Daily Archives: May 20, 2012

Libraries – Haven for Books

The earliest memory: A small local place, lined wall-to-wall with books and the word used to describe it by my mother: Library. The word rolled effortlessly from my tongue. I was five and taken to a library for the first time. It was a different world. I was enthralled by it; however I thought I could keep the books with myself. Then I realized that at some point I had to return them, after reading, which was fine.

Awareness further kicked in – I could borrow more books without having to pay anything more and that was awesome information. It began with comics, and then novels – the trashy kinds – the Harold Robbins, the Jackie Collins (yes I have read them all), the Sidney Sheldons and the Perry Mason mysteries. The charm of a local roadside library is something else when you are growing up. The known uncle/aunty who lend books and do not demand a fine if you delay returning them because they know you. The comfort in that knowing however little, is still worth something.

The school library was another place where I found comfort and joy. Being harassed by bullies in school, books were the only means of escape and I always felt far superior to them knowing they could never invade this world. My school librarian at that time, introduced me to Agatha Christie, to Jane Austen and believe it or not, my very first copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, which was quite scandalous to be read by a thirteen year old but I did read it. The librarian passed on earlier this year, but left so many memories for so many bullied children in school and gave them comfort when none was found – through her words and through books.

The dusty corners of libraries, the high ceiling (sometimes), the knowing that a spot will always be reserved for you no matter what (no one really sits in libraries and reads, very few at the least) are spaces that I am most familiar with. Sometimes I wish they would serve alcohol in libraries, as it would be perfect with a book, not to forget food.

I remember becoming a British Library Member when I was in college as well. I opted for a family membership – 25 books and 4 DVDs at one time. I would go there once a month and it was enough. I was introduced to several British Writers at this time. From Iris Murdoch to Evelyn Waugh to David Mitchell to Virginia Woolf, I got to see the world differently. The plush seating and knowing that nothing could bother me here – the feeling of knowing that no one could call from home or get in touch with me was liberating. Libraries provide that as well – liberation from people and things and make you discover new ideas. All the time. The sanctuary of the written word so to say.

The American Library happened with a friend, who is very dear to me and she loves reading as well. At four hundred rupees a year, they allow you to borrow four books at any given time and two periodicals for a period of three weeks. Libraries make you feel comfortable. They are there for you and in them sometimes you find friends – who share the love of reading and passion for books.

For me, libraries will always hold a special place in my heart, despite the books I buy or what I receive from publishers. The process of finding of a book through the shelves and a smile that instantly appears on your face when you find it. No one else can derive that pleasure better than a library.

As Jorge Luis Borges, rightly said, “I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of a library”.


Book Review: Are You My Mother? : A Comic Drama by Alison Bechdel

Title: Are You My Mother?: A Comic Drama
Author: Alison Bechdel
Publisher: Jonathan Cape, Random House UK
ISBN: 978-0-224-09352-1
Genre: Graphic Novel
Pages: 289
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

When Alison Bechdel wrote, “Fun Home”, a graphic novel about her closeted gay father and her relationship with him, it was received with great aplomb. Critics loved it and so did the regular readers. I read it last month and was in absolute love with it. At the end of the book, I wondered, “What about Alison’s mother? What about her point of view and her life?” and the wonder was put to rest when I read her new book, “Are You My Mother?”

Are You My Mother speaks of the relationship Alison shared/s with her mother. Alison’s mother was everything rolled into one – an actor, musician, lover of books and also a woman unhappily married to a gay man. Alison’s childhood simmered under all of this – her father’s constant battle and her mother’s constant shirking away from her, so much so that she stopped touching or kissing her daughter good night ever since she was seven. There was this constant tension between her parents, which led to Alison’s history of obsessive compulsive disorders which she shares in the book.

The book in itself is funny and at so many places only heartbreaking. There are moments when Alison’s relationship with her mother are for all to see – how she did not get the attention she craved for, or the relationship defined by the complete and absolute lack of intimacy. At some places she provides answers and reasons and at the others she leaves it for the reader to figure it on his/her own.

Are you my Mother contains a lot of dream analysis as well – Freud has to jump in, when it is the bigger picture and through these dreams one can also understand how detail-oriented Bechdel is with reference to her life and relationships.

As a graphic novel, I loved the drawings as much as I did in Fun Home. The lines are clear and the colour is just what this book should have – in shades of grey and tinges of red. Alison’s book is not just about her mother – it is also about introspection of her life and the way she led it before writing Fun Home.

I loved the way this book was written. More so because I am biased to graphic novels. They speak a different language of words and pictures, which also conveys a lot, like a novel would. The past and present are beautifully juxtaposed and the good thing is that there is also a sense of empathy while reading the book. There is no pity or sympathy; however it is something one can relate to, without experiencing it at some level.

“Are you My Mother?” for me was a wonderful read this month. Family relationships are beautifully portrayed in this one and that too being a graphic novel, it manages to convey a lot. Bechdel’s mother remains an enigma in most places, but that doesn’t deter the book from being what it is – brilliant. Relationships are like a prism sometimes with way too many angles and perspectives. This is one of them – from a daughter to her mother.

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