If you have not come across an essay called the Unread book route by John Updike, I would recommend that you try and find it, especially if you live, or have lived, in a book-filled house. I grew up in one and could immediately relate with all the descriptions of new books left on television tops and sideboards before they were read, only to mysteriously reappear on the shelf where they belonged in the first place. Pretty much everyone at home is a reader, and can, I think relate to this phenomenon of books having a life of their own. But my Mum, who likes to read, also has a healthy skepticism for too much reading. “One day you will wake up and find that you’ve turned into a book” she would say to us bookworms with a sort of dark Kafkaesque humour. “Go do some gardening, it’s much healthier for your soul.” I wish I had heeded her advice back then. I might have at least turned out to be a decent gardener, considering the number of books I’ve left partly unread. Rather, abandoned. Which is why I have titled this piece after Updike. The route I am talking about now is more to do with how I have read over the years — not an actual, physical trail, but the routes that the mind takes with the pleasures and tribulations of reading. I can remember lying on the cool floor one afternoon when I was about ten years old, reading Great Expectations, and thoroughly enjoying the descriptions of Pip’s escapade. And then,at some point — I think it was when Mrs. Havisham began to make a more regular appearance that my interest began to fade, and the book was — yes — abandoned. I suppose I could be forgiven, since I was only ten. Perhaps she was too scary, or Victorian England was too removed from my world. Kidnapped by R.L. Stevenson also met with the same fate. And Huckleberry Finn. It strikes me now that these are all books with little boy protagonists. All abandoned a few hundred pages in. A little knoll seems to have appeared in this particular trail when I switched schools and reading took a back seat over tests and exams. No more leisurely browsing or grazing in neighbouring pastures. Results were everything. Plus, there were the ubiquitous Enid Blyton books that rob you of challenge. (Thank god there was no Harry Potter back then.) Definitely a downward slide. Then, a miracle in the form of a bout of chicken-pox, (yay, no school) which could also be called the Return of the classic.The Mill on the floss, Childhood, boyhood and youth, Pride and prejudice. Clearly I was back on track. Books themselves were as tasty as the enormous sandwiches that Enid Blyton described with such mouth-watering and brain-stultifying regularity.
By this time, there were many more twists and turns to be navigated. Books had to be abandoned almost for good in the pursuit of other rigours; a degree in Maths. But they returned, when that subject lost its lure — with all of the sensual allure that Updike describes — fragrant bindings and trim edges and all. I think they will stay.