Books can be our best companion

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Article Date: 
Sep 26 2010, 2035

I want to read what I have collected but could not read all these years. I want to read them before my ‘memory theatre’s curtain drops’. In books I find my ideas, convictions, identity, and language. As someone said, "Tell me what you read and I'll tell you who you are.” I read four to five books at a time. I am told, “If you have the appetite of unnecessary accumulation, reduce it.” I am hoping books will tell me if it is unnecessary accumulation or otherwise.
I am aware that some people have obsession to possess or hoard books. They collect books but don’t read them. They collect books to decorate the bookshelf. Some believe bibliomania is a disease. Bibliophilia, on the other hand, is love for books. Lending a good book is almost like losing a book. Some bibliophiles go even to the extent of stealing books. “People who are scrupulously honest in all their other dealings don’t think that failure to return a book to its owner is theft in the usual sense of the term,” writes Theodore Dalrymple. If one appropriates a book of someone who merely keeps it but doesn’t do justice to it, is it misappropriation? One doesn’t deserve to keep the book if he doesn’t know how to use it wisely or keep it securely.
Research says that students are reading less these days. The reason is not clear, though there is tougher competition. What might be causing it, says Keith O’Brien, is the growing power of students and professors’ unwillingness to challenge them. Instead of a dynamic where a professor sets standards and students try to meet them, the more common scenario these days, researchers suggest, is one in which both sides hope to do as little as possible. It is generally accepted that self-motivated learning results in a more productive worker and more fulfilled citizen. It suggests “every hour students spend in class each week, they are expected to be studying for two hours on their own”. Perhaps, it is possible to improve study habits by improving the teacher-student relationship.
Another study says our attention span is decreasing. We don’t like to read lengthy texts. We like to spend time on Twitter and Facebook, rather than on books. We are becoming good collectors but bad contemplators. These are two very different states of mind. A better balance is needed between collection and contemplation. I will start reading the volumes of Rabindra Rachanavali that is lying in my bookshelf for quite some time. I will read it slowly. I am beginning to learn that slow reading makes lot of sense. John Miedema, author of Slow Reading, thus writes, “If you want the deep experience of a book, if you want to internalise it, to mix an author's ideas with your own and make it a more personal experience, you have to read it slowly”.
Another big issue is book publishing. Some believe the future of physical book publishing is doomed due to digital onslaught. The decline in physical book publishing though is not that bad, it needs to gear itself to face the digital challenge. We no longer keep our emails and documents on our computers’ hard drives. We keep them on distant servers. Similar future awaits books. Libraries will not be collective bookshelves but documentation centres where books will be available digitally. Rather than contemplating, we would be spending time on downloading. Some of us will miss the smell of a new book. I know it is nobody’s business if some of us are not in the 21st century.

The writer is a biotechnologist and ED, Birla Institute of Scientific Research, Jaipur
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