“This is a place of mystery, Daniel, a sanctuary. Every book, every volume you see here, has a soul. The soul of the person who wrote it and of those who read it and lived and dreamed with it. Every time a book changes hands, every time someone runs his eyes down its pages, its spirit grows and strengthens…In this place books no longer remembered by anyone, books that are lost in time, live forever, waiting for the day when they will reach a new reader’s hands. In the shop we buy and sell them, but in truth books have no owner. Every book you see here has been somebody’s best friend.”
— Carlos Ruiz Zafón – The Shadow of the Wind [Chapter 1: The Cemetery of Forgotten Books]
For every book lover, a particular book must have been the one you’d never let go. One which you probably haven’t read in years but will still dust and put it on full display on your book-shelf. Or maybe one you had given to a friend to read and never got it back. And have been cursing the initial act of generosity ever since.
I cant select one book like that. But there have been some. The earliest book I remember reading is probably ‘Five go off in a Caravan’ from Enid Blyton’s Famous Five series. The idea of going for a trip by yourself (lets face it, three cousins and a pet dog doesn’t really count as responsible company), having fresh cream and butter and scones and ginger-beer – whats there not to like. As an added bonus Blyton added some mystery as well. Then there was Johanna Spyri’s ‘Heidi’. My school library had an awful collection of English books meant for our age. From amongst the ones they did have Heidi remained my favourite till I passed out. Maybe my retirement plan of having a bookstore in a hill-station stems from that book. There was also ‘Adventures of the six cousins’ (also by Blyton). That is in this list more for emotional reasons than for the writing style or the matter. My sister saved up her pocket money and bought me this book from her school book-fair (yes, her school had fancy stuff like that) when she was I think in class five. But then I gave it to a senior from school and then either she left school, or I never ran into her again. But I didn’t get the book back. Regrets.
Recently I read Chinua Achebe’s ‘Things Fall Apart’. This was one of those rare books which I could not relate to. It spoke about Okonkwo – a wrestling champ in the village of Umuofia. He prides himself in his hard work and detests everyone who shows weakness. And his life changes after he comes back from exile and realises that Christian Missionaries have come to the village and found ardent followers. Followers who are not afraid to take people in, or to shake hands with the erst-while cast-aways. Nothing in it has anything similar to my life. And yet I enjoyed the book and would now want to recommend it.
Similarly, Milan Kundera’s ‘Unbearable lightness of being’ was a recommendation from one of my best friends. A book with hints of philosophical thoughts, it is not something I would usually pick up. And yet, due to whatever I was going through at that point of time, it felt like a book written keeping me in mind. Alien concepts became clearer to me and I became more receptive to an alternate thinking process. I will keep that book with me, in spite of the gravy I dropped in one of the pages and the fact that I dog-eared a bunch of pages by mistake. It will be counted as one of my favourites.
The ‘cemetery of forgotten books’ will have to wait. I am not ready to let go of these yet.