“Books: these are the masters who instruct us without rods or ferules, without hard words and anger, without clothes or money. If you approach them, they are not asleep; if investigating, you interrogate them, they conceal nothing; if you mistake them, they never grumble; if you are ignorant, they cannot laugh at you. The library, therefore, of wisdom is more precious than all riches, and nothing that can be wished for is worthy to be compared with it. Whosoever therefore acknowledges himself to be a zealous follower of truth, of happiness, of wisdom, of science, or even of the faith, must of necessity make himself a lover of books.”

 This wrote Richard de Bury in 1344, more than a hundred years before the invention of printing, in “the Philobian”, the first English book on the joys of reading (and later published in 1474.) Today, a little less then seven hundred years after de Bury, and perhaps two decades after digital technology threatened to make them extinct, books are back in fashion again. Literature, which at one time had found itself at war with the internet, now finds the battle a little bit more even. The sale of Kindle and Nook have plateaued; I Pads are being less used for storing books, downloading of books from the internet has reduced. books

As can be expected, many people with nothing better to do, have tried to summarise the pros and cons of the subject. Those interested may access http://booksvsinternet.weebly.com/books-pros–cons.html.

The logic goes as follows: “Books are better in providing reliable and useful information if you are doing a research or project. That is the reason why books will never die out even when the internet can provide so much information for users all over the world. The joy of reading a book cannot be replaced by internet even though the internet provide lots of reading material.  Rather than the internet replacing books, website such as amazon are selling books online. The internet is a new platform buy books online. Users still prefer having papers to read.  Thus, we can conclude that the internet will not ‘kill’ the books market but in return enhance it.


Pros: Readily accessible almost anywhere, anytime; More interactive compare to books (Videos, hyperlink….); Getting information faster compared to reading whole book; Different views about the same subject (More sources); Practically every information you need online is free.
Cons: Information may not be reliable (Not accurate or totally wrong); Resources not organized; Information found may be outdated; Internet access is often not free.

Pros: Warm, personal experience of reading a good book can never be replace by the internet; The smell and feel of the book is a sensory experience that is unforgettable; Information from book is more reliable; Since the sources from books are mostly true and reliable, it can be used as a source for work or arguments; Resources are well organized throughout the book.

Cons: Takes lots of time to get the information out from a book; Takes up space to keep/place books; Some authors write whatever he/she wants; “Boring”, not interactive.

books 1I have had a long time fascination with books since I can remember anything at all.  I must have been about six, when my elder brother, a good nine years my senior, brought to me from the Trivandrum Public Library my very first book.  Its letters were big and the pictures colourful; I can still remember the young boy in the slim volume, jumping into a tub of water and making it all splash around him, wetting the floor. Enid Blyton was a special favourite with her adventures fables of the Secret Seven and the Famous Five and the Fantastic Four. Who reads her now? she is gone from public memory. Then there was a phase of poring over the stories of Biggles, an adventurer and pilot, written by WE Johns. William stories by Richmal Crompton were another favourite. I thought I had graduated into more serious reading with the series of Tarzan stories by Edgar Rice Burroughs. And how can you ignore the gripping detective stories of Dame Agatha Christie, with Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple? And the most exciting and absorbing them of all, the short stories and novels of Arthur Conan Doyle with the indomitable Sherlock Homes and Dr Watson. Most of them, these magical, entertaining, mysterious characters, have bred spin-offs with new interpretations, in TV and cinema, still enthralling the world around.

But there was serious reading too: I remember being fascinated by John Steinbeck as I sat through the angst and heroism of The Grapes of Wrath; Thornton Wilder whose The Bridge of San Luis Rey I re-read recently, Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha, Herman Wouk’s massive novels of war and human courage. I tried but couldn’t plough through Tolstoy’s War and Peace or Anna Karenina. Later there was exquisite craftsmanship of John Fowles and his French Lieutenant’s Woman or even The Magus. Gabriel Garcia Marquez was a special favourite. And who can forget Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mocking Bird, though her second one did not fail to disappoint.

And then I was plunging into the universe that opened up when I joined the English Literature stream for my graduation and post-graduation. Shakespeare raised goose bumps in me: he is always near by, for a quick reference or a leisurely read: how could one man have known human nature in all its breadth and depth? The magisterial Milton made me feel awe at the grandeur of the language; and the Romantics, Shelly, Keats and Wordsworth, bore me away from the mundane word into a better and brighter, more hopeful planet. I came to read Emily Dickinson for the first time in those days and entered into a permanent love affair with her, she leading me on, some forty years later, to write my doctoral thesis on the subject of symbolism in her selected poems. If reading maketh a full man, as Francis Bacon said, I would agree: I think I am a fuller and better man for having read; though I may have been reading randomly, than reading wisely.

Paperbacks that are now popular: Cussler, Patterson, Dan Brown, Ludlum or JK Rowling: somehow I have never had the particular frame of mind to pore over them. I do not think I have missed much. I find them tedious, with mindless violence and complicated plots leading some fantastic denouement that makes no sense or meaning.

books 2Rather, I would prefer to read those not so much in the main thoroughfare. A few years ago, Dawkins made me realize that my religious beliefs were based on empty premises that do not hold up to reason and logic or even to honest skepticism.  Just a few days back, I got engrossed in OV Vijayan’s The Legends of Khasak, the English translation of the Malayalam classic: I can say with all honesty that his landscapes of magic realism are not inferior to the ones created by Rushdie, Marquez or Borges. Max Erhman’s little gem Desiderata, remains forever etched in my mind. Read it once, and it will always be with you. http://mwkworks.com/desiderata.html.

At times, and in fact more so recently, I get diverted by non-fiction, books on environment, (Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth) or finances (Thomas Piketty’s Capital) or Sen and Dreze (An Uncertain Glory). Harsh Mander’s Looking Away is a searing and painful reminder of what man has done to man. Guha’s Gandhi, both the “before and after” books. Reading Seneca, two millennia after he wrote, is like learning about life all over again. The two books of Siddhartha Mukherjee, The Emperor of Maladies and Gene are marvelous masterpieces giving you a peep into the mysteries of the human body and forcing you to acknowledge the grapplehold that DNA has over your destiny.

And so it goes on: there is no rhyme or pattern to the nature of the books I read; it is some eclectic and wayward mood that I surrender to, as I chose my readings and move on. When I am within the universes that the books create, I can feel the cocoon around me, insulating me from the harsh realities that surround me in the real world. There, that side of the words on the page, there are no public or private worries, no tax returns to file, no medicines to swallow, no thought of the aches and pains that we are all heir to. The magical words transport me to the soaring realms of imagination where I am free, where I can gaze and wonder, marveling at the genius of the poet or the dramatist, the essayist or the novelist.

Are you with me on this? Then I am sure you live a wonderful life, free, unfettered and glorious.