A Reading Life

I sat around the house one week-end afternoon looking tired. It was a strange day in many ways. Forest fires were blazing forth razing acres of land in its wake. Nothing stood a chance, and the fire departments’ work was made all the more difficult with the Covid stipulations. How could people be evaluated if evacuation centers were this crowded? The air outside was stifling – smoke belching out by the fires a few miles away hung thick in the air, making an already hot day a sweltering one.

All the previous night, I had risen – once an hour to check if there was going to be another lightning storm. That first one that had sent 10,000 bolts of lightning and started over 350 forest fires that resulted in 60,000 acres of land being burnt was not predicted. The weather forecasts had predicted another one the previous night, and our local alerts had us all get an emergency evacuation bag ready. One bag – with some documents, a little cash, a change of clothes. When it comes down to that, is there anything else?

Luckily, the lightning strikes did not come that night. Somewhere around 6 a.m. I fell into an uneasy slumber knowing the husband and children will rise soon. Consequently, the next day, I felt tired: The oppressive heat, the lack of sleep, the worry about the fires, incessant news alerts, and I knew not what else was on my mind. 

Usually, nature is a pretty good soother, but nature seemed to be fed up with us! So, I sat myself in front of the bookshelf looking at the piles of books there, and tried to get a sense of calm from them. In a few minutes, I was sitting cross legged on the floor, looking through and reading books on yetis, baseball heroes, a book that just had the word – ‘Dude!’ on every page, stars, constellations, superheroes and much more. 

There is nothing half as meditative as a task like this. Before I knew where I was, I had traveled to Tibet, New York, the Arctic circle, a village in Central America, and fantastic lands where dragons held races. Of all the things that being human is, the worlds of imagination and inviting one another into the worlds created thus, has got to be the finest. Though, dolphins are pretty good at storytelling too.

Margarita Engle’s poem:

No giant or dragon

Is bigger or stronger

Than the human imagination

I was also reading a book compiled by Maria PopovaA Velocity of Being. The book is intended to encourage young readers to read as much as possible. I am not sure whether the book will actually convince a non-reader to start reading, since it is a book of letters compiled from people in various fields on how reading helped them get where they are, but it makes for fascinating reading for adults, and I loved the illustrations beside each letter.

A Velocity of Being – Compiled by Maria Popova & Claudia Bedrick

Some letters were incredibly sad like the one where a holocaust survivor writes about how story-telling helped them hold onto hope when everything else was lost. Some were hopeful, some others whimsical, some directive-based, others curiously inviting. 

After a couple of hours, I stood up and my joints creaked from the wooden floor. The heat outside was still oppressive, the smoke still lingered in the air, but strangely my spirits felt uplifted. If that wasn’t the power of reading, I don’t know what is.

What other activities are equally absorbing and uplifting to you?

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