Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Confessions of a book snob


The mind changers
It really is true that despite years of living with someone, despite spending each waking-sleeping moment with him-her, you don't really get to know them.

And so it was with me. After years of thinking myself a liberal, only recently I realised I am a book snob.

But first I must present my defence.
I come from a generation when we had few distractions - no TVs, no computers, not even phones to chat away with friends and no friends other than school friends. School was a good 10 kms away which by the standards of those times was pretty much in the 'jungle'. 

So what did we do in the long summer vacations, Christmas breaks and weekends? We read, my sister and I, and we bonded, perfectly.

The other thing was that we went to a school run by strict Irish nuns who set high reading standards. The books we got were screened, I am sure. We had 'age appropriate' cupboards neatly labelled with the class they were suited to. We weren't allowed comics till after class VI, not even Amar Chitra Kathas. We HAD to choose one book of fiction, one biography and one Hindi book each week. We HAD to have a book mark and a book cover failing which we weren't allowed a book. All wonderful habits, I might add. Habits I cherish and I'm very proud of. Habits I wish I was better at inculcating in my children.

And so I grew up on Enid Blyton, Louisa Alcott, Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys and then - Georgette Heyers and Victoria Holts.

Later, I spent years at the news desk meticulously changing 'color' to 'colour', correcting language, following the 'right' way and getting more and more set in that right way, more sure than ever that I KNEW what was best when it came to reading.

I lost touch with kids' books till I had kids of my own some two decades later. What a rude shock that was. Wimpy Kid, I am not a Loser, Geronimo Stilton and Lord my God!! Captain Underpants! Peppered with pictures and illustrations, arrows and diagrams, doodles and drawings with coloured text jumping at you from unexpected places, with font that changed like a shape shifter - an unwarranted assault on my senses! What were these? Half-comic-half-book-half scribbled notes? Mongrelised reads, all.

I saw Midsummer Night's Dream as a comic and my heart broke a bit. When I spotted a Captain Underpants in my son's hands I freaked. The spellings were blasphemous. How could I allow it?

I looked down upon them all. I pushed forward my favourites. Noddy, Faraway Tree, Wishing Chair, Amelia Jane. As if in retaliation, the children rejected the lot. Each of them. I was heartbroken and I gave up on my kids as non-readers.

And then, very recently, I stumbled upon this article that said to 'Everyone Loves Reading - Just Find the Right Book' written by Tanushree Singh. And I was forced to re-evaluate my attitude.

I wasn't all wrong. However things have changed. 

Books are now not competing with other books. They are competing with television, the iPad, the PS-3 and the lure of friends at the door. They have to squeeze themselves between dance class and karate class, hold their own with Othello and Topple, fight off the Barbies and the Power rangers.

It cannot be easy.

What they need, desperately, are friends, friends not book racists, not heartless, judgmental critics. Friends, among parents, teachers and all sensible adults. Friends who would understand why they have had to change avatars, why they have to dress themselves up as graphic novels and comics. 

Besides, wasn't Enid Blyton banned in schools in her time? Isn't Roald Dahl irreverent and gory and yes, rude, in bits? Who's to judge the good and the bad? By all means ban the obscene, ban the bad language, ban the overtly violent but stop there. Rather than choosing just the best, reject just the worst. Let more of them make the cut.

God knows our kids need them way more than they need our kids.

26 comments:

  1. Love love love your viewpoint. I felt exactly the same about the "new-age" books, and kept throwing Enid Blyton at D. Though she did take to many of the titles, she slowly gravitated to what her peers were reading, which at the time was Geronimo Stilton. You have explained so well about why the books now are so different from when we were young :).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We've just crossed the Geronimo stage. Captain Underpants rules. I still have some issues with the language but I'm trying to look beyond.

      Delete
  2. Great post! I found myself nodding in agreement several times throughout. And we actually share several of the same books in our growing up years - Enid Blyton was a HUGE favourite of mine!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Laurel. EB was my very first author I think. I read so much of her.

      Delete
  3. Loved this post..the gradual transition... It's important to read, isn't it? And not be too picky about everything, the books here...I'm guilty of judging some books too..But yes we shouldn't be...

    Random Thoughts Naba..Of Fair-Weather Friends and their Shenanigans...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Being judgmental is a bad idea for most things Naba.

      Delete
  4. Well I am very choosy when it comes to picking books that I want to read. And I am not at all into reading for reading sake type of thing which makes me definitely a book-snob :) But I understand the perspective you are coming from and in fact appreciate the point of view you put forth here. I wish however and I hope that after all the exposure to these new-age graphic-comic books the youth will again discover the joy of reading something more traditional, if you know what I mean. Because after all there is something to be said about "old is gold" :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Beloo the not being picky thing is only for budding readers. As we grow and read we certainly will have preferences. And it's fine to be picky. In fact you WILL be picky if you've read enough. But for starting out the 'nays' might put off the kids for ever.

      Delete
  5. I haven't read any 'new age' children books but I can imagine!!! The way books/novels are rolling in the market with bad editing, poor grammar, unreadable text...poor kids zone was to get effected sooner or later! True we should ban these but welcome any other creativity that might inspire kids!
    P.S. Ebid Blyton my all time favourite! :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh yes Aditi ther are lots of 'bad' books out there but some are just different. And we often brand 'different' as 'bad'. That's the only point I'm trying to make here.

      Delete
  6. very thought provoking post, this one. Yes, the medium of competition is different now. Books and the written word compete with tv and twitter and so many a time, grammar and spelling are the biggest losers..

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Roshan. Grammar and spellings are non-negotiable elements of a book but I'm adjusting with the other things - the comic-like appearance for a start.

      Delete
  7. If a book snob is a genuine lover of the reading habit, (s)he will agree completely with your views.

    I used to look down upon the works of a certain very popular Indian writer .... until I noticed that quite a few persons who had never read any book before read his books, and some of them got hooked on to the reading habit!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Is it CB you're talking about? And I agree with you. If the not-so-good books get non readers into the fold they've pretty much done their job.

      Delete
  8. So true, Tulika. However, I can't help being a book snob. The first time Sanju asked me what's a 'porta potty' and 'is it true that girls don't fart?', my stomach churned! He read it from Wimpy Kid. (Btw, porta potty is the name given by the author for the portable outdoor toilet) We have stopped looking down upon Geronimo Stilton, Tinkle and all. We encourage Amar Chitra Katha but Wimpy Kid is no more welcome ;)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Archana you've touched a raw nerve. That's another problem area. The not-acceptable words suddenly become part of everyday conversation and toilet humour becomes the order if the day. I so with H and N would read just regular books! Sigh!

      Delete
  9. Times have changed dramatically and so have the reading habits. AG reads Wimpy Kids, Geronimo Stilton among Enid Blytons... and has a few of them at home (bought them in school fairs etc). Must check them, now that my curiosity is piqued!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh you must Shilpa. They are nothing like the books we read. They have words like 'ganna' 'wanna' and 'gross'. All what we considered slang! A bit of a shock for sure.

      Delete
  10. I faced same problem with my kids Tulika. my husband and I we both love to read and we just couldn't get our kids to take an interest in reading. Now they have started to show some interest in reading. we have to look at things form their perspective and differentiate between 'different' and 'bad' as you rightly pointed out.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. How old are your kids Nidhi? I'd love to exchange notes. Mine have started reading only out of peer pressure. And I'm grateful.

      Delete
  11. That's a great attitude to take! My son also loves The Wimpy Kid, Captain Underpants etc and I hated the fact that he was 'losing out' on some great classics! I made a pact with him to read Harry Potter together (at least he knew about that series!) and from there, I introduced him to many Enid Blyton and James Herriot books. We are now reading Kidnapped together though I think he's being really polite in listening! :D

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's a good idea. Hey thanks for reminding me of James Herriot.

      Delete
  12. My kids have read those books, especially my son and enjoyed them. I figure as long as they are reading they will get around to other books...and I was right. Now my son is reading the Harry Potter books and loving them. They are fun, light reads and easy for kids that really don't want to sit still long to engage with and relate to. My son is 9. My daughter 14. Both have developed a love of reading.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Touchwood to that Kathy. It's wonderful to have readers in the family.

      Delete
  13. Bang ON! LOVE your posts! I am in a phase where I am ready to read Disney pixar cars books or dino book or any other book...just so that he sits with me and read. I am very passionate about reading; and my only aim is to see him read for pleasure.... and I just am on the look out of books that will do that.
    Actually this is better than handing him the phone and TV. Way way better.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. 'Love your posts' back to you Veens. I've been picking up books from your dinosaur post. I am so glad to have found your blog.

      Delete

Glad to have you here. It's your turn to share your thoughts...

LinkWithin

Related Posts with Thumbnails