At a very young age, I knew intrinsically that a favourite book would last me the loss of leaving yet another city, a favourite friend could only say goodbye. Books became a constant through the tizzy of moving, and my hunger for stories (across genres) grew exponentially. Like many of my friends, I grew up reading my English textbooks way before school began because that’s where all the interesting stories were.
No matter what subject I picked, there was always something new to learn and more importantly, something constant. Feeling happy? There’s a book. Feeling sad? There’s a book. Feeling angry or lost? You get the idea... I think it is only now, in hindsight that I can connect the dots and realise that my early years of writing (bad) poetry and journalling were attempts to pin down moments of my life that otherwise seemed to pass by in a blur of new languages, new classrooms and new homes. So, the truest thing I knew for the longest time in my life was this: I loved reading, and books were home.
Now, so many years later, over multiple conversation with friends I have had to admit the opposite: I am perhaps an ex-reader. The realisation has dawned recently, but the mechanics of it were in place for years. With my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Literature, jobs in publishing and journalism and writing two books, the same association with words became less fancy. Reading was something I did “during the day” to edit, to proofread, to research, to analyse and learn. Reading became less about comfort and more about daily drudgery.
Slowly, over the years, I read less and less. But perhaps the collective hive mind is kind to ex-readers like me, though, since I’ve always been treated as one in the community (offline social networks as well as online like Goodreads). I’m still introduced by friends as someone who has great book recommendations, or someone who loves talking literature. And that’s not untrue, but I can’t help feel a little bit of an imposter when I see friends chew through books like food and rack up their Goodreads tally of books read in a year. Since the largest volume of my reading has been in the past, I seem to ride the coattails of that glorious past, somehow still able to hold conversations about books because a younger me swallowed books whole.
But, not all is lost. I still read, even if sputteringly and woefully out of breath. Through the years my reading preferences have crystallised, become more fine-tuned, and there are less chances I spend on reading books I wouldn’t take to. Unlike the haze of quantity, I now tend to remember more of the books that have touched me deeply. Although I’m not terribly convinced myself, and the social media performance of “being a reader” rattles me still, I’d like to believe that stale maxim of quality over quantity. Of course, I exaggerate. I know I should be kinder to myself, the way the reading community is to me. If a friend revealed these misgivings to me, I know I would say to them: Once a reader, always a reader. There are no exits or separations, only reading slumps. And homecoming is only a good book away.