There are some things that you cannot do without people making certain assumptions about you. The problem arises when you do certain things, but are unable to live up to the assumptions. A problem that has invariably deviled me in various endeavors - as in my trekking for years, while not ceasing to huff and puff up hills like a veritable novice.
When I started out, I never realized that the reading habit could get me into the same sort of trouble. Alack and Alas! We live in a world where doing nothing is safe. There I was, merrily reading three books a day through school and college - books of my choice - without bothering a single soul and, presto, people start bothering me.
"You like books? You have much in common with Suresh. He is a bookworm"
"Great! Tell me Suresh - how do you like Salman Rushdie?"
"You haven't read Salman Rushdie?" with a call-yourself-a-reader tone. "What do you read then?"
"Alistair McLean, PG Wodehouse..."
"Oh! Those...", dismissively, leaving me feeling six inches tall.
Had to read Salman Rushdie, then. 'Magical realism' or some such thing he is supposed to write but, for me, it was all mystifying. I ploughed through some twenty pages of 'Midnight's Children' without a clue about what was happening, if anything was indeed happening. It was difficult enough for me to understand what those sentences meant and people, who saw the book in my hands, started talking about what the author REALLY meant to say. Egads! Give me the bombs and the spies, please!
And then someone told me John Steinbeck was un-put-down-able. At last! Some author I could credibly boast of reading and, apparently, a thrilling read as well. I picked 'Grapes of Wrath' and, within three pages, I knew that I had my poles reversed. Where everyone seemed to find it un-put-down-able, I found it un-take-up-able. It really required enormous will power to lift up the book to read yet another paragraph and extraordinarily easy to put it back down, and look for the Erle Stanley Gardner that I had already read twice, so that I could read it again. Talk about being a Philistine.
Of the entire lot I read, Ayn Rand was the biggest letdown. The rest start off promising no thrilling story and keep their promise. Rand, on the other hand, keeps you engrossed in some interesting shenanigans and, when you are lulled, socks you with a lecture on economics or sociology that will just NOT end. Cheating, I call it!
I had quite resigned myself to the fact that, voracious reader though I was, I could only read stories that had a clear beginning, a middle and an end; that had a protagonist whom I could at least like, if not respect, AND not someone who keeps telling me that the world was full of slimy beings and he was stinking in the garbage right alongside me; and which had enough incidents in it to keep me interested and not merely the workings of a person's inner consciousness. About the only thing I did not insist on was a twist in the tail - something that seems de rigeur for any writing to be called fiction these days, or so it seems. Me - I was quite content if the journey was good. I did not HAVE to land in Mumbai after boarding a Delhi train in order to be satisfied.
Then came this lady - Arundhati Roy. Wins the Booker Prize and all, so one can hardly say that she does not write well. So, I pick her 'God of Small Things' in an effort to recover my image as a serious reader. The problem with me is that I read two pages of what everyone agrees is wonderfully evocative prose and say, "Hmm! Another muggy day in a Kerala village." With this sort of taste I should never have started on any of these books.
Given my tastes, it is hardly a wonder that I never read Indian authors - barring R.K.Narayan. Apparently, Indian authors would write ONLY what could, in theory, be in the prescribed syllabus for a future English Lit course. The concept of writing only to entertain - like, say, a Ludlum or a Jack Higgins or a Agatha Christie - was anathema. And, I read exclusively to be entertained; to have my mind taken of the myriad problems of my workaday world and did not want anything that could even remotely remind me of my less than stellar - to put it mildly - academic days.
Things have changed now, apparently. There do seem to be a few authors who write what earns the universal ire of literary critics - which probably means that they will never feature in Lit. courses, except as a novelty.
The problem, though, is that I still cannot join any book discussions. People seem to talk exclusively of authors I have never ever heard of, and some whose names I can not even pronounce. They utter phrases like Dickensian realism and Byronic moodiness and things like that. I would not recognize Dickensian realism if you served it on a platter with watercress around it NOR would Byronic moodiness make an impression on me even if it jumped up and bit me in the nose. With my paltry vocabulary of "It was nice" and "I liked it", I hardly think I am up to the flow of thought and feast of reason in these book discussions - not that I would need to strain my limited vocabulary considering that the sort of authors I read were least likely to be the subject matter of such discussions.
Which is why I may be a bibliophile but will always count as a barbarian among the literati. Let me go and drown my self-pity in that Anne McCaffrey that I am reading now!