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I love paper. Books printed on acid-free paper and bound in cloth turn me on. I'm crazy about bookmarks, and I buy too many stickers. I could spend hours in the build-your-own-greeting card section of my neighborhood craft store. My favorite thing to eat is bread, and my second favorite is fruit. (Mm, pineapple.) I read too much and too fast, and I watch too many food shows (two ways of looking at gluttony). Gloomy, rainy weather calms me and so I can't wait to move out of California, which will happen, sadly, too many years from now to count. I'm vegan, though I haven't managed to eliminate honey from my diet yet. I practice yoga; it's the only way I can keep fit. I have a better life than I ever imagined I would (or deserve to) have, but I do my best to enjoy it rather than feel guilty about it. That's my daily struggle -- and also to be thoughtful and observant and honest with myself.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Smitten

I'm slightly embarrased to write about this: my book infatuation of the moment. But I have to, if for no other reason than to unburden myself, like a old sinner in the confessional. I am madly (and I mean it in the slightly pathological sense) with Paul Scott's Raj Quartet.

I have felt this before: with Jane Eyre when I was in my early teens, Jane Austen in college, Alice Munro's stories after college. I read these books and authors obsessively. My copy of Jane Eyre has chocolate smudges on the pages from the time my mom made fudge for the first time and it didn't harden properly and I ate it straight out of the pan with a spoon while reading the book for the fifth or sixth time.

And now I'm smitten with Paul Scott's The Jewel in the Crown, the first volume of the Raj Quartet. The passion I have for this book is almost physical, and it mortifies me a little. As usual with me, it began with the beautiful thick paper and the glossy cover of the book. And then I opened it and read the first sentence. I was in my India phase then, trying to get my hands on all books about the British occupation of India. In college I took a class on the literature (written in English) of the subcontinent and that's when the spark was lit -- with E.M. Forster's A Passage to India and Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things. And then I found, quite by accident, Paul Scott's quartet. I've read all four books last year. I'm re-reading the first volume now. And I see myself coming back to these books again and again, over the course of my entire life.

I don't understand how a work such as this could be written. It is so broad and rich -- what poor adjectives these are to describe it -- that one human mind seems too limited to have been able to conceive it. Although it is full of pathos, it never strays into sentimentality. (It strays into other problems, but even my overly critical mind cannot linger too long on them; they are compensated by so many other wonderful things). It weaves the personal with the political with an assurance and fluidity that give me goosebumps. How can such skill be honed? It seems a miracle, not the product of years of ordinary, everyday practice.

Here, I have gushed enough. My soul doesn't feel lighter, as it should after a confession. And I know why. This excessive love of books bespeaks a fallacy in my thinking: I believe that living through books, living other characters' lives, is more interesting and valuable and exciting than living one's own life. Well. I've come out of the closet. The air is a little too bright and too sharp out here. But I'll live.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Green Whale,
did you hear about "A suitable boy" by Vikram Seth? It is situated in the north of India after the separation of Pakistan and Bangladesh and a stunning book in every aspect. Besides giving insights in the social, political, religious issues of that time it is a lovely story about a girl who is looking for a suitable man.

I will certainly look into the "Raj Quartet".
www.blogadog.web-log.nl

April 28, 2006  
Blogger Never Enuf Thyme said...

green whale said: "...I believe that living through books, living other characters' lives, is more interesting and valuable and exciting than living one's own life."

I think it's safe to say you're not alone in this belief. :) It's the same charm or spell that nudged me into writing my own stories: my characters were much more interesting to watch and write about than living my own life.

April 29, 2006  
Blogger Green Whale said...

Thank you for the Vikram Seth recommendation; I will definitely check it out.

Invisible -- it is good to know, yet again, that I'm not alone.

April 29, 2006  

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