When I was six, I acquired my first Enid Blyton book. It was one of those ‘Famous Five’ ones. I was enthralled. I ploughed my way through the entire series looking neither left nor right. Then I came across the ‘Find outers’ series. Wham! That took me to another high.
For the next year or two, I steadily and purposefully acquired and read every Blyton book there was; the ‘mystery’ series, the ‘adventure’ series, even the school girls series. I enjoyed all of them. When I ran out, I even sort of went back in time and bought her books for very young children — I was that desperate.
By the time I was eleven, I was done with all of them many times over. The world seemed to stretch out drearily in front. Classics, I considered a chore probably since they were forced upon us at school. I must confess I have yet to start read them for pure pleasure. But I discovered other books, William, Billy Bunter, Hardy Boys, Perry Mason, some of Alistair Maclean’s novels and then James Hadley Chase’s pulp!
When I was fourteen and at a loose end, I got hold of P. G. Wodehouse’s Leave it to Psmith. That was it. It finished the open minded reader in me. I loved it so much that over the next few decades, I have read almost nothing except Wodehouse. Yes, I did read some non-fiction when I was in college, also the occasional Arthur Hailey, Fredrick Forsyth and so on but those were simply speed bumps on my Wodehouse super highway. More recently, I ventured to read The Life of Pi, Palace of Illusions and some of Bill Bryson & Jerome K. Jerome, but again, one could consider them pleasurable blips.
In the meantime, I have read every available Wodehouse book (except his schoolboy stories) multiple times — upto ten, perhaps. One of the first things I did when I started earning was to take a loan and buy an apartment. I suspect the primary reason for that was to fulfill my dream of having a glass covered shelf filled with P. G. Wodehouse books.
So over the years, my world has happily been Blandings Castle, where I basked in the sunshine during the day and bathed in the moonlight by night. Until last month, that is. When someone started the ‘Ten books challenge’ on facebook. It raised its ugly head and then its body. It grew tentacles, cloned itself and grew more tentacles. Now it has everyone in its vice like grip.
There is no getting away from this challenge. You can pretend it doesn’t exist or look at the other way but it will approach you from every direction. There is no escape. It is not as simple as it seems. It’s not merely a listing of ten books. These are supposed to be books that have made a difference to the way you think; cathartic, life changing experiences. Books that have felled you, swept you off your feet, blown you away. In the process, the challenge has turned out to be the mirror to your psyche, your depth and vision, your whole intellectual standing.
In all this, I feel small and woefully inadequate. You see, Wodehouse grew on me and held me in such raptures that I neglected most other great writers (Though Hank Ketcham’s comic strip has remained a constant). Besides, being a person who has generally taken most things lightly — especially myself — I get weighed down by long drawn out philosophy. I also cannot get myself to read books that contain violence or those that tend to distress and depress. It may be written in the most evocative prose, but if it threatens to shroud me in gloom, I’d rather let the beauty of the language pass me by.
Having seen nothing but this ten book challenge of late on social media (apart from ice bucket of course) I have some handy tips to come up with a suitably highbrow list. You must necessarily include a Russian author. (It doesn’t have to be Tolstoy. You can cook up names; most people won’t know. But avoid Putin or Sharapova. That may make them suspicious). Three or four of the authors should have won the Booker prize. One should be from Africa and a couple from Asia. Three books should be depressing or emotionally shattering and at least two, philosophical. And most importantly, one should be a book that no one can possibly understand.
P. G. Bhaskar’s most recent book ‘Mad in Heaven’ has been published by Harper Collins. Please visit www.pgbhaskar.com to enter his world.
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