A Hunger Game of Books

Image Credit: Pixar
Image Credit: Pixar

I have taken a vow of abstinence from the book market, which since the advent of blogging has begun resembling a fish market where everyone is hollering to sell his dreams and nightmares alike. The social media is bursting at the seams with ‘authors’ ready to slap in your face their hourly litter at the slightest pretext.

No, it is not just the fact that the pile of unread books in this home is good enough to take me to La Luna, or that its natural corollary of unpaid sums on little plastic rectangles is threatening to touch the Red Planet even as the Indian Martian vehicle pants to enter a suitable orbit. The malady has entered a stage where the mounds of unread papers outweigh the pounds of pulp I can pull off per month by a ratio of five to one. It has led me to the unspeakable sin I never thought I was capable of: I have taken to disembarking from the boats halfway in the middle of rivers.

‘Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world…’

And yet, if reading books is like breathing, purchasing them is like beatings of my heart. So, my heart must beat if I have to keep breathing, but I must breath too if my heart has to go on.

But the trouble is, there is no accounting the double beats in this chaos, as in getting blown over by a blurb or a review, and purchasing a book only to realise there is already a sulking copy somewhere in a shelf, collecting dust, real and temporal. Then there is no accounting the missed beats, as in rushing to a web portal to be stunned by the price tag, and the realisation that I have to scrub the proverbial floors and dishes at my workplace, day after day, to earn that kind of money. Did I mention I have this fetish for collecting the rare versions, untouched by the intelligentsia at large?

After a point, money doesn’t grow on credit cards either.

I’ll be remiss if I say I don’t own the paperbacks, it has been an obsession since childhood. In fact, my life is so steeped in paperbacks, all I have now is a back of paper. This god-awful load of parchments, purchased and unpurchased, has crumbled my spine to such fine dust which if rolled will resemble a leaf out of a tome of The Old Testament.

Now, if only my adolescent daughters hadn’t joined the feast. My adolescent daughters, brought up on a curated diet of Dickens and Austen with the odd Rowling thrown in, have now discovered ‘Young Adult Fiction.’ If I resist the footfalls of an author around this hearth, they get sullen and soggy like a kid pining for balloons. If I get their coveted volumes from the market, they’ll get flawed and foggy forever. So here I am, gawking at a volume of ‘The Hunger Games’, languishing on the dining table, and wondering if it has links with food, as in food for thought?


  1. I’ve stopped commenting for a while, but this, damn it, compels a reaction. Besides, the reference to Yeats, which is, in my opinion, the greatest sonnet ever written, compels me to answer! I would like to say that I don’t own a book. Not a page. And how I would love to. But if I start on a book, I don’t do anything else. So I haven’t read a book for a long time (maybe 20 years). I want to, but I don’t understand how anyone can afford the time for the obsession. I’m going to start again, now that I’m in my blogging break. Damn it! I’ll starting with a re-read of George Elliot I think. (Don’t know why…) Thanks for getting me going…!

    1. Thanks for never ceasing to surprise me, Bruce! And as if I weren’t struggling enough, you mention rereading George Elliot. Now, where is my copy of Middlemarch?

      A bear hug to you!

  2. In the recent past each time I travel to India I return with a few kilos of books. Now this comes as a surprise to many who would not ‘waste’ their allowed baggage space on books. But then many of those books are a part of my life, I discovered them in the many book shops that dot the country. That little tiny shop in Delhi where the old helper will know the name and author of every book in that shop – computer inventory be damned – his brain retrieves the books faster than you type the name in the search engine. I guess some this has been engrained in my DNA, my nana’s house with it’s gorgeous study and tonnes of books and magazines. I can claim to have read every Reader’s Digest from 1945 to the 1970s and those were the days when it was indeed a pleasure to read. In fact my grandfather gifted a whole collection of classics to my sister which we both devoured. I need more book shelves in my house and no I am not going digital. Kindle/iPads/eBook readers don’t have the same appeal to me. I am extremely fortunate in that the public library system in my city is really good. That and the fact that I use public transport means that travel to me is the best way of reading a variety of authors across a spectrum of genres. And we are fortunate that our kids have picked up a love of reading – they too need an extra book case in their room 🙂

    1. I am sure you are proud of your heritage and will perpetuate the legacy. All that reading shows in your writing. I have a similar memory of book stores in Varanasi, as a boy, although with a bias to the vernacular and Sanskrit. But thanks to the steady streams of tourists, English fiction too was found in abundance. And did I soak it like a sponge! The city has since gone down the drain. I remember too, travelling to nearby cities with my father just to buy books —he was another nut.

      Back to life today, I am really struggling with my obsessive-compulsive disorder of buying books without finding time to read them. Thank you for the bit of life you shared with me. 🙂

  3. Since becoming a Kindle reader this has got worse – I’ve had to fight the temptation to buy books impulsively. E-books are cheap and can be bought with a click but the micro-purchases can add up if you’re not careful.

    I’ve noticed two things that help me keep it all under control: 1. I am much more enthusiastic about reading something I’ve just bought rather than one downloaded a few weeks ago, and 2. Amazon’s recommended book selection, although tempting, is chosen based on the fallacy that I would want to keep reading the same book over and over again but with different titles.

  4. I am not a Luddite but e-readers are one thing I have kept away from, perhaps for nostalgic reasons. It is a good thing too, now that you talk of your experience —I am sure I will lose track of the ‘micro-purchases’ sooner than the sun sets. Worse, what you have described as a control over purchases in your case may have just the effect intended by Amazon on me!

  5. A fresh breath of air approach on books and reading after all and trust me on this as this was going on in my mind too…plenty has indeed led to complexity and just yesterday I happen to receive a mail from an existing writer will I be interested in promoting his book on my blog…Can I be left with mercy after all?….I thought I was alone in this thought race but then reading this post will condone my weary heart…thank you aptly put…and the Epigraph nailed it

    1. Now you talk of those mails and truly, it breaks my heart to turn them down, but refuse I must, for my own sanity. The madness is all too pervasive and I am not surprised it overwhelms you too. Many thanks for reading and approving.

  6. Uma, I went through an intense reading phase in my twenties-four to five books a day-which lasted about three years. it all begin with a spirit of joy and discovery and ended in a feeling of isolation and despair. I discovered my temperament is much more suited to the active and social life than the contemplative one. When I stopped reading it was like escaping from solitary confinement. I haven’t read a book since. Now my only obsession is spending as much time as possible outdoors gazing freely and gratefully at the squirrels and stars.

    1. That surely was a hurricane phase, Marty. No wonder you have turned to the world after that! Perhaps I am getting overwhelmed by the deluge of books clamouring to be read and bought. Maybe I’ll turn to photography for a few days, watch the squirrels and stars, just as you say.

  7. Did I just hear you say you were going to turn to photography for a few days? Please do. I love the few pics I’ve seen and would love to see more of your work-with-light.

    I’m guilty too — of not reading enough but then, my stall in the fish market has been bit neglected too (although the ‘tripping’ has been going on, thankfully) 😀 (And the personal blog is a worse story — I can’t get myself to write anything there. At least not yet. Hmm.

    Of buying (and borrowing) more than I can read — guilty again.
    Let’s just say we are saving those books for the rainy day(s). 🙂

    And Hungergames: because the series is popular, it’s gotten on to the wish list. I wish I had something to say about those books. 🙂 Nice to know the girls are ‘readers.’

    1. Haven’t we all been busy with life, Divya? I guess we are all guilty of apportioning our hours to less coveted businesses. So we are all building this stockpile of things to be done someday. My girls are voracious readers, that is one consolation though.

      I keep threatening myself with returning to photography, although that is easier said than done. It is race between me and time, no prizes for guessing who will win. Nevertheless, what is important is this flame in our heart, to write a blog or a book, or to hit the wilds with a camera slung on your back. Many thanks for your words.

  8. Haha, Uma, I definitely share your passion (or hunger, or trouble, whatever) on buying books. Since I was an art student, the first public place I went in a new place was not museums, but bookstores. I collect any books that I loved, though I may not read them again. Yes, I have many unread books sitting forever on my bookshelves. Now since I don’t make much money and I often have such headache from reading, I don’t go to bookstore as often. Most of time, if I wanted some books so desperately, I would buy second hand ones from amazon.

    Glad you daughters joined the feast! How lucky that they have a father who can sharing passion with them!

    1. Yun, it is such a solace to learn I share my madness with a graceful artist like you. In the end, it is not important how much money we are able to make to support our passions, or how much our eyes can soak before they blink with pain. It should be enough that we did our best at the time, both bygone and present. As for the girls, I think it’s I who is in luck.

  9. I have to admit, I don’t read much at all anymore. I think medical school kind of killed that pleasure for me, although I don’t really miss it. The one thing I do love to read through are cookbooks, especially really old ones. I do enjoy browsing at bookstores. Every now and then, I will go through phases where I feel I should read, so I’ll buy a lot of books by one author (like Jack Kerouac or Hemingway) and maybe get halfway through one. I just don’t have the attention span for it anymore, I guess! But, I do think that loving to read is a wonderful thing, especially for kids. I read voraciously when I was a kid and teenager. Have your girls demonstrated any interest in writing?

    1. I agree with you, Kris. Reading unwieldy volumes of medical science books, which in my case was social sciences, does dampen the magic of reading for pleasure. I also suffer with the problem of attention span with less graceful writers, it applies to bloggers too. And I hate pulp, hackneyed or rarefied language.

      My daughters are already clamouring to start their own blogs –they already have a couple of posts waiting in the wings. But I have been discouraging them from plunging into already troubled seas. They are in Grade X now. ” There will be time, there will be time To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet.”

  10. Agreed, and yet, I beg to disagree in parts. The greatness of a novel, or a man is seldom commensurate with their worth while they’re alive. But that doesn’t mean that we stop seeking them out. Diamonds are found in pebbles, in the deepest trenches, and in obscurity. Had they been so obvious, they wouldn’t be the best or even so, would not survive time.

    Blasphemous Aesthete

    1. Oh yes, that is how they define the classics, which too will only fade over time. How many of us are reading Edmund Spenser, or Lucius Annaeus Seneca for that matter? I, too, agree about the diamonds in the pebbles, my friend. So, carry on writing!

  11. Good for you Uma as it means you have successfully passed on your legacy to your children 🙂 The more the merrier !
    The two things that keep me at bay are. 1.I vowed to finish the unread ones before I bought any more new ones…i have quite a pile .2.I am a member of a library..
    Having said that, there are definitely the ones, that you could never borrow and return, those that you just have to keep and return to their pages time and again to tweak a fading memory.

    1. I am not sure what good it is going to do them in this materialistic world, Ash. Yet, that seems to have been all that I had. I also consider deserting a book midway sacrilegious and yet I have started to trip over pages. Perhaps it is part of the mid life crises they keep talking about! :/

  12. Guess this is an obsession with all of us. I also used to be an ardent collector of books. But always the fairer species in the house had problem with the quickly books tended to mutiply and takeover spaces in our dwelling. So I have abandoned my book collection plans till I can afford a huge house with 2 rooms for the books. Till then I make do with what I get from libaries. But still I buy now and then – and there are close to a 1000 books hiding in the nooks and crannies all over my house, my in-laws hourse, my father’s house, the car dickie etc.

    1. I have to agree with that, Karthik. There are unsavoury consequences too. Hundreds of books have become a banquet to termites at my parental home where I am able to reach only once in a year. It has assumed the proportions of an annual ritual to toss and turn the books and expose them to sun and perhaps throw in some moth balls. So I am trying to put a tourniquet on fresh inflows, hard as it may be.

  13. I can so relate to every word you have written… the only difference is, I am sure I couldn’t have written it that well 😦
    The only difference is that the pile of the books at my home is all mine. I have taken membership of a local library, and have decided not to buy any books for a while – a decision I will easily sway from, I know.
    My son is discovering the written world of Harry Potter now, thanks to me. I was disappointed when he chose to watch the movies first, but then things have lost their right sense and sequence these days, I think…
    Will you be reading The Hunger Games, by the way… just wondering 🙂

    1. But then everyone writes well in his or her own way! The difference between movies and books is that there is no fetters on your own imagination when you read, movies will fix you with what they have to project on the screen. I am glad your son has decided to read the books. As for The Hunger Games, I flinch every time I see the volume of War and Peace bidding time on my shelf for the last twenty years or so without parole!

  14. It is indeed a pleasure to see the love of books passed on to the next generation. My younger daughter resisted for a while on the pretext of lack of engaging illustrations. Between her sister and I, we managed to get her hooked with the realm of Rowling’s magic. Hope to introduce her to others as well. a refreshing way to evoke Second Coming!

    1. And I am thinking, perhaps our kids will be the last of the generations to hold a book physically. To that extent, we should consider ourselves lucky. Many thanks, Ilakshee.

  15. Uma – what a gem of a post! And brave…Along with blogging, I’d add instant and cheap self-publishing as a culprit in the reading game these days. Although I’ve owned many books over my lifetimes (which gets longer each year), I’ve loved libraries everywhere and so often prefer a library to a bookstore. Libraries quietly hold all those books without shouting anything at me and without wanting to add to my VISA statement each month. I’ve moved too often to hold onto to all the books and at one point my books were all stolen – it’s a long story, but it broke my heart. After that I didn’t collect as many and I more willingly let books go rather than pack and carry to new places. Now, whether buying or borrowing from the library, I tend to avoid most contemporary writers – not all, but most. I steer toward the classics for pleasure. And when I find one of those diamonds among contemporary writers – Michael Ondaatje, Andrea Barrett, Ben Fountain, for example – I cherish it and reread it as a lodestar for my own work, not to copy but just to know it’s possible among all the wordy detritus.

    1. Molly, you have driven the nail right through the heart of the bogey —anyone who can rattle a keyboard is an author today. Now that may sound elitist to many but the frantic chattering is not helping anyone.

      It is no surprise to me you are passionate about books. I am sorry you had to bear the pain of having all of them stolen once. I love your words about libraries in that they quietly hold all those books without shouting anything at me. Now I realise why I too adore them. Sadly, good libraries seem to be a luxury out here. Thanks for stopping by and uplifting my spirits once more, and reminding me to pick up Andrea Barrett and Ben Fountain.

  16. I had to stop reading for awhile because when I start a book (at least a good one) I can’t stop. It becomes the most important thing in my life. Lately, there have been too many other things I have to concentrate on but, dang, I do miss it. *sigh*

    1. Janene, I remember I used to be like that not many moons ago! But I am sure there is something fishy about the way my days and nights are getting shorter and shorter and a hundred hydra-headed monsters are laying claims to my time.

  17. All my cousin was able to take out of reading the first 2 hunger games is that it’s a dog eat dog world and you have to kill, if that is the only way of survival. I’m scared of her now. :-p

    Been a while since I read your posts. Have some 10 unread emails with links waiting. Cheers sir, keep ’em coming and reduce the ratio to 1:2

    By the way, I made 10yo nephew read A wrinkle in time, he wants to be a physicist now. A great book for kids.

    1. Welcome back, my friend. You have been missed. I can already see that fire in the eyes of the kids today, the way they want to live absolutely every moment. A hunger game for sure. A Wrinkle in Time is a nice thought. I should have pushed it upon my teens while they were still kids. Can I bend the time?

  18. I don’t know why it is so difficult for people to let go of sentimentality over the ‘feel of paper’ and the ‘rustle of paper’ and the ‘smell of old books’…Really, e-readers are the way to go! Just try it for a month, and you will see the advantages..less space occupied at home, less grumbling by the family over the take over of homes, less money spent on creating cabinets and still more books! Light to hold and easy to carry and read anywhere! I have always been a propounder of the Kindle, and I must say, I can never resist the temptation of promoting it ever :). Now the only books I get, are the few odd ones I review. The only problem is Kindle has further increased the hoarding with less reading :(. Hopefully, I will get to all those tomes shrunk in my Kindle soon.

    1. Ah, yes: Let go!

      Year after year, I look at the gigantic Ganeshas, mint fresh and radiant, with that beatific aura on his face and I have this sinking feeling in my belly. Within a fortnight, metric tons of his remnants are dumped in the seas, already pregnant with the detritus of humanity. Much can be seen putrefying on the beaches, at times trodden under the feet of the least queasy mortals. I am sure the ghastly sight can give decomposing cadavers a run for their money. It’s time we had electronic Ganeshas who’d both appear and vanish in a blink, just as he is supposed to be.

      I’d be the last man to be a Luddite. Situations have their pros and cons.

  19. Ah, how did I miss this post? A man after my own heart (and sadly, with the same purse struggles as myself). As for the whole e-books vs. physical books debate, it’s a moot point. My husband got me a tablet in the hope that would relieve our bookshelves, but I just end up spending even more buying both. I just spend more money on beautiful and rare editions or poetry books, and get the latest crime fiction releases or similar (where the physical aspect of the book doesn’t matter so much) on electronic format. Twice the amount of money spent, I believe (but I don’t let my husband know).

    1. That is what I suspect I’ll do, MarinaSofia, were I to buy an e-reader. At least the unread physical books shame me each time I see them; I am pretty sure I’ll forget most of the ebooks stored as software. Then there is the craving for hardbound and rare versions, just as you put it. And, perhaps, the Hairy Ape at last belongs!

  20. A delight to read words when you rattle the keyboard. I am kicking myself for missing so many posts. First, I don’t get emails about your posts. Then, you don’t upload the links on Facebook. Regardless, I am going to go through as many posts as I can.
    I enjoy reading editorials and current news. So after scanning four newspapers ( including a tabloid), I have no space or time left for reading books. I am not proud of it but that’s it.
    I heard about Hunger Games when my ten year old nephew visited us last year. Glad your girls love to read. Not surprising at all. 🙂

    1. Oh, to have missed your footfalls, the woe is me! Somewhere in the middle of the side-bar to the right, there is an email subscription box: do enter your email there.
      As long as you read anything, you keep fuelling your brain. There is nothing to be be not proud about. Hunger Games? I can begin writing a new post right away but isn’t it the comments’ column? 🙂

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