Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Reader's block

"Reader's block"
A big word. Is this actually a real phenomenon? Do a reader go into a "block", unable to read, just like that? Or is it that he doesn't get the right book, and all he gets is some book that doesnt impress/interest him?

I went into a reader's block for may be 6 months. Before that, I read about 3-4 books a month for sometime, before which, I read about perhaps a book a month. Then I started with the eternal hero Jawaharlal's Glimpses of the World History with the firm understanding that I am never going to complete such a huge non-fiction book, however great it is. True to my awareness of myself, I left the book at may be 250th page (read over a month). The effect was not much on me, except that I dont remember reading any book after that for six months. I did try to read, but somehow, I left them in the first ten pages, and I dont remember the book's names.

That was before I stumbled on Is Paris Burning by Dominique/Lappierre, in the vain hope that the author's style of writing would help to get rid of the ghost of "reader's block" that had affected me. I had enjoyed half of Freedom at Midnight and O Jerusalem!, but left them there :). Sadly, after about 80 pages, like one of the reviewer's of the film of the same name on the same book asked, I asked myself: Is Paris Boring? The problem was, the book had so many names, and so many chapters with started with lines similar to: "At the same time, in a nondescript house in the state of [X], Mr. [Y] woke up, with a hangover of a bad sleep." That chapter will be about Mr. Y, and then the next chapter will be about another Mr. Y waking up somewhere else, and what went through his mind.

There were good things with the book too. I realized that I had a horrible knowledge of even the timeline of WW2: so much so that I didnt realize that France was under German occupation for about 5 years or so. I had no clues about the Vichy goverment, de Gaulle's role in the whole thing, and his relation with Roosevelt and others. I got more interested, in fact got fascinated about de Gaulle, and his role in shaping the face of modern France, and many of its liberal outlook. And perhaps its laziness. But I left the book at 80 pages, moving on to Wikipedia :)

Then I started To the End of the Rhine by Bernard Levin: I found it quite interesting: it almost started with a Chapter on Swiss Military, which started with a quote which went like: "At xyz's time, Italy witnessed a period of highest violence and bloodshed, and they created Renaissance. Switzerland had democracy for 500 years, and they created the Cuckoo Clock". (I dont remember who the xyz was. And Swiss democracy was a special type of democracy, quite unlike any modern democracy: for eg: the Women got voting rights only as late as 1971!!). About their military, its like a paranoid government expecting the doomsday tomorrow, with underground oil lakes, hospitals and hostels that can withstand a Hiroshima happening some one kilometer nearby, waiting to be used in case of an attack. All Swiss guys (from lawyers to professors, I understand) must serve for some period every year, and have guns and even grenades at home. Most of the strategic places (like bridges) are mined. No wonder they follow a policy of stringent, aggressive neutrality.

The book then went to Liechenstein, where, according to the book, 10% of national income came from selling postage stamps. And the country being a tax haven, just near the Swiss border, majority of the rest of national income comes from financial institutions making use of its tax haven status, and tourism which banks on the "one of the smallest country" status. He also writes about an amusing parking ticket he got, written in 4 languages or so, in an explicitly polite language.

Then it became boring, with long passages on the architecture of buildings across Rhine. The book fell from my hands, I fell into deep sleep and didnt read the book again.

Till I started with No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency. I bought the book more than an year back, from Strand. I reached the bookshop before leaving for Calicut, and wanted to get a book. I found none to my taste, and was feeling bad after two hours or so, when it was time for me to leave. I just saw this book, went through the theme, and just picked it. Gave it to my friend, who read it, and loved it. I got it back last week(!!), with a strong recommendation. So I started reading it this Saturday. I was feeling bad when I started it, but I loved it, and finished it yesterday. It was entertaining, and got me started on this country called Botswana, familiar to me through the stamps from the place my father's stamp collection had. Botswana is a real exception to the impression we have about African countries. The place has a reasonably strong democracy, rule of law, non-corrupt courts and a modern military(which obeys the government commands). And the population density is like 3 persons every km square, and is bordering Zimbabwe and South Africa, which made me feel like: I WANT TO SEE THIS PLACE!!

So, was "reader's block" a phenomenon by itself, or was it that, I was trying to read books that were boring? If it is the former, I am glad that its over at least for now. Otherwise, I will try to read an interesting book next time. Both not bad options :-)

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