I recently celebrated my birthday, and in anticipation of the usual queries from family and friends – “what do you want for your birthday this year” – I posted my Flipkart wishlist of books on my Facebook page. It got a lot of hits, and at least three of my friends were good enough to go through it and get me something from there. But, and here’s the thing, they were a little taken aback when I said that this year, all I want is books.
You see, I’ve long been a materialistic sort of person: I like getting dresses, bags, shoes, makeup and perfume as gifts. Which is kind of weird, if you’d known me as a kid. Back then, I was happiest when receiving books. I was also at my best, when giving books, which is not something that everyone appreciated. But I get their point of view: why should I impose my hobby on others?
Anyway, as I grew up and moved out into the world, I began to wonder if there is more to life than books. I acquired a taste for pretty clothes, high-heeled shoes, and bags in all shapes and sized. My collection of jewellery is massive and I have so many quirky, colourful pairs of socks, they’re beginning to fill me with guilt. In fact, that’s when I decided to hit the STOP button. My overflowing wardrobe, bags of shoes and cartons of bags were filling me with guilt. Not because they’re awful, or mistakes in judgement. I’m sure if they belonged to someone else, they would have been well-used and abused by now. It’s just that they belong to me, and I’m not the best custodian of these things. There is one pair of jeans that I faithfully wear, and maybe half a dozen shirts and tops that I feel comfortable in. Contrast that with the dozens of pretty, flattering dresses that I have worn but once or twice. If I’m being honest with myself, I know I’ll probably never wear them again, simply because I don’t want to step out of my comfort zone. Ditto for all my shoes, bags, jewellery, scarves and make-up (the only caveat here applies to my collection of fragrances, which I’m greatly addicted to).
Anyway, this realization dawned on me when I understood that I have an obsessive-compulsive hoarding personality. I’ve hoarded clothes, bags, music, movies, books, but of all these items, the ones that I feel least guilty about are the books. So if I have to be true to who I am – a compulsive hoarded – I suppose I should just stick to acquiring books.
Now books, I admit I hoard. But, I also read them – eventually. On my birthday week this year, I read a wonderful book (Daniyal Mueenuddin’s In Other Rooms, Other Wonders) that I had received as a gift two years ago. Currently, I’m reading another book (Evelyn Waugh’s Vile Bodies) that I acquired two years ago; this one when I was whiling away time at the second-hand bookstores at King’s Circle. It makes me very happy when I leafing through a brand new book, looking forward to the day when I’ll crack open the spine and immerse myself in the words. I read all sorts of books, so even if, on a whim, I buy a completely out-of-character book – such as Carl Sagan’s Cosmos – I know that I will, one day, be curious enough to read it. There was a time, when I could’ve confidently added that I would finish these books, but I’m not so foolish. There are many books in the world and life is too precious to read and finish bullshit like Atlas Shrugged or P.S. I Love You. (I’m not saying Cosmos is crap.)
So anyway, people, what I want to say is, don’t worry if all I ask from you is a book. There are no hidden layers to my request, and I certainly am not pretending to be undemanding just so you’ll feel bad and gift me something more expensive. I really do want a book. But before buying, just confirm that I haven’t already read it, or don’t already have a copy.
By the way, just so y’all know: these are the books that I got this year as gifts.
1) Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad
2) Siddhartha Mukherjee’s The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer
3) Salman Rushdie’s Haroun and the Sea of Stories
4) Donna Tartt’s The Secret History
5) Barbara Vine’s The Chimney Sweeper’s Boy