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Inside my vast world of books

Willie Gordon Suting

I started collecting books when I was in college. It was with a few Penguin anthology of essays, which then progressed to literary fiction. English classics, somehow, had never appealed to me. The archaic terms and rural settings seemed a distant world.
I never had a library at the time. It was until I graduated from university that I invested most of my savings in books. Be it online or from bookshops, I made efforts to purchase iconic novels.
Anna Karenina was the key Russian novel that introduced me to Leo Tolstoy. There was magnanimous empathy in how he constructed characters. Anna, in her extra-marital affair, goes against society’s strictures. She suffers greatly for this, while Levin is disillusioned with God. The long-form descriptions showed how Tolstoy’s vision could capture many sensibilities.
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez is probably one of the most difficult novels I read. The slow-winding chapters tell the history of the Buendia family. Magic realism was explored as a form of hypnosis with rich nature imagery and the supernatural. Marquez was able to achieve what no other Latin American writer could. Though in lucid prose, his descriptions had altering hues.
It was after graduating from university that I read mostly Indian fiction. Such a Long Journey by Rohinton Mistry described troubled times during the Emergency of Indira Gandhi. Gustad, left helpless with his ailing daughter crying, risks his life to save her. The tale of extreme poverty laid bare realities of India.
Fasting Feasting by Anita Desai described how repression made Uma and Arun suffer. Because of family’s codes and rules, identity is made to conform. The novel, though written well, yet fails to be memorable because of its lyrical prose.
The Romantics of Pankaj Mishra went deep into the east versus west dichotomy. Mishra doesn’t present the west as ideal. He in fact gives a different point of view from an Indian’s perspective. The whole fetishisation of the west goes to extremes. And this very nature has led to the loss of identity.
Em and the Big Hoom by Jerry Pinto was a beautiful study of bipolar disorder. Em, who behaves like a musical composition, has her rise and fall of emotions. While The Big Hoom remains composed to make his children comprehend the illness more. Em’s dark humour is devoid of self-pity. Instead, I saw her as a more human figure than most of the characters.
A Beautiful Mind by Sylvia Nasar too was a book on mental illness. John Nash had the worst of hallucinations believing his life was under threat. Rather than seeing reality, he lived in his private world. Even his mathematical calculations were dictated by fear. The most compassionate was his wife who stood by him, and who most understood it all. Nash was able to win the Nobel Prize with his Economic Game Theory before schizophrenia.
Bob Dylan fails to be articulate with media. But his Chronicles: Volume One described an origin story-from the youth who imitated Woody Guthrie’s verse refrain to the painful blues of Robert Johnson.
Dylan wrote about his love for the Greek lyric poets and experimental literature. True to his humility, he says in the autobiography he never considers himself a poet.
Conscience, an Oxford introductory book by Paul Strohm described how Friedrich Nietzsche believed in letting go of religion. Strohm says for Nietzche, it was itself an act of humaneness. Society with its hypocrisy and sanctimoniousness was scathingly criticised by most philosophers.
I was most drawn to existentialism reading Philosophy: The Basics by Nigel Warburton. Heidegger’s philosophies were highly complex.
But Jean Paul Sartre’s “existence precedes essence” was revelatory of how much we’ve failed to understand ourselves. In this world, no one believes in a true self.
Human minds are shaped by others’ thinking patterns that there is a complete negation of identity.
These are some of the books in my library. It took me years though to collect more titles. I firmly believe in what books can do to a reader. The mind is a space of creativity. And the more we push ourselves with reading, the more we become better individuals.

Reading suggestions for the week:
1. Unpopular Essays by
Bertrand Russell
2. The Selfish Gene by
Richard Dawkins

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