Right from our childhood, we have been told that ‘reading is a good habit and that we all should inculcate the habit of reading good books’.
But have we ever wondered about the concept of ‘good books’ seriously?
Maybe yes or maybe not… the answer perhaps swings from one balance to the other.
As a kid, I had this habit of collecting books- especially the children classics.
Though some of them are yet to be read and completed, yet I still cherish those days when buying new books was a passion.
Buying books is still a passion but these days the choices have changed and with it, the reading habits as well.
Don’t know if I have been able to find my ‘good book’ or not (about which my elders and teachers and father used to tell).
As I have learned, a good book is that book which gives us wholesome entertainment and enhances our "intellectuality".
But again, there are certain books which are intellectually not very rich but they are still considered good- primarily because of their popularity and readers’ acceptance.
With the publishing of the first book of the world till the latest bestseller, our reading habits have also changed and with it, the concept of a good read has also taken a new turn.
While the old school still believes that classics and masterpieces are irreversible, the new school, however, thinks that classics and masterpieces keep on changing with time.
They believe that every era has new classics and masterpieces.
The debate is a long one with no particular victor or a vanquished!
The year was 2013 and the place was a coffee shop of Guwahati.
One budding but renowned English writer with Assamese origin was supposed to sit of a storytelling session.
The crowd was a closed one and I was lucky enough to have been invited to the story sitting session.
Though I was not much into non-fiction then or I am even now but the said session, however, attracted me: simply because I wanted to get acquainted with a gen-x writer who was being compared with some of the greats.
As the evening unfolded and discussions began, I sensed one thing that though the writer was a gen-x writer his roots were firmly grounded in the past and he found it difficult to snap the knot.
"Classics are classics and nobody can ever make himself or herself free of their influences," he firmly said.
And he was absolutely true to this claim as to when I read his book later, I realised that it had all the thespian ingredients of the classic golden era.
Moreover, his narrative was very much simple and it resembled the style of those writers of the early 19th and 20th century who believed in picking up the daily mundane incidents and pen the same down in a highly narrative but lucid manner.
But whatsoever, the book is indeed gripping and all I can say that it can be termed as one of the classics of the modern era!
Going further back, I remember one such conversation with a senior from Darrang College, Tezpur, who was then a voracious reader.
Those days I had developed a love for the writings of Anuradha Sarma Pujari, a new-age Assamese author whose books always carry a powerful female representation.
When I told my senior about my choices of Assamese books, she simply laughed and said, "You are yet to get the cream of the Assamese literature. You are yet to read the greats."
And when I told her that I have read Mamoni Roisom Goswami, Birendra Nath Bhattacharyya, Abdul Malik, Shilabhadra and Rita Chowdhury, she again said, “Mamoni baidew is powerful, but brother you still have not read the cream. The Assamese literature also has greater writers than the ones you have just named."
Her answer left me flabbergasted and I wondered if my reading habits were indeed poor?
But what if I have not read Homen Borgohain or Shakespeare, but I have read the other greats; so why did I not qualify as a good reader?
Perhaps, it is the perception of an individual and I paid extra attention to what she had said and I doubted my literary sense.
But when my elder brother also echoed similar thoughts, which my senior had said, I seriously began doubting my reading habits and since then I stopped reading fiction and concentrated more on non-fiction- that is hard-hitting and to the point.
Guwahati's Ankita Dutta once during a discussion said that during her MBA coaching classes one of the faculty members trolled those who had grown up reading Mills & Boons.
For the teacher, M&Bs are simply a waste of time and they hold no literary value.
"But sir, I have developed my English from M&Bs," said Ankita, countering the teacher’s statement.
To this, the teacher said, "Whatever, but still, such books are nothing but a waste of time and as far as developing English is concerned, well M&Bs are no guidebooks. They simply present a section of elite society in English."
This conversation again made me wonder, if M&Bs are so poor then why do millions of teenagers across the world indulge in reading them? More than that, why are the publication houses still publishing them?
Once, an editor friend while explaining the idea of 'reading good books' told me an anecdote where Sarat Chandra was complemented by one of his readers as being a better writer than Rabindranath Tagore, and that the reader did not understand why was the latter applauded more for his works than Sarat Chandra.
To which, Sarat Chandra replied, "Well, it’s just that I write for you, while Rabindranath Tagore writes for me."
The anecdote is simple and witty, but somewhere I feel it holds true for a number of writers and readers.
For instance understanding, Khalil Gibran is not a normal man’s cup of tea whereas hating Chetan Bhagat seems to be the rule of every ‘elite’ reader of the country.
"Writers write for themselves first, for the world later," said Chandan Sarma, a budding Assamese writer.
"If I am not satisfied with what I write, I am sure the readers will be equally disappointed. And in the process, if my writing turns to be poor for a section and good for the other or highly literary for some, I cannot control that," he added.
"Every writer in the world first writes for self, then for others," he further said.
"And as far as reading is concerned, I think the norms have changed. The classics of the yesteryears are classics no doubt but we have modern-day classics as well," he added.
Reading is a personal matter and we all read those books which attract us literarily. It may be a classic or a bestseller, but each and every book has a charm and a charisma of its own.
Reading only the classics doesn’t make one an intellect or reading bestsellers make one dumb.
Every book comes with a message and it is up to us to grab the message.
Gone are the days when good books meant only those that were written during the Victorian era. We must not confine our reading periphery to a certain class and we must indulge in voracious reading.
"Read Literotica and you would know how far can a person’s imagination travel," quotes Arimatta (pen name), a writer in the making.
Writing is all about imagination and reading is about understanding and relating to it.
If my columns in this blogzine make an impact on the readers’ mind then I am a successful writer and if not then I am a failed writer.
But efforts given by me are at par with any award-winning writer.
It's New Year's time and this time winter is cooler than last year. It is a good time to grab a book or maybe a couple of books, get under the quilt and start reading.
It is happy reading hours!
Partha Prawal (Goswami) is a Guwahati-based journalist who loves to write about entertainment, sports, and social and civic issues among others. He is also a published author.