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The Financial Express

Reading --- a fruitful exercise in solitude

| Updated: April 17, 2021 20:59:18


Reading --- a fruitful exercise in solitude

Reading books is a pleasure which is unique; nothing can be compared with it. Festivities or anything remotely linked to merrymaking do not go with it. Genuine or compulsive readers are found generally solitude-seeking and introvert. Many of them hardly feel the need for participation in the activities around them. They have their world which is exclusively theirs. These worlds, their characters and their norms are moulded by the readers concerned. In order to remain immersed in a world of different realities and hitherto-unknown thoughts, the readers do not necessarily have to turn to wise men --- and waste their time. They themselves can bring the necessary books within their reach.

Though it may sound strange to many, books and festive crowds are two different segments of life. By their basic natures, they are apart from one another. Commensurate with this universal truth, many pure readers do not feel drawn to book festivals --- fairs in modern parlance. However, it doesn't preclude the necessity of outdoor special events centred round books. These events put books on display, enabling people to choose their favourite books from. At times, seasoned readers are also found moving round a venue showcasing new publications. This has been happening since the early days of book fairs in different parts of the world.

There are many pure readers in society who hardly visit a book fair. Even those who do, they try to avoid crowds feverish about 'new books'. It sounds as if the 'book lovers' had read all the books by a particular author. Books cannot be the choice of the masses normally seeking pleasure from consumer items. Moreover, the unimpressive look of the average books, except those lavishly printed, do not draw people accustomed to glitz. To the frustration of many, books do not offer them the traditional delight found in scores of fancy objects. Unlike digital handy gadgets, books are devoid of instant wonders. The average book festival participants feel puzzled seeing some readers spend a long time locating one or two books of their choice. The matter, thus, sufficiently demonstrates how an outwardly drab book finally emerges as treasure to a genuine reader. It shows that not everyone is a book lover. Some are. This universal truth also applies to writers.

Hot-selling books do not have any appeal to the discerning readers. They are always on the hunt for rare books --- mostly out-of-print, and shoved into the corners of the racks of publishers or book sellers. A reader who has been groomed in a world of good books does not differentiate between old and new books. There are different kinds of old books. Old books could be ones, which do not sell well. Even their first edition remains mostly unsold due to an author's dealing with an unconventional subject. Critics' harsh reviews can also squeeze a book's market. The old books could also be the ones which do not see further editions after the first one. The reason these books remain confined to only a single edition is their dim prospects for doing business in their future runs. As a result, particular books remain out-of-print for an indefinite period. At the same time, many titles are consigned to obscurity. Scores of new-generation readers remain oblivious to them until an inquisitive and assiduous critic shows interest in them. It is after the shedding of critical light that a lot of such books hidden from the public view spark interest among many serious readers. They are not available at book shops selling mostly pulp fictions or books on hackneyed subjects. Most of these books land in street-side old book shops. The irresistibly strong smell of these long neglected books hardly fails to draw their readers to those book corners.

Through the ages, the clients and readers of rare books are found nearly invisibly moving amid frenetic readers. They could hardly be singled out. Due to their not being in a festive mood and their tendency to keep a low profile, they are virtually found on the margins of the events focusing on books. TV cameras and smart media reporters do not run after them as they prefer to remain unidentified. In reality, their only objective of moving about festivals highlighting brand new books is to locate rare books. It bothers them little if a young and curious TV reporter approaches them to learn about their book choices, or if they remain out of the camera range.    

At the book fairs in Bangladesh and the newly developing countries, a phenomenon is commonly encountered. Readers are seen swarming on the large book pavilions, their common query being about the availability of new books by certain popular authors. In the world of average book lovers, it is the big-selling books and the stellar writers that count. Bangladesh is no exception. Moreover, despite the fast increasing rush to buy books at the Ekushey Book Fair in Dhaka in the recent years, some cheap features accompany the book sales and purchase. Those comprise some amateurish queries, which lay bare the readers' low level of maturity. The readers' eagerness to learn about whether a new book by a popular writer has arrived implies that they have already read the author's earlier books. This is not true. Except a few, most of the fair visitors do not appear to have even read the popular fictions by the sought-after writers.

Side by side, many have no choice at all. These people visit a book fair to watch books only. They move from stall to stall, flip through books, and rarely buy any. After passing long hours on a holiday, they decide to buy 'a book'. By doing this, they try to make their visits meaningful. These people never belong to the class of readers. They could be called book watchers, like movie watchers, circus watchers or 'nouka baaich' (boat race) watchers.

True readers are a different breed altogether. Families, schools or book-related institutions cannot fully groom readers. They can, at least, help the teenagers and youths grow a love for books. Many of these readers find themselves completely detached from reading as habit in their later lives. On the other hand, a number of adolescent readers go on becoming more mature as they grow up. To put it in another way, true and life-long readers are born. They cannot be made through special programmes and workshops. These formal courses can help them tell a good book from an inferior one. Moreover, they can guide them in learning the systematic method of reading. In fact, training can hardly produce readers. The initial passion for books grows in the family. At times close friends can help a novice become a compulsive reader at school. Thus small reading groups are found being formed at educational institutions.

The inherent message is many an avid reader emerges from these reading fraternities. Books cannot be read in unison or chorus. In both theory and wide practice, reading, finally, is a lone exercise.

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