If you are from Mumbai, you’d have noticed the apparent lack of reading spaces in the city. There is a lack of libraries too, which is why neighbourhood second-hand book sellers are trying to survive right now, doubling up as lending libraries. My favourite in this segment has been the Victoria Lending Library at Mahim. For a yearly membership of 1200-1500 you can bring home two books at a time. I have tried some others as well, but not been impressed.
Last year I was gifted a membership to the British Council Library. Alas! They had done away with the reading room format and now operate purely as a digital library from where you can order for home pick-ups and drops. The drawback of this method is that you cannot just pick a book by its cover and take it home. You need to know exactly what you are looking for to find it in their online catalogue.
This made the American Library (in BKC) a breath of fresh air. It is spacious, spick and span and filled with books. Yes, it doesn’t have fiction as much as I would have liked but it does have enough to keep me busy this whole year. My first book from the shelves of the library? The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath.
Now, I had heard of Plath’s book few years back when my friend read it and called it morose. I was quite surprised reading it because the character in the book, Esther Greenwood, seemed to be much like me or any of my friends. She is a talented writer, hoping for a writing scholarship. When she fails to get it, she starts doubting her skills and her motivation plummets. This is because she had built her character and identity around her academic performance.
Esther soon becomes depressed and tries to take her life. After being rescued she is sent to the psychiatric ward. In two subsequent clinic stays she meets more people, starts hating the shock therapies and slowly gets back to health. But even as she recovers, she finishes the book with these lines: “To the person in the bell jar, blank and stopped as a dead baby, the world itself is the bad dream”.
Maybe it was this dream that Plath wanted to wake up from, because when I read a short memoir, I realized the book was heavily borrowed from her own life. And while she attained a lot in terms of her writing career, managed to get writing scholarships as well, married Ted Hughes and had two kids, ultimately the bell jar did fall on her head again. It was in 1963 at age 30 that Plath committed suicide. It was only after her death that the book was actually published under her name (previously a pseudonym ‘Victoria Lucas’ was used).
Is the book good? Yes? Is it depressing? To a certain extent. The fact that she is relatable is more scary than depressing. But it makes for powerful reading. Which is why, it is one of the 100 books you must read, according to this BBC list.