Book Tales: Living the American book lover’s dream

I finally returned to reading this year. As someone who is known as a reader, it is strange for me to say this, but there was a long stretch of time when I didn’t pick up a book. Before that, I tried a few books, but it has been a while since books were a proper part of my daily routine. Now, thanks to Austin Public Library, I have access to more titles than I can possibly read.

It took me some switching around of ebooks, swapping them back and forth in the online library catalog¬†before I finally settled on books that interested me enough to finish reading them. Once I had stopped returning my library ebooks unfinished, I progressed to checking out physical copies of the books I wanted to read. That was when the real fun began. I started reading books regularly before going to sleep. It was the best time of day for me to pull out a library hardcover and get lost in the pages. I reserved the contemporary books for bedtime reading and the fantasy books for daytime reading, mainly because I didn’t want fantasy creatures chasing me around in my dreams.

I used to suffer from emotional hangups where I judged myself for reading girly books and fantasy, but then I got over it. I was no longer an impressionable teen, after all. I wasn’t even a young adult anymore, as my brother pointed out on my birthday. I was a proper adult, and that meant I was going to read young adult books without guilt. (Do you see the irony?) Back in my teens and early twenties, I used to filter books in the quest to find ones that were squeaky clean. Now I know from experience to avoid books in which the author’s name is printed larger than the title of the book itself. As for the rest of it, I read through the lovey-dovey scenes and get on with the story without pausing to judge myself. It’s the violent and gory scenes that I try to filter out beforehand now.

Visiting the library is one of the highlights of the week. I got two book totes to carry the books back and forth. (They aren’t new. I just unearthed an old one I had from before and convinced my father to give me a sturdier one which was in his possession.)¬† I like putting books on hold beforehand and just sweeping in to collect them. Sometimes I wander through the young adult section to see if anything catches my eye and add it to the pile before checking out.

As for my TBR, don’t even ask. The list of books I want to read keeps growing and I keep falling behind. There are series that have been on my radar over the years, standalone books and series I hear about on Booktube, and random books that grab my attention while browsing the shelves.

I still buy books from Amazon. They are mostly non-fiction titles that I want to keep and refer to over the years. The bulk of my fiction reading comes from the library. As a book lover, I am in book heaven. There are a few books I want to read that the library doesn’t have, but there are so many that they do have that I am well occupied for now.

2017 was slow to start, reading-wise, but I have a good foundation for 2018 to be a great reading year. Most of my TBR will spill over to 2018 and once I’m done reading those books, the list will have expanded. That way, I hope to be happily engaged in book reading throughout the year.

When I look back at my reading goals (even as I previously described them on this blog), I think I held myself back by limiting myself to very serious non-fiction. Allowing myself to enjoy fiction is one of the best decisions I ever made. It’s like having a part of my childhood back. The wonder of reading and the thrill of discovering a story, but without homework and school projects lurking in the background. There was a phase when I wanted to revisit my childhood favorites, but now I want to explore young adult and contemporary fiction. I even read a book from the adult age category without knowing it. I only discovered afterward that it wasn’t YA, though I had a sneaking suspicion while reading because the main characters went into their thirties by the time the story wound up. It’s not that I don’t read adult books in general. It’s just that I used to find them a bit dull. I suppose a few years makes a lot of difference in perspective as a reader. This side of twenty holds a lot less patience about stories dealing with teen angst and a lot more openness towards main characters who have to pay rent.

As for which book tricked me into thinking it was YA, that’s a story for another time. Right now, I have to get back to reading the book on my bedside table.


Book Tales: A Pakistani book lover’s experience with libraries

Back in Pakistan, my experience with libraries was limited to my school library, then my college library. I had a lot of fun with my school library. I borrowed new books from the library every week. In this way, I got my hands on series like Sabrina the Teenage Witch and The Baby-Sitters Club. I read these series primarily from my school library, as the books my parents got me at that stage were mostly Enid Blyton books and classics. I also had the experience of picking up To Kill a Mockingbird many times from the shelf, reading and stumbling through the opening paragraphs, and putting it back on the shelf, until the day came when I pushed past the beginning and got into the main flow of the story, which was much more readable. I might not have given the book these many chances if I had not walked past it so many times at school.

I discovered some children’s authors through the school library that I didn’t encounter during my trips to the bookstore. Tanith Lee’s “The Castle of Dark” drew me in with its immersive storytelling, Jacqueline Wilson’s “The Lottie Project” and “Double Act” took me on fun-filled journeys, and Norton Juster’s “The Phantom Tollbooth” enchanted me by reminding me of Alice in Wonderland. There were books I still remember fondly, quick reads I’ve forgotten and long reads that were forgettable, books I recommended to all my friends to read, and books I told them to ignore in favor of better reads. I still remember picking up “How to write really badly” by Anne Fine, loving it and popularizing it among my friends. One of them went on to mention the book in her autograph to me at the end of school. In short, the school library was a world of wonder for me.

Not so the college library. While the Pakistani system of having “intermediate” education places you beyond school but before undergraduate studies, choosing the pre-medical major also places you firmly in the science bracket. This meant that I couldn’t borrow art books from the library, something that came as an unpleasant discovery when I took an art book to the library desk. While I realize now that this was just the librarian making a poor excuse to protect her expensive art book from being checked out from the library (what good it would be for it to spend its life collecting dust on the shelf, nobody knows), at the time I didn’t challenge it. I cried angry tears and moved on. Needless to say, I didn’t have anywhere near a fulfilling experience with that library as I did with my school one.

My undergraduate college library held textbooks and only textbooks. No novels, leisure reading or anything of the sort. I only visited it to get access to reference books, most of which could only be read in the library itself. My library-less years extended from college life to a few years beyond it. When I moved to America, land of the public libraries, my reading life was on the brink of a great change. Little did I know this, until one day someone told me a captivating nugget of information that transformed my reading life: you could borrow ebooks through an app by using your library card. The full story is chronicled in the next Book Tales. Until then, happy reading, and wherever you are, I hope you have access to a library of books, whether public or your own.