To be honest, I don’t exactly remember how I came up with the idea of this particular post about books.
It could be the time when my mother was talking about her favourite Bengali author, Sankar – bits and pieces of his works often find their way in her conversations.
Perhaps it was that memory of a nursery-grade me lying with her head on the elder sister’s stomach, listening to the latter read out loud abridged versions of classics like The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Little Women.
Or when my father revealed that the first English novel he read was Of Human Bondage by William Somerset Maugham at the age of 15. The teenager, studying in a school in a remote village of West Bengal, had been given the book by his favourite teacher.
“It changed the way I looked at books. I was hooked to reading,” said the man who, along with my mother, introduced the elder sister and me to the joys of reading. I was fascinated. I think it was this nugget from my father’s life that planted the seed for this post.
So, I decided, why not ask a few people to talk about THE book which changed their attitude towards reading and the reason why. Two questions were sent out to those who agreed to share their thoughts on the basis of how they interpreted the questions –
Q Recommend a book that changed your attitude towards reading (could be any genre, language, etc)
Q How & why did the book change your attitude.
And the responses to these two questions have not only increased the length of my ‘books I must read’ list but also given me a trip down nostalgia lane. Not to forget the reminder that every book is important, because every book holds significance for that one person who found bits of themselves in the pages.
Here’s what 14 of my book-loving friends had to say about their ‘THE BOOK’
Mary Barton, by Elizabeth Gaskell
Monica Albertinazzi Parkhurst | Age 53 | Storyteller | Bristol, United Kingdom |
Thank you for asking such a challenging question! I thought I would need longer to think about it, but it is pretty much of a no brainer actually. It’s the first novel I read in a foreign language, at university for my degree in English language and literature: Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell. It changed my attitude towards reading as it made me a bolder reader. All of a sudden it did not matter if I did not understand every single word! I dived into the text and allowed myself to be absorbed in the atmosphere of working-class life in Manchester during the industrial revolution. I was soon captivated by the story of Mary, her father and their fellow workers.
I read most of the book during my daily commute to Milan, on the train, no internet at the time to check words out, and it brought down language barriers! It was a liberating experience and the beginning of my new life as a plurilingual reader. Since then I have been reading regularly not only in Italian and in English, but in French and occasionally in Spanish even.
Aavarana-The Veil, by S. L. Bhyrappa
Divya Chandel | Age 49 | Zoology/Genetics Professor | Ahmedabad, India
A book that changed my attitude towards reading? That would be Aavarana-The Veil by S. L. Bhyrappa.
Up until I came across this book, I had read books from a variety of categories like fiction, spirituality, biographies, geopolitical etc. and enjoyed them. But this historical novel is a unique masterpiece that changed the way I look at things. It is deeply engrossing, very well researched and well written. Raising important questions about our identity, religion and liberalism, Bhyrappa’s novel looks closely at the way we are propagating a false knowledge of history, since childhood.
This book made me aware of the atrocities faced by the people of India for centuries – it is this treatment that has damaged the DNA of our civilization, leaving it torn and broken. Such is the lack of esteem that we look to the west for directions instead of looking at our own selves. This book also brought the realisation of the \urgent need to correct historical facts being taught to our children. If not rectified, the future generations of India will continue to suffer in low self-esteem and remain apologetic. If the education ministry is not ready to change facts in our books and continues to teach false narratives, the way out are books like Aavarana-The Veil that provide facts in a readable and relatable manner.
Kane & Abel, by Jeffrey Archer
Sachin Shanbhag | Age 42 | Business Intelligence & Analytics (Insurance) | Mumbai, India | Website Sachin’s World
I think it is unfair to be asked to choose just one such book. For me, Enid Blyton’s Famous Five series, The Five Find-Outers and Dog series, The Secret Series – not to be confused with The Secret Seven series – all make the cut. Along with The Hardy Boys! But for now, I will list the first adult book I ever read, at the tender age of 13 – Kane and Abel by Jeffrey Archer!
I simply loved the breadth and span of the book, the vast and rich canvas it painted of the world as it was. The book made me wonder how seamlessly the author had fused world history with believable fiction. It was such a treat to see the characterisation of his immortal characters. This book was a love affair that was here to stay and I know I can still read it with the same wonderment I did then. Must say many of his later books lacked the punch though.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll
Anupa Lahiri Ellard | Age 42 | Medical Coder | Gloucester, United Kingdom
As a child I was a very reluctant reader; almost to the point of feigning headaches to avoid reading a book. To cure me of my malingering, my father introduced me to his version of audio-books – he would narrate the book, record it and then play it back to me. I listened to loads of classics but one book that contributed especially to my early years of voracious reading is Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The protagonist’s words “I cannot go back to yesterday because I was a different person then” inspired me with such zeal that I fell in love with the love for reading! Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland gave me hope beyond measure. It taught me to question the forced authorities imposed by the adults. It gave me the confidence to regain sight of my identity.
What I loved most was that Alice was portrayed “neither continuously nice nor thoroughly naughty; she was simply depicted as a curious child whose queries lead her into strange situations. In the end, she was neither punished nor rewarded. A moral, proposing that she do this or that, was absent”. This felt like a breath of fresh air to a young mind… almost an oasis where one could find themselves… an arena of developing thoughts where young adults gradually ease into responsible maturity.
A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khaled Hosseini
Joydeep Ghosh | Age 40 | Corporate Slave | Mumbai, India
A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini – This book moved me to tears. The heart wrenching, poignant prose, the painstakingly beautiful character building, the raw emotions showcased et al., made me fall in love with not just Hosseini’s writing, but made me want to see Kabul and Afghanistan with my own eyes. It made me feel the pain of the people of Afghanistan stuck in a larger political crossfire.
Land of Seven Rivers, by Sanjeev Sanyal
Dipankar Mukherjee | Age 39 | Entrepreneur | Delhi, India | Website Readomania
A book that changed my attitude towards reading would be Land of Seven Rivers by Sanjeev Sanyal.
This book narrates the geographic history of India and takes you through a journey of many millennia, of our sub-continent and surroundings. An informative and engaging book, it reiterated for me a fact that I always believed in – we are nothing but a speck of sand in this vast universe. Our highs and lows, joys and sorrows don’t really matter in the larger scheme of things and hence we should stop taking ourselves too seriously. Things that are not in our control should be left as is and we should keep doing what we can do, to the best of our ability. This book reminded me again that reading is a great stress-buster. and helps one deal with a life full of chaos and surprises.
Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen
Deepa Shirazi | Age 40 | Home maker | Mumbai, India
That would be Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen!
I don’t recollect the age I read it but this book helped me come to terms with why I was the way I was. Being a part of a family that was not open-minded, I had millions of questions and opinions. Every single time I was asked to do something, I wanted answers to ‘why’, ‘why not’, what if’ and would react with ‘but this seems stupid’ – much like Elizabeth Bennett.
Unfortunately, for my mum (and others), I was turning out to be a rebel. And I believed it too!
Until Pride and Prejudice convinced me that even if you are the only one asking questions, have an opinion of your own, are called a loudmouth… none of these need to make you feel stupid or be tagged as ‘someone who wants to go against everything!’ It simply means others are yet to get to the point you’ve reached, or that no one has yet looked at things the way you have. Or that someone has but lacks the courage to voice their opinion. Pride and Prejudice helped me stay sane and realise my worth!
Psst… The magic of Pride & Prejudice made me want to try another Jane Austen book so I picked up Northanger Abbey. I never did get around to completing it!
Noddy, by Enid Blyton
Anupama Iyer | Age 36 | Salaried professional | Mumbai, India
The one book that changed my attitude towards reading would actually be two series: Enid Blyton’s Noddy series and The Faraway Tree series.
When I was around 5 years old, my mum casually suggested I join a local library and look for books by the author Enid Blyton. I wasn’t into reading back then; to this day, I don’t know what made my mum suggest that step. But I did take that library membership and I found Noddy. Finding Noddy would be the most important thing in my life, but I didn’t know then. With Noddy and then the Faraway Tree series, I recognised the magic that books weave, the imagination they spark and the time travel they permit. I have read a lot since but I will never forget these two (series) that got me started on my lifelong love affair with books and reading.
Interpreter of Maladies, by Jhumpa Lahiri
Bhumika Udernani | Age 36 | Advertising professional | Pune, India
Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri – I was in first year of college when I picked up this book. As a student of English Literature with a new-found love for Indian writing in English, it felt like the right choice. Jhumpa Lahiri’s nine not-so-short stories opened up a world laden with rich cultural textures and a quaint melancholy that strangely felt very therapeutic. The characters were chiselled, the plots tighter and the themes contemplative. There was both profundity and pain in those stories. For the first time, I was emotionally invested in the characters – more so as I was struggling to find my own roots as a 3rd generation Sindhi in this country. I remember taking long breaks between each story, allowing every detail to sink in. This book changed the way I categorised Indian writing and introduced me to the majestic power of storytelling.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams
Varun Pachisia | Age 35 | Retail Consulting | Munich, Germany
“Trouble with a long journey like this is that you end up just talking to yourself a lot, which gets terribly boring because half the time you know what you’re going to say next.”
When you are greeted with lines likes these and the back cover shouts “Don’t Panic”, you know you have a journey coming up like no other. And what an inter-galactic journey The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has been! Unlike my ‘reader friends’ I was never the one with a plethora of knowledge on books or authors and their styles. It was simply – either I liked a book or not; never crazy about a book, till I came across the 5-in-1 volume of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
Coming as a not-to-be-missed recommendation from a friend, the book had its own merits to lean on. Every time I picked the paperback, the pages teleported me into a Galaxy – of characters (read: aliens), questionable objects, and almost humans. With lines where you end up on the floor cracking up, and when you gather yourself for the 42nd time, you realize the intrinsic deeper meaning behind the wit and words (“Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so.”), what would you expect! Reading, unlike traveling or music, was never my go-to space in Life and this Inter-galactic space fantasy volume spun that around and how. My attitude towards words, books and a world no matter how unreal or real which it can throw you into, as soon as you open a book (nibbling some dark chocolate along) changed for the good.
At the age I read this fantastic piece, one was in the constant quest to question everything, and, this book pushed my personal journey in that direction, even stronger, giving a different meaning and roles to even normal everyday objects.
What makes this work of art even more special to me, is knowing the fact that apart from all his other works there would, unfortunately, be no more new words of magic and wit from Douglas Adams (died: 2001).
All I can do is to tip my hat and extend my gratitude for introducing me to this Mostly Harmless galaxy and its journeys, for The Restaurant at the End of the Universe and finally tell him “So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish…“
The Mill on the Floss, by George Eliot
Aarti More | Age 38 | Banker | Mumbai, India
When reading a book, I always feel a connect with the characters. I can never skim through a book – I love being engrossed in the story. Probably why the book that changed my attitude towards reading was also the one with a powerful female lead. I was 10 years old when I read this book, my first ever novel, The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot. It was owing to my school curriculum that I was introduced to and connected with one of the main characters Maggi Tulliver – a young, intelligent girl who even at a small age is cognizant of the hardships of her father and has a deep bond with her brother. As she experienced love, heart aches and as her life transitioned from poverty to affluence, she always followed her heart, even if it meant going against the norms of the society. Be it a dearth of other reading material or an intense liking for this book, I read The Mill on the Floss at least 2-3 times in that school year!
I credit this book with introducing me to the wonderful world of stories, a magic that only books can create. Compounded with the fact that I was born in an age with no internet and no Netflix, books were and still are an amazing medium of storytelling and expanding your imagination.
These are my earliest memories of loving a book and ever since there has been no turning back.
The Krishna Key, by Ashwin Sanghi
Urvi Patel | Age 35 | Consultant Urban Planner | Ahmedabad, India
I’ll have to say it was The Krishna Key by author Ashwin Sanghi.
Cryptic in language and a thriller, this is one book that needs to be read without a break – every chapter is linked strongly with other chapters. It compels you to stay focussed on the plot and the characters or you’ll be lost! I believe one has to develop this zeal while reading anything, even a small article. For me, reading is like meditation – if you are to fully indulge in anything you read, you remember most of the important things about that book. And perhaps someday, you will even use these lessons in active life.
The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho
Shruti Jambhekar | Age 35 | Journalist | Ahmedabad, India
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho – It was a translation from Portuguese to English (and many other languages) yet it had a powerful influence on readers across the globe with its simple message “chase your dreams”. For me, the simplicity of the book made me enjoy the read, with such an interesting story weave that gave a heart-warming experience.
The Old Man And The Sea, by Earnest Hemingway
Shivangi Bhatt | Age 34 | Communications and Media Officer | Ahmedabad, India
The Old Man And The Sea, a fiction novel in English by Earnest Hemingway needs no introduction. Up until I reached college, I had not been exposed much to the world of reading, especially English literature, novels, fictions, autobiographies etc. It was as a student of English literature during my graduation days where, as a part of my curriculum, I read and enjoyed works of different authors and in several genres. This was when I was introduced to The Old Man and The Sea – I remember finishing this novel in one stretch which is very rare for me. I had to occasionally take help of a dictionary to read novels since English had not been my first language in school.
It is this book that taught me the important lesson that you should not ever give up until the end, irrespective of failures, struggles, hardships, and taunts from the society. I could visualise the scenes and struggles of the old man and his single-handed expedition in the sea with poor means/resources, his long fight to catch tuna and the final triumph. One of the famous lines from this classic left an impression on my mind, i.e. “A man can be destroyed but not defeated.”
I am an observer and try to take inspiration from everyday experiences and people I encounter to keep myself going. As a teenager, this novel is one of the prominent things which taught me an important lesson for life, to never lose hope.