Why I Went Back to the Library – PART 2

Reading in Soltitude
                                                     Reading in Solitude

In my last post I spoke about my actual journey back to being an active library-user. That story is true, however, it didn’t touch on the real reasons as to why I continue using a library and what makes me promote the library habit among the people I know. For this I’ll have to give you a bit of background, so here are a few more stories.

Like I mentioned before, my mom is the person who got me hooked on reading. She’s not a big reader herself, being more of a learner, but she was convinced that reading is the absolute best gift she could give her kids. I completely agree with her, both as a child and a mother, and will talk about this in another post for sure. Initially, she started with the standard books – Ladybird Bird’s Peter and Jane reading series, Enid Blyton, Roald Dahl – with a few eccentric finds thrown in. However, as we grew, and my brother and I started devouring the books she handed us (that’s how she describes our obsession), finding new age appropriate authors was a challenge for two reasons. One she had not been that into reading as a child and the second, considering that there was no real internet then, the concept of reviewing children’s books in magazines and newspapers was rare. So she started dedicating one afternoon a week to book searches. We would visit a bookstore or our library and spend hours reading all the blurbs and a few paragraphs of different books from different series. Considering that she had two huge book appetites to satisfy, she preferred to focus on books that were part of a series. I remember these afternoons as some of the best times of my life. If we really liked a series, she would go out and invest in buying the whole set for us. It was through this exercise that we discovered authors like Willard Price, a Canadian author who wrote a travel adventure series featuring two teenagers and their dad. Even today, in the age of extreme information access, a lot of the amazing books we read, then, are not very well-known.

Today, this is what the library gives me. A source to discover forgotten books and authors. Some of these books have been published decades before and some a few months earlier. Some of them are duds, however many of them are gems that I would have never come across at a regular bookstore*. The librarians themselves have been around for ages and sometimes give me pointers or help me find a certain genre of book that I’m in the mood for**. The library also gives me the flexibility to read the first in a series and figure out if I want to add it to my collection at home or forget the second book***.

Moving on to another story, when I first got married, my husband just couldn’t understand my desire to go off to a coffee shop on my own to read. I am a really social person, though not an extrovert, so this characteristic of mine just didn’t fit in for him. Over time he has come to accept and understand this quirk and now we even go on reading dates. We order coffee, hold hands and read. I’m sure our neighborhood coffee shops advertise our presence as some weird social experiment. Anyway, a library takes this experience to the next level. Now, the library I go to does not have space for reading, but it does have a couple of old wonky chairs at the back, which are secluded and comfy. On many a stressful day I have escaped for a break to the library. There’s no way to describe the rejuvenating effects of browsing, choosing a book and then reading among the towering shelves in absolute silence. You have to experience it. It’s my secret room of sorts and way cheaper than a weekend getaway (though I love those too).

So there you have it. The real reasons why I will continue to go to a library as long as I can, and will try to convince everyone, including you my lovely reader, to do the same.

Always Stay Happy

The Dreamer

*The number of bookstores all over the world, has drastically gone down and most of them only focus on bestsellers and popular authors. Another pet peeve of mine is many of the employees don’t have a clue about books or authors. I understand the constraints in getting knowledgeable employees, but it’s still an irritant. Again fodder for another discussion?

**Obviously, you have to be lucky enough to find a library and librarians who have been around for a while.

***Looking at you Shades of Grey.

Why I Went Back to the Library – PART 1

Reading spot outside a library that I fell in love with...
Reading spot outside a library that I fell in love with…

When I first moved to India in 1999, one of my first tasks was finding a library in the neighbourhood I was to move into. I was fresh out of school and obviously had my mom along to take care of the mundane tasks like actually finding me a place to live. Now, having got me my first library membership at the rip-old age of three, my mom kind of understood the urgency of this task. Though, not when she was standing in line to get me a gas connection and I was calling her to check if I should sign-up for a 5 book or 7 book per week membership. So it was, that I had many happy years with this library. I browsed and inhaled, made friends with the librarians, hid among the shelves when I was down and took extra books to celebrate my post exam weekends.

Six years down the line; I got engaged, followed it up by getting married and moving to a new state. I was running a home, commuting to work with my husband and working 12 hours a day. So basically, I couldn’t get near a library. I did join one near my house but it was shut on Sundays, my only day off, and being bookless scared the **** of me. Naturally, I started buying books by the boatload. Sunday mornings were spent sipping coffee and browsing books at the new concept cafe-bookstores around the city. I enjoyed the ritual and ‘it’ become our thing (the husband and I).

Three years later, we finally moved back to my husband’s home-city, had a baby and started a business. And that’s when we ran short of money, flexibility and space. Babies and new businesses are exciting, but they basically leave you no time or money for anything else. I was rereading old books, borrowing from my huge extended family and even got my mom to send a whole bunch of my old books from my childhood home to India. It wasn’t enough by far, but I didn’t know what to do. Then  one beautiful evening, the baby and I were taking a shortcut through my old neighbourhood (which is quite close to our office) and I saw my old love, the library. There it was, faithfully waiting for me with open doors (no air-conditioning till today).

Excitement bubbled through me as I crossed the sacred threshold, while trying to explain my relationship with this place to my not-yet-two-year-old daughter. She obviously understood the sentiment because almost six years on, visiting that place every Saturday after work is now our ritual (my daughter and I). We have a snowy ice-cream cone at the small chaat store next door and then spend a happy hour stocking up for our week. We browse, read, share, giggle, argue and then walk out carrying enough books to build a small tower. Then, we visit the green grocer in the next building, do our fruit shopping for the week before finally walking down to the nearest coffee shop, ordering hi-tea and sitting back to enjoy our loot.

It’s been a true full circle and I’m happy to pass on this tradition to my little girl. We still go to book shops to browse, buy gifts (most of them sell other stuff too, though I believe in books being the best gifts ever) and add to our library at home, though at a snail’s pace compared to before. Despite this beautiful story (beautiful to me), there are a few more real reasons why I’ll continue using my library membership as long as I can and that I’ll share in my next post. Till then, what about the rest of you? Do you have a library membership? Do you use it? Or do you buy books at a store or online?

Stay Happy Everyday

The Dreamer

Free Wi-Fi on Planes – A Giant Step Backward for Mankind

No free wi-fi!  No Shoes, No News is how I like it.
No free wi-fi!
No Shoes, No News is how I like it.

A few months back, facebook, instagram, snapchat and most other social media avenues were awash with friends posting pictures and updates while on flights. “So happy to be able to make plans even before I land”, one friend gleefully posted. The introduction of free wi-fi on flights was making everyone giddy with happiness. For me, it was one of the darkest days of my life and I seriously considered travelling only by sea in the future. Assuming that free wi-fi is not available on ships of course. Is it? What about trains? I went around with a dark cloud hanging over my head and muttering dire warnings on how, we as a race, are hurtling towards our own doom. Why was I hankering for the Dark Ages of Technology, you ask? Well, here’s why…

I apparently took my first flight when I was 45 days old, an event which has no place in my conscious memory. What I do remember, are trips from the age of five onwards, or maybe a bit earlier, and the overwhelming emotion of excitement. Not just impatient excitement to get to the destination, but anticipation of the journey itself. The freedom of having time to just read, sketch, write; with nothing else to be done. The freedom of hav

ing my family completely to myself with no interruptions. Shopping for last minute supplies with my mom, playing made-up games with my brother and having long meandering discussions with my dad.The break from eating regular meals at regular meal times, and snacking without thought, was a treat. We actually had my mom giving us the very snacks that were not allowed at home. In fact, finding an unexpected book or trinket at the travel bookstore only increased this joy multi-fold.

Obviously, not having as much access through mobile phones and the internet played a big part in this feeling of being secluded. Today, because of our endless connectivity (is that grammatically correct?) or despite it, I’m not sure which, my yearning to travel has become an unquenchable constant. Though I love visiting new places, and my desire to see the entire world (pipe dream?), along with my strong dislike for routine, has always been the driving force behind my need to travel; now the actual journey has become as precious as the destination. What was enjoyable before, a prelude to all the fun expected at the new destination and a slight extension of the holiday feeling, on the return journey, has become a treat all by itself. I’ve started to cherish the feeling of being cut-off, of being able to put my phone on ‘Airplane Mode’ and not having access to the internet. If I have my family with me, it’s an ideal scenario as I can comfortably enjoy the time when I’m inaccessible, to the rest of the world, with no worry.

So now you see, why I’m terrified of the promise of eternal uninterrupted connectivity? So now anyone can reach you at anytime and most importantly, anywhere. There’s no place in the real world you can go to escape the virtual world. In addition there’s the fear of crazy teenagers and 40 year-old girl gangs indulging in 6 hour selfie sessions with outfit changes!

So, how tough do you think it is to live in the Amazon jungles? Any tips on keeping books mildew free out there?

Stay Happy Everyday

The Dreamer

The 90 Day Geisha – My Time as a Tokyo Hostess

My brother is in Japan at the moment (when I started writing the post, he’s now in Nepal). When he was initially planning his trip he had explored the option of a 90-day cultural visa. Now, I don’t know if other countries offer this, but it seems like a good way to boost tourism and get people to understand your country’s culture.

A few weeks ago, I came across this book – The 90 Day Geisha: My Time as a Tokyo Hostess – at the library. I was intrigued by the title (which I’m sure was the intention of the publisher/author), having previously read Memoirs of a Geisha. What I discovered was a whole new, previously unknown to me, use of the 90-day cultural visa to Japan. Plus the setting and context of this book, was completely different world from that in the previously referred book. I’m sure the Japanese authorities are aware of this use of the 90-day visa, unofficially, as it seems to be a popular choice of cultural education among young foreigners visiting Japan for an extended time.

The version I read

The story basically follows the adventures of Chelsea, a former model, and her husband Matt as they navigate the world of Tokyo’s hostess clubs. While Chelsea works as a hostess, her husband sources girls like her on a commission basis for clubs. The author also takes you through different aspects of Japanese culture that the regular tourist to Japan may not even be aware off.

Hostessing in Japan is very different from stripping or prostitution. It’s basically an experience where well-dressed and cultured women entertain men with conversation. It’s like a companionship lounge, with karaoke, which is very popular among local and visiting senior executives of large Japaneses corporations;  and is apparently acceptable even for married men.

The author is on a quest to understand why so many internationally traveled and educated women are attracted by hostess clubs, what disillusions them and what makes them come back. She partially finds her answers but enroute learns and experiences a lot more than she bargained for. The readers get glimpses into the (not so) secret lives of the real Japanese, such as underwear vending machines and dohans?!

My recommendation would be read it with no preconceived notions and don’t judge. Treat it as you would view your experiences while traveling to an exotic place. It’s not perfect but it definitely keeps you reading.

I won’t be surprised if this is soon made into a movie, though I’m not so sure if it’ll pass the censor board.

Stay Happy Everyday

The Dreamer

Credits: Image 1

Copyright 2013 (c). Please do not reproduce this article in its entirety without permission. Alternatively, a link to this URL would be appreciated.

I Deserve Me

It’s that time of the year again. When thinkers start introspecting, party animals go crazy , dieters yo-yo and  us regular folk go nuts trying to balance a social, professional and family commitment while enjoying the festive atmosphere.  What all of us do, in some capacity or the other (except some supremely self-confident and zen people out there), is chalk up and evaluate the previous year, leading to smug moments, moments of feeling left behind, crazy resolutions and ultimately the breaking of those crazy resolutions. There are very few people who I know that head into January (post the extended New Year Eve’s party) with a smile on their faces.  Why do most of us end up panicking that we have lost another year, as against really celebrating our achievements? 

In keeping with the positive (escapist) vibe of this blog, here’s how I’m going to make like a child and blow my own trumpet (even if it’s just between me and me).

  • Make a list of three things that I have achieved this year
  • Decide how to reward myself and make time to enjoy it
  • Plan how I’m going to build on my achievements and hopes for the coming year

To be truthful, this seemed extremely self-indulgent to me at first, however, this is how my thinking changed. Don’t we balance criticism with praise in most environments. be it at work, at home or even in a well-written review? So, when we believe that behaving ‘fairly’ towards the rest of the world yields the best results, why not apply the same to ourselves?

This new year decide to ‘Love yourself unconditionally’ and I guarantee you will become a better person.

P.S. – This is not the same as always indulging yourself and being self-centered. Think of it as a mother loving and guiding her child and you’re good to go.

Stay Happy Everyday

The Dreamer

Credits: Image 1

Copyright 2013 (c). Please do not reproduce this article in its entirety without permission. Alternatively, a link to this URL would be appreciated.

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas

I recently re-joined my old library after almost 9 years. It was one of the best decisions I could have made (which I’ll discuss in another post). While browsing the shelves on my lunch break I came across an author I had never read before, John Boyne. Apparently, he is fairly high profile but I had never heard of him before! I picked up his book ‘The Thief of Time’ and was pleasantly surprised. I finished it in two sittings, which is no mean feat when you have a five year-old, run a full-time business and get to read only after 11pm at night. I was hooked.

When I went in to return the Thief of Time, I was looking for a slim volume to fit into my handbag. I had a longish ride to meet a business contact the next day and wanted to read on the commute, without having to lug around a brick in my handbag. I went back to take a quick look at the other titles by John Boyne and ‘lo and behold!’ there was a slim volume in the bunch. I immediately  grabbed it, barely scanned the title, and rushed to check it out.

The next morning I got settled for the long drive (I wasn’t driving) and pulled out the book. When we pulled up in front of my contact’s office an hour or so later, I had to literally pull myself out of a trance. The book was so easy to read (and even relate to a bit), while making you think hard that it had my undivided attention. I finished it on the commute home over the next few days and though that was a few months back, the book has stayed with me since.

The cover of the version I read

The story is viewed through the eyes of a nine year old boy, Bruno, who’s like any other nine year old child I have met. Completely involved in his own world of friendships, adventures (real and make believe) and fights with his older sister ‘The Hopeless Case’. The story starts with the family’s move to support the father’s promotion. Though this is a rise up through the ranks of ‘The Fury’s’ (Hitler) administration for his father, it feels like a punishment to Bruno, his mother and sister. They are moved from the center of Berlin, to a god-forsaken house, where their only company are the soldiers reporting to Bruno’s father. Separated from his friends and grandparents, Bruno decides to entertain himself with his favourite pastime exploring.

Unlike his old house, which had five floors and dozens of undiscovered nooks and crannies, the current house offers no such delights. There isn’t even a marketplace or crowded street where he can be pushed ‘from pillar to post’. So the young explorer decides to find out the significance and extent of the barbed wire fence he can see from his bedroom window. His burning questions are “Why does everyone on the other side of the fence get to live in loose, striped pyjamas all day, while he has to wear shoes that pinch his feet? Why can’t he play with any of the children that he can see from his window?”

His adventures lead him to Shmuel, one of the striped pyjama people. A friendship blossoms between the two, based solely on the sharing of food and conversation (a usually strange notion for nine-year old boys). Apart from a shared birthday, the two boys have nothing in common but come to depend on each other’s company to get through their individual days.

The story ends with a simple but highly poignant twist that makes sure you will never forget this book.

Why choose to review this book on a blog about making life happy? Well, the book actually made me appreciate the smaller pleasures in life, gave me an idea of what could be going through my little one’s head and did not for a moment linger on the morbid (unusual for a book set right in the middle of wartime).

Read this and I guarantee real happiness whenever you think of it. Not because of the actual story, but because of the way it is told.

Here’s a transcript of a talk by the author on this particular book.

Stay Happy Everyday

The Dreamer

Credits: Image 1

Copyright 2013 (c). Please do not reproduce this article in its entirety without permission. Alternatively, a link to this URL would be appreciated.

Short escapes through books, art, cinema, travel, style and aimless discussions

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