I was always a binge reader. Our school had a reasonably well-stocked library for its times, with all major classics and most of popular children’s fiction. We were each issued a mandatory library card that could be used to borrow one book at a time, even though less than 5% of students ever set foot in the library at all. I blasted through books to the tune of one per day, on average. Lord Of The Rings took me three days.
Our school librarian, sadly, was less than impressed. He would flatly refuse to let me exchange books if I came back the same week, and I would stare at him in exasperation, wondering why someone who got paid to loiter around books all day would be so dastardly and soulless. I quickly came up with strategies. When his back was turned, I would hide the books I wanted in crevices between or atop shelves, and then coerce/bribe non-reader classmates into visiting the library with directions to retrieve the hidden goods and smuggle them out using their virgin cards.
Ah, good times.
The problem with the habit was that I never did learn to read casually. Once I start a book, I become incapacitated for any alternative duty till I finish it. Once I joined college and had the liberty of choosing what I wanted to do with my time, everything descended to chaos. There reached a point where I couldn’t bring myself to start on a book, simply because I knew how I would simply veer off of whatever I was supposed to be doing. Being exposed to wonders of technology and alternative addictions like texting, wikipedia (ahem), and YouTube saw my reading habits dwindle further, and at some point, crash to a stop. I couldn’t afford to read, simply because it was too much of a commitment.
Worm changed all that.
The magnificent web novel by Wildbow was a random suggestion that popped up in a WhatsApp book group. Having never read a web serial before, I googled it out of curiosity, read the first chapter, and was hooked. The binge was on. It was a life-saver for someone clutching at voids at the time, and being just so darn fantastic was a golden bonus. I pored over the pages every waking minute of every day, at work, at home, in bed. ALL THE TIME, EVERYWHERE. I was racing at a pace of over 10 really long chapters on average per day, the thrill building, just lapping up the tension and sometimes glossing over details in the race to finish it… except it wouldn’t.
It was after I crossed a week and 150 chapters that I decided to do a background check and realised the entire web serial ran for over 2 years and amounted to… 1,680,000 *beep* WORDS.
I had met my match.
The realisation that putting my life on hold till an end that seemed to be nowhere in sight had me slow down. It still was my go-to whenever I needed respite from reality, a distraction from recurring thoughts, or when I had an extra 15 minutes on my hands as a meeting started late, or when I needed something to calm my nerves and lull me to sleep. (Not particularly blissful sleep, I may add. Reading about maniacs with superpowers does not exactly translate to the ideal pre-somnolescence routine for someone with a predilection for long winding dreams)
I stuck through, though. 40 days later, I was though the purpoted 7000 pages and 1.7 million words. It was an exhilarating journey that gave me a story to fangirl over, drew me back to life, and taught me how to read books with the self-destructive mode switched off.
Books are back in my life in a big way, and I couldn’t be happier. I just finished Inheritance by Balli Kaur Jaswal. I have four books that I began that are currently competing for my attention – a Wodehouse novel, a memoir-ish non-fiction called Ants Among Elephants by Sujatha Gidla, The Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak and Chidambarasmarana by Balachandran Chullikkad. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury was delivered yesterday and seems eager to join the vying. A much awaited poetry collection, Silk Route by Aleena Aakashamittayi, seems amenable to a couple of daily shots. Around 20 titles sleep meanwhile on the shelves of Kindle and Moonreader apps and a few rest in Amazon carts.
It feels amazing to be back amidst books. As if I have travelled back to a time before heartbreaks, when nothing but the musty smell of paper filled my life. Stories to add colour to my own, sorrows to set against the odd rainy day, someone else’s insecurities to sigh about.
Everyone has a book, I remember reading on a bookstore’s caption. Every day, too, has a book, I say. For the happy day, for the forlorn day, for the day when it all gets to be too much and you seek an escape.
As long as there are unread titles out there in the world, how could we possibly not survive?