Being the first kid in my family meant I had to grow up alone in my childhood and my proficiency, or rather the lack of it, in English, forced my parents to make me get into the realm of reading for pleasure. I wasn't sure when my parents said many people read for pleasure as the only books known to me till then were the ones associated with my school lessons! And moreover it was sort of a retrograde step for me as till then I had been collecting video cassettes of cartoons - I still remember - of Tom and Jerry, woody wood pecker, Pink Panther, Popeye and Looney Toons. My baptism started with a bedtime stories book and continued with Panchatantra and Akbar - Birbal stories. Comics (Amar Chithra Katha) the closest to my cartoons on TV dominated the literary field for me then. Tinkle Digest was eagerly sought after every month and my parents were very distressed to find me reading "trash"!
As soon as we had settled down in Madras (it was called so in 1992), two things happened. I joined a school where everybody spoke better English than me and the next was that my father bought me "Swami and Friends" from a book fair. The book took me in its grasp from the very first, as I was able to identify myself with the lead character Swami. I was so engrossed in the book that I finished the 140 page novel in 2 days, an accomplishment of sorts for me. I was hooked on to R.K.N and I went on a rampage in the school library - Tiger for Malgudi, The Bachelor of Arts, Talkative Man, A Grandmother's Tale, Mr. Sampath were read and re-read. Hardy Boys were a parallel craze too. Mysteries and Case Files were read with frenzy. I still remember Ashwin Bharadwaj (one of my closest friend in school) and me trading library books every week as our library had a one book per week quota. Now my parents were beginning to sense that what they had thought as a healthy diversion was beginning to develop itself into huge distraction! It was at this point that I went into high school and the new high school library had a far wider range of books and I still remember the first book that I took - The Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton. I had seen the movie and had liked it immensely. But even then I was bowled over by the book and a Crichton mania followed. Lost World impacted me deeply and when I saw the movie onscreen, it was such a bad onscreen adaptation - it never did any justice to the amazing story telling abilities of Crichton. Congo, Sphere, Andromeda Strain and Great Train Robbery were enjoyed. It was at this juncture that two books made me realize that I was a fiction only guy. The first was Five Patients by Crichton and the other was Coma (it took me into a Coma everytime I tried reading it) by Robin Cook.
The next stage of my reading was dominated by two giants of fiction - Ludlum and Forsyth. The first book which took me in this strain was The Bourne Identity. The book affected me so badly that for the next days, I tried to think if I would do something new at every corner of the school corridor. These authors were basically Cold War Period authors and so every book was a CIA Vs KGB or a full scale USA VS USSR story. Memorable books in this strain are The Day of the Jackal (One of the finest pieces of fiction to date and again, a bad screen adaptation), Matarese Circle (Beowulf Agate and the Serpent haunted me for long) and Icon.
Alongside action packed stories, two authors left the most deepest of impressions on me - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and P.G. Wodehouse. I had had an old copy of Laughing Gas with me from childhood but the cover design and the print from Penguin left me in distaste of the book and I had locked it in my trunk and one afternoon with nothing to do, I tried to give the book a glance and by evening had completed it and was trying to read it once more. This led to the "inimitable" Jeeves and "effervescent" Psmith. I read every Jeeves and Psmith book I could catch hold of, mostly in the form of "Omnibus". The other fanaticsm - that of Sherlock Holmes - made me read all 53 cases in one go and ever since I've re-read every Sherlock Holmes story atleast 20 times and I think this itself is an understatement.
The end of the PGW series and SH series marked the end of Junior College and signaled the end of my manic reading too. College was a place where I developed a liking for films with Rajini Kanth, Ajith and Madhavan in tamizh, Tom Hanks in English and SRK/Hrithik in Hindi. Though the first two years of college was a non starter in terms of books, the third year marked my introduction to one of the classics - "Not a Penny More, Not a Penny less" by Jeffrey Archer. I should say that Archer is the author, who along with Narayan has affected my writing a lot. An archer frenzy followed - Kane & Abel, The Prodigal daughter, Shall we tell the President?, As the Crow Flies, Sons of Fortune, Honor among thieves, First Among Equals, A Matter of Honor, The fourth Estate and the Eleventh Commandment followed. Somewhere around the same time, one of my closest friends in college, Sathya told me about a news article in the Hindu which told that the number of visitors to the Louvre had increased because of a novel by a man called Dan Brown. I'm a strong believer in Hinduism and have been irritated by taunts from people of other religions about Hinduism and so when I started on the Da Vinci Code, it was basically because of my curiosity. The book proved out to be such a taut thriller that subsequent books like Angels and Demons, Digital Fortress and Deception Point just happened. Of these, I would definitely say the Digital Fortress was a very bad book and in fact, I would rate it amongst the worst books I've ever read. With this series along with Barons (:D), my reading phase in SVCE came to an end.
It was the summer of 2005 when I successfully read the first non fiction series - The Prison Diary (I,II,III) by Jeffrey Archer. His short stories collections such as To Cut a Long Story Short, A Quiver Full of Arrows, A Twist in the Tale, Twelve Red Herrings and the Collected Short Stories also appealed to me and I've ever since aspired to be a short story writer.
Currently, I'm trying to develop my reading skills further - reading books like The Alchemist, The World is Flat and Freakanomics.
As a popular poet says,
" And Miles to go before I sleep,
and Miles to go before I sleep"
I think this applies to my literary sojourn as well.
P.S: I get the feeling that this has been one of the worst blog entries from me in recent times - cant help it, as I'm feeling nostalgic about books and have lots of time on hand!