This article was published in Golden Sparrow today. The paper carries details of two books - On Writing and Old Man and the Sea. I'd written about three, though. Here's the whole piece.
The books one returns to
Why go back to a book when there are millions of new books to go through? In an age when we're so driven to make a day newer than the previous ones, why revisit a familiar story? For me, re-reading a favourite book is like going back to a childhood spot for the comfort it offers. It reminds me of time when I was open enough to let something change me. All kinds of re-reading, then, are a kind of a returning. Here are three books that I keep returning to.
On Writing: Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
I read this book before I'd read anything else by King. Not only did I love the book, I wanted to commit it to memory. There's a lilt to the way it is written. Yes, prima facie it is about how to write. It has tons of superb exercises and discussions on plot, character and dialogue writing. But also, more importantly, it's about the life of a writer and the lifecycle of his craft – and how there can be no real distinction between the two. (Hence the word 'Memoir' in the title, I guess.) As a child, Kind spent a lot of time being lost in a vacant backyard of some industrial building. These memories form the setting in 'Salem's Lot'. His experience of going through substance abuse finds its redemption in another of his books. His first short story of a rabbit (which he wrote at age six or seven) and his mother's praise is the green light his writer's destiny was waiting for. The publishing of 'Carrie' is the goalpost for why Stephen King conventions have 'Long Live the King' banners today. Despite Stephen King being the writer of 'pulp', I go back to this book for the nuances – the way he describes how he fell in love with Tabitha over a reading of one of her poems. Or why he wrote when all his days felt like dead ends. Or why he still writes when he doesn't have to keep writing anymore. On Writing, to me, is a chronicle of how a writer is born, made, and continues to remain. It's always one melting memory at a time.
Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
Don't judge this book by its movie, even though it has Julia Roberts and Xavier Bardem. I read the book at the height of its fame and infamy (when the author was either a sensitive soul or a selfish prick, depending on which review you read.) But any writer who can capture masturbation and meditation so artfully really knows how to communicate the ambiguous. In a nutshell, a woman goes through a searing divorce. She feels battered and decides to go on a journey to heal herself. She goes to Italy (to eat), India (to pray), and Indonesia (to find balance but she meets her husband there, so 'love' it is). All three destinations beginning with 'I' – the theme to be tackled. This book, to me, is all about the writing and the insights. When I read about Liz Gilbert's morning in Rome where she makes a soft-poached egg and reads a newspaper in a square of sunshine, I feel like I'm looking at some form of art. My favourite parts of the book are where she writes about why she took up meditation (because logic, after a point felt 'dehydrating'), or to understand why loves Italian so much (experts actually constructed this language by picking out the most beautiful words and phrases from other languages) and her usage of the word 'Attraversiamo' (or let's cross over) – it's like going through a lexicon of the heart.
Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
To me, this story is told in broad strokes. An old man goes to a tavern every day and shucks oysters with other fishermen. He dreams of seal lions. He goes out to the sea one day and catches a fish. The fish struggles. The man struggles. The sea roars and Nature plays its part to make life difficult for everyone concerned. And then the narrative quietens. The man senses a kind of nobility in the fish. He observes at one point, 'there was no panic in his fight.' There is a transformation that happens when nothing really is happening. It is for this reminder that I go back to this story over and over again. Life is a big thing. But it's a simple thing too. 'Old Man and the Sea' shows me how.