Issue 9, Poco Bear Letter #1 On reading

The editors of Pseudo Mag have decided that we don’t talk to each other enough, even though we meet every day and talk all the time. Through the ‘Poco Bear Letters’ column, one of us will write to the other in every issue and document the conversation on the internet (as millenial postmodernity demands).

To One Poco Bear,

As much I’d like to think of myself as a prolific reader, the truth is I am not. Not the way you are anyway. I like you as a reader, I like your style. When I had just met you it was the closest to mine. You were reading four books at a time, changing flavours as you wanted, jumping through worlds, and open-dating characters. Then you transitioned into a more serious reader, you started making calculated choices as to what book was truly worthy of being read by you. You picked up a book, read it through, picked up another, read it through, you studied them as you read them. Your goodreads list of read books kept piling up. I kept listening to analyses after analyses of characters and style. You are someone who because of the way she interacts with people about books is susceptible to rare and precious book recommendations. You are without deliberation and perhaps even without knowledge constantly on the lookout for books and their sources. You are in the constant state of NewBookSearch, which is by all means extremely fascinating. It’s almost as if it is the purpose of your life, your telos. I thought I knew about all the significant books until I met you. You introduced me to authors and content-makers I can’t imagine my life without today. You hated on mainstream bestsellers with a gusto and took comical pride in reading the fiction you read, but at the same time there’s an intrinsic humility to being on the search because it says you believe you are not There yet. You romanticized the process of reading for me. You made it about rainy afternoons with a coffee mug before tumblr did. Initially my fascination led me to ask you where you came across these books, how did you find out about them. You mumbled a couple of names of book blogs but you couldn’t give a solid answer. And now I realize it’s because the process of looking out for stellar literature is a state of being for you. There’s no one thing you do to find new books to read, it’s a way of life for you.

Looking at you reading or sheer hearing about you reading makes me want to read and be that silent person brewing up wars inside her head.

There’s one more person who made me realize that reading books is as close humans can get to magic. For Mrunmayee, reading was a drug. She talked about books the way a heroin-addict might talk about what he saw and experienced when under the influence of the drug. Reading is survival for her. Her happiness depends upon whether she’s reading. She snorts books and gets high on the wildest thought experiments. She talks about her favourite writers as if they are the only people who will ever get close to understanding her. When you get to know Mrunmayee, you learn to accept the fact that she values and loves the people who wrote those books more than anyone.

I tend to leave books halfway. The only work of fiction I felt the compelling need to read till the end was Harry Potter. I switch back and forth, Adichie to Atwood to Susanne Clarke to Ali Smith. Sometimes I end up going back to finish the novel, but not always. The first three hundred pages feel enough. You don’t need to read the whole book to get a flavour of the writing and plot. There’s no urgency to go on. This sounds terribly unromantic. “Don’t you feel like staying there longer and want the beautiful writing to go on?” you asked me once. I feel like I can appreciate the beautiful writing better when I get a break from it. Every reader is moody, you are someone who can resist the mood shifts. I may read fifty pages and not pick up the book for another fifty weeks and then finish it, or not. Memoirs I feel the compelling urge to read till the end. I search for answers in them. They become the place where I’ll find all the solutions to my questions. The same thing happened with Harry Potter. I can’t let go of books that I feel are going to give me answers about existence in this world as we see it, life, love, loss. I also can’t let go of vulnerable characters who build courage through the vulnerability and what better place to look for such characters than memoirs.

Sometimes, we fail to recognize the bigness of things that seem small to us. We conveniently overlook the eccentric fact that books are essentially collections of printed words (mostly) about humans written by humans to be read by humans, and there’s no direct human contact involved. This tends to fill a weird incomprehensible emotional deficit created to be filled, not realized until filled. It creates sparks that fly off in the brain of the reader, sparks that light another one, and another one and endlessly multiply creating imageries so exquisitely foreign yet familiar, unreal yet so real, far off yet so so near, people given to you by someone else to make yours and cherish, a world ruled by the author and yet as much yours to rule as hers, word after word after word packed with power bursting as you read the next one. Bless those ancestors of ours who on feeling something after experiencing something decided to simply write it down. Books are inception of the most powerful kind, the highest manifestation of our instinctive freedom of expression, a discovery and an escape at the same time.

Wishing you more power and magic as a reader, my friend.

Another Poco Bear.

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Doodle made by Mavni at a sleepover

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