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.

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Revisiting childhood: surfing high on a wave of nostalgia

I am going through a nostalgic phase nowadays. That means that I am digging up books I used to read as a child, spending time reconnecting to those childhood experiences that seem almost magical when viewed across the expanse of the intervening years. The good thing is that these old things are as enjoyable as they were back when I was a child, if not more. The bad part is that it puts me even further from getting into contemporary stuff, but there’s no rush to do that, so I can take my time on the nostalgia train and get to contemporary station eventually.

I read a lot of children’s classics back in the day, so revisiting my childhood reads means rereading The Secret Garden, Heidi, Anne of Green Gables, A Little Princess and The Jungle Book. Most of these I got as ebooks, with the exception of The Jungle Book, which I got as a hardcover at the beginning of my nostalgic journey. With my recent discovery of classics being available as free audiobooks, I went and downloaded a bunch of them and started listening to A Little Princess. I have reached the most heartbreaking part of the book, which is somehow even more heartbreaking in audio form, with the reader voicing the characters’ emotions with a different voice for each one. Having these books in audio form means that I experience them differently enough for them to feel new but the story is still familiar, so it still counts as a nostalgic trip.

Another story that thrilled me as a child was The Lord of the Rings. I have reread the Harry Potter series more frequently than The Lord of the Rings, which is why I can safely put off rereading Harry Potter and focus on getting my hands on a copy of The Lord of the Rings. I have still to decide whether to get a hard copy, an ebook or an audiobook. I am so used to reading the tiny, tiny text of my old and worn paperback copy of The Lord of the Rings that any other format is going to change the experience considerably.

I am not going to go so far as to dive into the Enid Blyton books again. For one thing, there are so many that it would take me a lot of time to revisit them all. Yes, I did read a lot of her books as a child. Even typing this tempts me to see how I can get my hands on the Twins at St Clare’s series again. It would also prompt my mother to hypothetically throw me out of the house for going back to Enid Blyton at this age. I could probably get away with listening to them in audiobook form. You can tell I am totally going to go in that direction. As long as I’m going down memory lane, why not go all the way? Let me just stop short of digging up Dr. Seuss books. I actually reread them before giving them to my little cousins to read, so in a way, I have already revisited them as well as my “Peter and Jane” picture books.

As an avid reader, I have a rich history of books I have read. As a rereader, potentially all those books are up for revisiting. I will come around to reading contemporary books and recent releases, but for now, let me try to catch the wonder of a child reader’s joy in the well-loved pages of a familiar story. Once I am done with that, I can start making memories for my future self to return to at a later date. That’s just how nostalgia works, right?

 

 

Preparing to write and actually writing: a comparison

The single most useful piece of writing advice I have gathered from reading books, blog posts and articles on the subject is: use bum glue. To be specific, that means glue yourself to your seat and stay there. You can fiddle about with fancy word processing software, gimmicky grammar tools, and writing websites, but in the end, it’s just you and your willpower.

I don’t mean to say that you can force words out of your brain from sheer force of will. What I mean is that once you sit down and commit to sitting there for a specified period of time, you will eventually put fingers to keyboard (or pen to paper) and get work done. Maybe you need a cup of your caffeinated beverage of choice to activate your mind. Maybe you need an arrangement of cushions and footstools to get comfortable enough for the words to flow. Once your writing environment is in place, all that is left is to stop messing with it and just write.

I spent a long time in this space where I would just read about writing and not actually write. Sure, I picked up on the finer points of putting together a manuscript, but the writing process itself was quite neglected. The fact of the matter is that you learn by doing. You can choose to spend all your life making one piece of art or spend your time making different things and improving along the way.

Most things worth knowing are simple. It is when our natural resistance to making effort comes into play that things get complicated. You can choose either to “keep it simple, stupid” or make life unnecessarily tangled for yourself. It’s your choice.

Finding my way back home

“Home” for me is writing. I have never suffered as much as I do when, for whatever reason, I give it up for a period of time. Whenever I turn back to it, it welcomes me back with open arms. I lose myself in it. It is my personal process of healing. If I don’t write, my unspent creative energy builds up into a big block of worry, and that is unhealthy.

In my autograph diary in which I got autographs from my teachers and schoolmates back in high school, one of my teachers told me to keep a hold onto writing, as she herself regretted letting go of it. Whenever I experience the peaceful bubble I can cocoon myself into when I write after a break from it, I recall this piece of advice from her and doubly appreciate it. I would be a fool to give up writing permanently. It is just hard-wired into my brain.

My brother is my personal cheerleader as far as writing goes. He is responsible for getting me to set up a “writing tracker”, which is basically a notebook in which I chart my writing progress. As usual, I either have several works in progress at one time, or none at all. I suppose it’s “all or nothing” for me.

My latest return to writing has been a happy one. I finally started writing my book, for real this time. I started a serial story for one of the magazines I write for. Both projects are enough to keep me on my toes. I aim to see both projects through to completion. That would be a serious achievement for me as a writer.

So, here goes nothing. I’m all set to continue my writing journey. I’ll keep you posted as to how it goes!

 

Life of a bookworm (Opening up my cabinet of curiosities # 3)

Austin Kleon‘s book “Show Your Work” has a list of questions that bring out the creative mind in you. I decided to answer all the questions, one by one, in order to express my creative side in a personal way. Today’s question is:

What do you read?

What I choose to read has certainly changed with every change in circumstance as I grow older. When I was younger, novels predominated. Now that I am looking to root myself in the real world and shut off the dreamland that preoccupied my waking hours since I was eight years old, I choose biographies, memoirs, humorous books and non fiction. I still sneak a novel or two in sometimes, for old time’s sake, but novel-reading is no longer the intense activity it was, the way it used to be when I was a child/teenager. Somehow, the novel addiction has weakened. I suppose that’s called growing out of something.

Non fiction is something I am definitely growing into. During a book fair last year, I picked up basic books by heavy-duty names like Ghazali, Rumi and Iqbal. One book was actually about how Rumi inspired Iqbal, so it was about both of them at once–I really enjoyed that.

Now that I am past the grueling college years of student life, and have some time unburdened by academics, I am looking forward to sinking my teeth into some good non fiction reading, with the topics of interest being the history and lives of Muslims in South Asia. I also want to place particular emphasis on an introductory study of Quran and Hadith. For Quran, I would be following my online “Quran Program” classes at Zaynab Academy Online, as well as reading up on the sections taught in class by looking them up in reference books, namely Maariful Quran and Tafseer Ahsanul Bayan. For Hadith, just to get started, I will be reading and reflecting upon Riyadh us Saliheen. May Allah accept my intention and increase me in all that is good.

I have always been an ambitious reader. Every book has somewhere to take you and something to teach you. I aspire to go somewhere and learn something every day of my life, and books make it possible for me. Here’s to another year of happy reading. See you at the bookstore!

 

 

 

Dental Doldrums

Regular students just get paper cuts.
Me?
I have
plaster knife cuts
from digging out cured appliances from their plaster moulds
I have
wax burns
melted wax dripping down the wax knife onto my skin
I have
gouged nails
from whirring burs slipping along one hand onto the other
And then there’s the
ever present danger of
needle prick injury
Three marks short essay question, how to manage needle stick injury from confirmed patient of hepatitis B?
The answer is get an antibody shot pronto, blood titer checked, Engerix B booster dose if needed.
But you don’t need to know that
because you’re busy sucking on your paper cut
cursing that darned paper clip for stepping out of line.

***

(A little something I wrote in November 2014.)

Did I tell you…?

Did I tell you that I started reading Imam Ghazali? The depth and breadth of his books is astonishing. I feel stupid for not having “discovered” him before, though it’s quite silly to think of me as having “discovered” his writing.

Anyway, here’s the first book of his I took in my hands:

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The others, I got as ebooks from Amazon.

If you are a “small details” person, or a “big picture” person, Ghazali has both for you. The scope of his work will draw you in and the force of the contents will shake you up. That is, if you take kindly to being shaken up, otherwise you won’t be able to take it and will put the book away. This is serious spiritual stuff, not feel-good Facebook fluff.

You can check out sections of his works on ghazali.org. Go ahead. I suggest starting with “Deliverance from Error”, his autobiographical account of his own journey from skeptical doubt to certain conviction.

What more can I say? It’s time to shut down the keyboard and open up the book. I will update you about my reading progress soon!