One of the greatest pleasures in the world is a bookshelf organised in perfect harmony – by alphabetic, thematic, and aesthetic order. I will never judge a book by its cover, but I will judge you by your bookshelf.
However, I find the books I read are organised on the principle that it is very nice to have the ones that I’ve recently read nearest to me, in case I get the impulse to consult any of it again. A modest little pile of stray books, the kind that many readers have lying around in their space – and no method of organisation has ever looked less like a shelf. The difficulty is that anything that is perfectly organised is always threatened to become imperfect and disorderly again — especially if you live in a household of readers.
I think I got this habit from my Apa – he typically has on his bedside table the four or five books he is currently reading—a novel or two, a few of the trending business books, and always a war memoir.
I love books reverently – I love the smell leaking out of the pages – a special odour of the knowledge and emotions that for ages have been calmly resting between the cover. And I refuse to open any volume beyond a 90-degree angle because I think it is a crime to break their spines.
My father, however, loves books voraciously. His books always have an overwhelmed look to them: scribbled on, folded over, several cracks down the spine, and sometimes (to my ultimate horror) stained with coffee.
So you can imagine my reluctance to loan him (or anyone else for that matter) the books I own.
I don’t know where my father got his love of books. His own father was an epic storyteller but not, to my knowledge, much of a reader. I remember growing up; we would visit the Jigme Dorji Wangchuck Library in Thimphu every week. Long before I had ever been there myself, I would see countless books my father checked out every day at our home, and wonder why they all had a pocket sleeve on the front cover.
In one of my earliest memories, he told us that instead of a weekly allowance, we would earn our money by reading books. Throughout my childhood, I would calculate how many books I needed to read to afford my next treat (we got Nu.10 for every book we read cover to cover). But at one point (I don’t remember exactly when), we started reading more for the love of books, and less for the reward at the end of it.
And just as Music takes some people back to a certain place – seeing a book and recalling when I had read it takes me back to all the places, faces, smells, feelings, and fondness I had at that particular time. I am grateful to have the kind of brother and sister who can identify with this thinking. The kind who (my sister) would cry, as the empathetic artist that she is, just because she identifies a little too much with Murakami, or the kind who (my brother) would threaten to tell me who the Half-Blood Prince was if I didn’t do his share of chores (just because he was a faster reader than I was).
Something that I have loved about reading for so much of my life is how the past and present seem to go on at the same time. Like you’re feeling nostalgic but refraining from sentimentality. Someone once said that reading is the only place where the thing and the loss of it can co-exist — I haven’t found that to be true in many aspects of my own life, but sometimes a book can make me feel rushes of something like nostalgia, some kind of sentimentality or appreciation for the writers who so meticulously strung those words together and magically turned them into emotions.
In an ideal world – one where my father’s childhood had been less distressed —I suspect that he would have grown up to be a teacher, or a writer, like me. As it is, he derives endless pleasure from my writing – and to this day he is the final editor whose green light I sought for before hitting publish (Yes, this happened during my Economist days too).
Although he seems to embody the image of the self-made man, my father is too aware of how shaky his life has been, how easily his good fortunes could have gone badly, and how many lucky stars helped him along the way. Still, given his particular focus, having three children who now love to read as much as he does, is perhaps his idea of success.