Anton Chekov’s classic short story ‘The Bet’, speaks of a man who found life’s answers in books. An enterprising youth, he places a bet with a millionaire. The bet being the capability of one to survive solitary confinement for 15 years, with only books and music to keep him company. As the 15 years dwindle down, the millionaire who offered the money has fallen on bad times and is finding it hard to scrape the money. Finally, the man forsakes the 2 million dollars he was supposed to receive by escaping before the stipulated time. In a letter, he writes that he has experienced all he wanted to through the numerous books he has read.
It is a strange world that bibliophiles inhabit. They buy more books than they can read. You know why? Because they are afraid they will finish them all. So every book read follows a mini buying spree to make up for the book read. If environmentalists have their way and there is a stay on publishing books, where do we run for cover? Through books, you can live out your sexual fantasies, serial killer instincts and playing in a rock ‘n’ roll band. You can relive childhood and defy authority through the eyes of Calvin and take comfort from Dilbert on the deadbeat white collar life. I’ve seen the England countryside through the eyes of the famous five and tasted every dish Enid Blyton had on offer. Stephen King has made me wary of pets with Pet Cemetery and Frank McCourt made my childhood a happy one with Angela’s ashes.
It takes a bibliophile to be mesmerized by the smell of a bookstore. Most people don’t understand the mind of a bibliophile. If you are going to watch a movie, it would be reason enough to skip an office party or an outing you would rather not be a part of. But try saying “I have a book to finish” and see the strange reaction. You can always finish a book they say. No sir, you cannot. You need as much concentration and time to finish a book as you do to watch a movie. A bibliophile can never leave the house without a book, knowing fully well the chances of opening a page are remote. But it is like a security blanket, one which will keep you eternally warm. I discovered books in a musty bookstore on Church Street – Premier bookstore. The joy has never left me.
Some mushy souls hold on to the fantasy of prince charming by virtue of taking Mills and Boons a tad too seriously. If only they knew where their counterparts are getting their inspiration from. A debate is raging today on whom serious readers are and who are not or whether some authors can be called authors at all. It is a senseless debate. How does it matter which author keeps you up late, and makes time tick on the drive to office? Books prevent you from labouring through an evening of lacklustre conversation, untoward gossip and bad food. But from time to time, you have to step into the real world. For the inevitable day will arrive when you want to try your hand at penmanship and for that, you will need all the fodder you can gather.
People may look at you strangely, talk behind your back and try to lure you away from your books. Pay no heed. For the uninitiated, open a book on a rainy afternoon and give reading a try. Your world will be the better for it.
I’ll hinge my bets on that any day.