Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Confessions of a Bibliophile on the Eve of St. Valentine’s Day

Today the world seems to gird up its loins to celebrate the universal day of love tomorrow, and young and old lovers continue to look for novel gifts for their sweethearts assisted in their endeavor by kindly online-vendors, blogs, newspaper supplements and  innumerable other agents in the cosmos who have something to sell. The process of helping (or hauling out, if you will) lovers in their hour of travail by handing them evanescent Valentine’s Day Special offers unequivocally proves that there’s still good in the world and Paulo Coelho was absolutely right when he wrote the following in The Alchemist: “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it."

On the eve of the impending holy day of love and devotion, I felt it was my moral duty as a writer, however paltry my skills may be, to compose a write-up on love. My buoyant writing-spirit, however, took up an apathetic stance as I imbibed more and more of the cloying lover’s day stuff. I wonder how one can help imbibing them when V-day is around the corner; they seem to hound you ready to pounce on you on one of your weak moments. I don’t want to sound like one of those dyspeptic philonoetics you meet so often these days, but then of late I have started detesting the conventional ways of love to be displayed with unflinching etiquette on Valentine’s Day so much that my dearest wish is to bung bricks at those who follow the customs without questioning their real efficacy in matters of love.

As I ruminated on love like any other law-abiding citizen, I found my thoughts turning to a different kind of love, the love of books. This idea which made me shout “Eureka” filled my skeptical mind with hope. When it comes to books a bibliophile has a lot of love carefully stored in the nooks of her cardiac organ. A visit to my bookcase proved my unspoken assertion to be true that indeed those rows of books dwelling in the wooden case have made me the person I am.

Not long ago I read an article about book-lovers in a Bengali newspaper’s Sunday supplement wherein the writer had said that those who read tend to be proud about their reading and more often than not display their learnedness in their public interactions. I wonder if such a display is as erroneous as it is considered to be. Only a reader knows how painful interactions with non-readers could be. And even though the Facebook walls are filled with quotations worth pennies about the habit of reading and how important and life-changing books could be, more and more people I interact with seldom show any interest in the actual reading of books. I being a loner in that respect have preferred until now to hide this incongruity of loving inanimate texts which animate my life like nothing else; so on the eve of Valentine’s Day I wish to profess my love to my beloved books and their authors. I wish to raise my voice and say “You are the butter to my bread, the breath of my life.”

The name that comes to my mind as I dwell on the topic of bibliophilia is Sir Pelham Grenville Wodehouse, or P.G. Wodehouse. The mere recollection of his name illuminates my mind with a “spontaneous overflow of emotions”. Overtime I have read most of what Wodehouse had to offer, my special favorite being the Jeeves stories and the Blandings Castle saga. The presence of Wodehouse in my life has been that of a doting father amusing his child after she had lost one of her pet toys. I in my case I had never lost my toys but have often mislaid my peace of mind. When prospects in life look uncertain I still turn to Wodehouse, and before I know it the nebulous sheets have passed and I am left smiling with a recollection of something Bertie Wooster said or something Gussie Fink nottle did. So substantial is my reading of Wodehouse that I can express this with a certain modicum of confidence that I can look into the eyes of any expert in humor literature without a tremor. It feels great to consider the change that reading Wodehouse had brought in me. For one Wodehouse, and only Wodehouse, made me realize that reading is more fun that fidgeting with useless gadgets and thus saved me from spending enormous sums on procuring cellular phones with baffling applications and other worthless accessories. Secondly, Wodehouse made me realize that there is indeed an elixir in life we could all afford, and that is a smile. It annoys me to see that people smile so less these days. Having read such inimitable Wodehouse classics like Code of Woosters, Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves, Very Good, Jeeves, etc., I cannot but be good-humored and always armed with a smile at any time of the day.

I know as a student of literature I am risking my scholarly aptitude when I confess that my love for apparently silly stories of a somber encyclopedic butler (Jeeves) and his weak-headed employer (Bertie Wooster) made me love literature, that these fictional tchotchkes which Florence Cray, one of Wodehouse’s snooty erudite female characters, would dismiss as bad reading made my life a garden of Eden, or better still. Nevertheless, I hold my head unabashedly high in my love for the man who made the world smile to his efforts rather than plunge them into seas of despair. One advice for the agelasts: thou must head for the hills when thou spotteth a book by monsieur Wodehouse.

I realize I have dwelled a little longer than I should have been on the subject of Wodehouse, and now I must talk about my other beloveds. Names of the composers of numerous hardbound and paperback paramours fill my mind, and I must choose carefully. The contestants are: Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Kingsley Amis, Evelyn Waugh, Umberto Eco, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Virginia Woolf, Khaled Hosseni, Ernest Hemingway, Vladimir Nabokov and Satyajit Ray. I will start with lady V, Virginia Woolf that is. To tell you the truth it was her death that fascinated me and made me love her books. The first book by Virginia Woolf I ever read was her  AWriter’s Diary published by her husband Leonard Woolf after she had died. It amazed me to read the occasional accounts of her creative writing, how thorough she was about her books, how humble and confused at times and how pitiably crestfallen when somebody criticized her. The diary made me love Virginia Woolf, the person and not the author. The last entry in the diary had been made only a few days before she had drowned herself and there wasn’t any hint as to that ending, which, I thought, she might have planned well before she composed that last entry. I remember crying after I had finished the diary and read all about her death on the internet. The only way to allay my disturbed thought as to how painful death must have been for Woolf was to read her books. And that’s what I did. Mrs. Dalloway gave way to The Waves, To the Lighthouse, Jacob’s Room and A Room of One’s Own. The last book, which is perhaps one of the earliest books on feminism, had been a particularly interesting read for me.

And now I must say a few final words of love before I end my write-up about Kingsley Amis and Vladimir Nabokov. These two writers, the former with his overtly confident, school-master-ish ways and the latter a sesquipedalian who stunned me with the way he ravished the English language for the purpose of artistic composition, made me yearn and crave for a writing life. I never said more vehemently the words I want to be a writer, I want to write so badly than after I had read a book either by Amis or by Nabokov. Truly, Nabokov’s Lolita is despicable and shocking in many ways, but his labile use of the English language, his abstruse esoteric style  more prominent in Pale Fire than in Lolita are virtues worth envying. As for Kingsley Amis’s cigarette-smoking protagonists in both Lucky Jim and Take a Girl Like You, I would say that never have I seen characters so well-rounded, so energetic than when Amis painted them; he is undoubtedly the fodder for aspiring creative writers like us who wish to master the art of characterization, style and technique.

Without further ado, I now bid my dear readers farewell with the hope that too might spare a thought or two in the direction of their favorite books on this St. Valentine’s Day and try their best to convert non-lovers of literature into paramours of fiction.

Wish you all a very happy St. Valentine’s Day!!