A few days ago, I sorted my bookshelf and separated a pile of books I won’t read again. Most are books I bought because I’d heard a lot about them, but not all books meet your expectations. Nonetheless, I’d hung onto them because there was a time when I dreamt of a huge library of my own, with books on floor-to-ceiling shelves and a cozy seat by the window where there’s plenty of sun, half a dozen fluffy cushions and my cats and dog napping beside me.
No longer, though. I’m a dedicated minimalist now, in the process of decluttering my life – everything from my books and clothes to my inbox and contact list. Less seems beautiful to me now.
Anyways, I couldn’t just throw away these books, so I decided to sell them at a thrift shop. They’re in excellent condition, except that on the inside they’re full of little notes I made while reading them.
They have unfamiliar words underlined so that I could look up their meaning afterwards. I started doing this after my mother told me her grandfather – an avid reader and a dedicated dairist – did the same. It’s actually a good way to increase your vocabulary, except that now I have hundreds of words I need to look up, because even when I was rereading the books, I was too lazy to get up and check out what the words meant.
Life of Pi (Yann Martel) is one of the first books I made notes in, besides The Book Thief (Markus Zusak) and The Diary of a Young Girl. I’d just switched over from R. L. Stine’s Goosebumps books that hardly had anything worth underlining. It was only when I broadened my tastes that I started experimenting with marginalia and loved it.
Life of Pi is also one of the first books I sorted into the ‘to-sell’ pile because it was probably the first book I didn’t enjoy reading. Though, the book is extensively underlined, mostly in black fountain pen ink. I know, it was brutal, but I was just a newbie to the world of books and bookworms and hadn’t yet learned how precious books were. Pi’s musings on religion, things he did on the boat to survive, ways in which people made fun of his name (I can relate) are all underlined.
Then there are a couple of books by my favourite author and idol, Ruskin Bond, about his time in India and London in his beginner days as a writer. As much as I loved Bond’s Rain in the Mountains, his memoirs weren’t that fun, mostly because I enjoy Bond’s nature writing and snippets from his life in Landour’s hills than his days sleeping on the terrace in New Delhi or working on his typewriter in London.
I’ve underlined Bond’s books too – things like writing advice for those who ask for it, musings on time (“For it isn’t time that’s passing by, my friend; – it is you and I.”), and descriptions of the birdsong he wakes up to in the morning, his conversations with the postman, the ivy growing on his bedroom wall.
Kathryn Stockett’s The Help is probably the only book on my bookshelf that has only two things underlined, in the very last pages of the book: one, the moment when Aibileen looks into Mae Mobley’ brown, old-soul eyes that look like she’s lived for a thousand years, and the second, a piece of life advice I wish I’d received: You is kind. You is smart. You is important.
David Baldacci’s The Finisher bears a note on the front page: gift from Pulkit dada. My cousin gifted me the book on Raksha Bandhan. He’d asked which one I’d like to have, and though I wanted both The Finisher and The Night Circus (by Erin Morgenstern), I chose the former.
It wasn’t long after Raksha Bandhan that year when my then best friend asked for a book recommendation. She really wanted to buy a book, so naturally I suggested The Night Circus, because then I’d get to read it too.
She started reading as soon as the book arrived. She read it at home, I read it in school. Sometimes I was a chapter ahead of her, and by the next day, she was several chapters ahead of me. When we were done, I loved the book more than her, so we decided to trade books. I gave her my copy of John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars (a book I’d come to dislike) in exchange for her copy of The Night Circus.
The front page bore her name, and after the swap was done, I scribbled underneath her name, shared by Ratika Deshpande. I thought it the only sensible thing to do, and later found it quite funny, but now I don’t quite know what to say. Seeing our names together is quite odd, given that it’s been almost two years since our friendship ended.
Then there are a couple of short story collections, including Bond’s Time Stops at Shamli. Some of the titles in the index are marked with a star – something I always do to note my favourites.
I wonder who my books will end up with. Will the same person buy all of them, or will each of my books find a different home? Will the buyer pay attention to my little notes?Will s/he know why I marked some titles with a star? Will they know who were the two girls who shared a copy of The Night Circus? What stories will my books tell them?
If you haven’t yet, check out my 2018 Reading Challenge here.