most beautiful words. (He! He!)

Growing up

I graduated to reading Jane Austen’s works one summer after I’d been assigned Pride and Prejudice as “holiday homework.”

What homework? This was FUN.

We were told that we’d be tested on our reading once classes began, and needless to say, I could have reproduced the entire book in the test, if required.

I moved on to read all of her works. Austen’s books are some of the few authors I re-read.

A friend offered to lend me her Georgette Heyer collection and boy, was I delighted. Regency romance remains one of my favorite genres till date.

In high school, I discovered the magic of P.G. Wodehouse and Issac Asimov as well. I liked the Foundation series, but nothing could prepare me for the lifelong love I have for the Blandings Castle books. If I were to choose one author to keep me company for the rest of my life, it will be P.G. Wodehouse.

I’ve reminisced enough, I think. This post is getting too long and my thoughts are still overflowing.

In the next post, I’ll talk about some more authors that I’ve enjoyed and loved.

(This post is part of Blogchatter Half Marathon.)


10 responses to “How I Began to Read: My Reading Influences”

  1. I too missed out on Bengali literature and feel a bit left out sometimes from all the literati conversations 😔

  2. Superbly written! Evoked a gush of nostalgia!


  3. […] talked about my early childhood reading influences in a previous post. Let me pick up from where I had left […]

  4. Thankfully I have found very obliging librarians when I was on my reading spree. For me Famous Five and Harry Potter are special because my friends and I bonded over these books and became friends in the first place!

  5. Those Russian books were the only affordable ones that we could buy! brought back so many memories

  6. Nice to know more about you and the way that you used to read books very fast in your childhood days.
    I also used to love Amar Chitra Katha, Tinkle, Enid Blyton, Asterix and Obelix, TinTin (The cartoon) in my childhood days.

  7. Beautifully written. Waiting for the next one.

  8. Interesting. I had written about my reading journey in my old blog. Here’s the link in case you’d like to take a look.

  9. Very Nicely Written Satabdi

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