Recently, I found some leisure time to read two great books, namely, “Dragons of Eden: Speculations on the Evolution of Human Intelligence” written by the late Dr. Carl Sagan, and “A History of Knowledge: Past, Present and Future” written by Charles Van Doren. I was so thrilled by the experience that I had to blog my thoughts about one of my most favourite hobbies, namely, reading.
My love affair with reading began a long time ago when I was growing up in India. My parents were constantly on the move due to occupational requirements (my dad worked for the Indian Railways), and since I did not have any siblings, books became my faithful companions wherever we went. They helped especially during the transition time that I often needed to get settled into a new and unfamiliar neighbourhood and make new friends. Although I came from a middle-class family, my parents never hesitated to buy good books for me when I asked them to. My earliest memories of absorbed reading are on a train when we traveled to visit my grand parents. The first thing we often did when we entered the Madras (now “Chennai”) railway station was to drag my parents to the Higginbothams bookstore there. I was usually permitted to buy one book only, and so, had to carefully choose a book that would last the length of entire trip. With a book at hand, I did not find the long train ride from Madras to Erode boring at all. In addition to reading books, my dad and mom also encouraged me to read the newspaper with them especially on the weekends, and later, we would have discussions on a wide variety of topics, ranging from politics to movies. My dad also had a small library of books on his bookshelf, with books ranging from electrical engineering, mathematics, management and science. He has always been a great inspiration for me through my entire life on this hobby as well as many other aspects on my life. Reading a good book always left me in a trance-like state, and I became increasingly addicted to reading over time, and sometimes even reading books on unrelated topics the day before an important exam much to my parent’s dismay.
One glance at a book and you hear the voice of another person, perhaps someone dead for 1,000 years. To read is to voyage through time. ~ Carl Sagan
My fondest reading experience must be when my parents purchased a book for me at a science exhibition in Madras (now called "Chennai") when I was only nine years old. The book narrated tales of explorers who captured and catalogued some of most of wonderful, bizarre and dangerous animals during their daring voyages to distant and exotic lands. Combined with these were also many fictional stories from the past involving fire-breathing dragons to large and impossible sea creatures. When I look back and reflect on my life, that one book may have single-handedly helped jump-start my interest in natural sciences as well as science in general.
Another benefit that I received from reading was an escape from any monotony that surrounded me from time to time. Opportunities for travel were very limited for my family especially during the early years when my dad was just getting started with his career. So, reading books allowed me to peek into other worlds and live vicariously through adventures of others. However, the biggest benefit has been that reading has helped me to relate to other cultures better and has proven to be extremely beneficial after I moved to live in Canada.
These days, I read on many different topics, but my favourites are always books that deal with history and science. I rarely read any fiction as I find that there is so much beauty and wonder to explore in the real world that surrounds me. However, I do enjoy reading some fiction in the form of folk tales as well as stories from mythology from many different cultures. These stories help remind me of how similar we humans are in terms of what makes us happy and unhappy no matter where we live.
As I have gotten older, opportunities for travel have also increased some more for me. When I travel these days, I always make sure to drop by a few bookstores wherever I go. I also seem to have a strange fascination with used bookstores, perhaps because glancing though old and used books and the many scribbled notes left by their previous owners helps me take in their views as well as reminds me that life on this beautiful planet is limited, and that I should never take it for granted.