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BW Businessworld

Not By The Book

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First, let us get the dirty truth out of the way. I have never read Shakespeare, barring The Merchant of Venice and Richard II. Never read Wodehouse. Or Grisham. Or Archer. Or Naipaul. Or Rushdie. Or Camus. Or Proust. The only series I read was Malory Towers by Enid Blyton. Never read Asterisk. Or Calvin And Hobbes. No, not even Tarzan. I had a challenged upbringing. We were never a "book home".

But yes, I knew the Encyclopaedia Britannica by heart. For some utterly inexplicable reasons, my house was filled with encyclopaedias. All kinds of them. So I would read them — morning, noon and night. We read magazines that we would get from a hawker who mooted the idea of magazine rentals well before they became fashionable. The only magazine that the house subscribed to was a quasi-religious, extremely-difficult-to-read Hindi magazine called Kalyan. I would read that.

For most part of my life, I was just not a book person. The only thing I would read about was the Royal Family of England. So I would go to the British Council and read whatever there was to know about them. To that end, I know more about Queen Elizabeth than, perhaps, Prince Charles does.

So the flirtation with books continued right through my 30s. But no serious romance with them. Until one day, at the age of 33, I went to the house of my friend, Kaustav Neogi. I was mesmerised. The house was just filled with books. They served as tables. They worked as stools. The smell of paper was captivating. I lost my heart to books courtesy Kosti and his infinitely inspiring home. All that I have rigorously read has been read over this past decade. I still have my eccentricities in place, though.

I do not read fiction. I just do not have the intellect to appreciate it. The only two international exceptions that I make are Tony Parsons and Julian Barnes. Parsons writes like a wry hack. I like that.

No hubris here, but I also stay away from Indian authors as far as possible. I only read M.J. Akbar and Tarun Tejpal. They both make me feel like a worm. I quite like that.

So what do I read? Everything. Kosti taught me that. I also speed read. That allows me to wrap up books pretty fast. And I read three of them simultaneously. Currently, I am reading about smiles, shoes and one book on the state of America. I also read on the strangest of topics — pineapples, salt, wine and wisdom. Even pronouns. And genes.

I also follow some rather deeply etched rules when it comes to reading books. I do not lend or borrow books. I find it hugely irritating when people ask me for a book. I would rather buy a copy for them than part with mine. Most people have despicable manners when dealing with other people's books. All my books are embossed with a seal or carry a bookplate with my name, date and place of purchase. That is such a civilised way of treating books. It kind of gives them a sense of bearing. At least they know when and where they came from.

POSSESSIVE READS: Embossing books in the library with a seal or carrying a bookplate with your name, date and place of purchase is such a civilised way of treating them

As far as possible, I stay away from paperbacks (it is another matter that my own book never had a hardcover edition. I suppose that is life's way of slapping me back). I invariably read a book with a small plastic ruler and a pencil. I underline parts and sometimes jot notes to myself in certain sections. These serve as a great reference point for me. I know exactly what was important for me in that book.

I buy a book every day. I buy most of my books online. From Amazon, and now Flipkart. Aside from that, I buy books from just three bookstores in the country. To me, the best pure-play bookstore in the world is Fact & Fiction in Priya Cinema Complex at Delhi's Vasant Vihar. Closer to where I live, Quill And Canvas is first rate. They send me cartons of books that I might like. I pick what I do and they take back the rest. The other uber cool store is CMYK in south Delhi. Though calling it a vanilla bookstore is so pedestrian.

I like my bookcases disorganised. So it is perfectly possible to find a book on cocaine lying next to one on climate change. The distressed look of a bookcase is hugely seductive to me. Though over the past few weeks, I have been toying with the idea of getting them catalogued, but I feel bad for the bloke who has to do it. Going through 5,000 books can be no fun. And then making an excel sheet. Eeks!

I exfoliate our collection once every two years. I give those books to a dear friend of mine, who never reads them.

I detest coffee table books. I never read in the bed. I think a book is such a silly thing to go to sleep with. Having said that, I read everywhere. I read in airport queues, in doctor's chambers, in my car... Never while on the throne. I never look at bestseller lists. I only read recommendations from TED. Or Aside from that, I go by my own instinct. And if I do need a recco, I call up Kosti.

Finally, even though I am tech-savvy, I cannot bring myself to read an e-book. I have all kinds of e-book reading devices, but in my estimation, nothing can replace type on paper. That sort of sums up my take on books. But to each his own. Enjoy the one you are reading.

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 26-09-2011)