Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Library: A Young Reader's Longing

My eleven year old niece-K, is cutely unique for her age. She has taken the exact copy of her six feet plus dad's gene code for height and is already the tallest woman in the family (and trust me, we are no pygmies either!). In that tall being, resides a heart that is surreally pure and untainted by the glitz and glamour of the times we live in, and most impressively her hormones appear so much at peace, unlike those of a lot of eleven year old kids who seem to be in such a hurry to reach the teenage and let loose. However, the feature that most strikes me about her is her fondness for reading. That she is an avid reader--is a cliche and perhaps an under-statement. From the longest time now, I have seen her sitting in some corner of the house, or even right in the center of a bustling party, lost in a book, pouring over it, oblivious of everything around her. 

There is a neighborhood book store in the plush neighborhood of Gurgaon, India, where she lives. From when she could answer herself, whenever I have asked her if I could buy her something, she has walked me over to the book store to pick up a book for her. Needless to say that over the years, I have seen her writing very well too. She writes poetically and seems to have her heart in it. I know she is someone I absolutely love watching grow.

She has been visiting me in the States every year for three years in a row now. Even otherwise, her family travels quite extensively, and at her small age, she can, if she wanted, boast that she has traveled in more countries than the number of candles on her cake.  It thus surprises me not much, when I see that nothing surprises her  here in the U.S. Almost all the gadgets, the toys etc, she has seen them all, or read about them enough to feel a sense of familiarity. And then it touched me, the other day, when I casually asked her what is it about the U.S. that she liked most, 
and she said, "The libraries." 

As a background, let me quickly state, that every time, the moment she lands in the U.S., we take her to the library, and stock up on her books, exhausting all our twenty books quota on every card we have. Of course, we make that trip soon again, a couple of days or a week later to exchange and re-stock---for our kid who devours, not reads, the books! She even carries a cross body pouch at all times, fitted with a book (the way we adults carry our IDs or wallets). Upon being asked why, she said "Sometimes the waiting lines for where we are going can be so long....so a book comes handy!)  

Coming back to her answer, indeed it is so true that even in the shining phase of India, not much has been done to develop an infrastructure for a library system in India. Last I googled, I did find contact information for some self-proclaimed private libraries (but these places did not have web-addresses), and the one line descriptions of them, made them seem more like shops than reading centers or agencies that loaned reading material. I am currently investigating into these 'listed' private libraries. More of this to come in the following blogs. 

She is visiting me in the States now, and the buzz of the 'Kindle' reader (by amazon), appeared to catch up with the family. I am one of the last people on the earth to ever be seen with gadgets, catching a whiff here and touching a texture there are still my way of learning and exploring the world. Yet, I have to say that Little-Big K's reason for buying a Kindle is one of the most original and convincing ones I have come across till date. She said, " I don't like it when mum throws away my old books, because of storage space. I like to read my books again and again. So with Kindle I can go back to my books easily."  If you are a book-reader, you will immediately identify with that sentiment. Every one of us has a book or few, that we like to go back to, just like that. I have two of those myself. So, it is only fair that for an eleven year old kid on a reading roll, she has stacks of books she calls 'comfort books'. Not to forget to mention that having a library close by, is keeping those comfort books within your reach, forever.  

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Library: Bradbury-library

Today, I introduce you all, to a project that I have been working on for sometime now. It is a particular topic in my larger passion for literacy--the significance of a good Library System. My self-guided project, superly supported by my husband, focusses on the various aspect of the library system. The backbone of the entire thesis will be our joint experiences as students in India and the U.S. Throughout the work, the goal is to create a comprehensive raison d'etre for the unfortunately absent public library system in India.  

I start here with an essay that remembers someone whose larger message in life, contributes greatly to the zeal of this cause .

Author Ray Bradbury died this past week, at the age of 91. For many of my readers, like me, his name may not be a very familiar one. After all, he was most usually known as a science fiction writer, and that is a not a genre of literature that's everybody's fancy.... not mine for instance. Besides, even in that genre, he was no Issac Asimov--the most commonly known popular sci-fi author. Yet, as one can read from many of his obituaries, he was a writer of depth, and a literary figure whose collection of writings will continue to inspire long after him. 

I first came across his work, in a short creative writing class I took a while back. Parts of a chapter from his masterpiece Fahrenheit 451 were presented to us to appreciate the style of writing. Later, I got a copy of that book from the library, to read. I am very far removed from sci-fi (as I say, I prefer the real flesh-and-blood humans with all their social and moral dilemmas and the fuzzy gray areas their minds constantly live in and run from). 

Thus, I read the book half way through, and on my next trip to the library, the moment, I caught hold of another book---Glaciers (a novella by an ignominy---but a sweet and cute souffle of memories of a simple life of a thrift-shopping Portlander) I gave up on my maiden voyage through Bury-land. However, the main theme of the book Fahreheit 451 was one I have identified with for many years, and thus that book continues to be my book that is a must-read for the larger project I have undertaken .... the cause of the library. 

First about F451: In order to justly capture a review based on a complete reading of the book, I quote from amazon.com's official review of the book:
"In Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury's classic, frightening vision of the future, firemen don't put out fires--they start them in order to burn books. Bradbury's vividly painted society holds up the appearance of happiness as the highest goal--a place where trivial information is good, and knowledge and ideas are bad. Fire Captain Beatty explains it this way, "Give the people contests they win by remembering the words to more popular songs.... Don't give them slippery stuff like philosophy or sociology to tie things up with. That way lies melancholy.""

It comes as no surprise to me now when I read about the life of the author of a book whose scintillating title ( F451 is the temperature at which paper burns) is a message unto itself, that Bradbury loved the library system. As he was once quoted : "I never went to college, so I went to the library", he told the Associated Press – and tried to protect them from the encroachments of short-sighted budgeting and the shallowness of TV'**.

To the extent that libraries---particularly ones which house hard copies, as opposed to just soft copies of books, provide access not just to books we are seeking, but to an entire experience of soaking in written words, and wandering through the unwritten and imagined, I, audaciously perhaps, feel, that absence of libraries, particularly for the growing children, tantamounts to censure and ban on books. 

[I think I have already displayed, my constant perusal of the library.]

As I continue to create my thesis on the library, I will present here relevant thoughts and data that I am collecting and analysing, on a fortnightly basis. In the mean time, it would be enriching to hear your thoughts on this article or on this topic.

Reference: ** http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/jun/06/ray-bradbury-fever-inspiration

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