For the love of books

Since I was young, I liked stories. There was a book I liked called 365 Goodnight Stories. It was a book of 365 bedtime stories, one for each day of the year. My sister and I used to have a cartoon video of nursery rhymes. Both Surya and I wanted to watch it all the time. Surya used to hate the one “This crooked man” because there’s a very creepy looking old man with a hunchback and the narrator’s tone turned darker and deeper.

At this age, it’s good to encourage creativity and imagination and maybe bilingualism. 4-year-olds can pick up a second language very fast. It’s very easy to get a very young child into reading. I have heard of middle schoolers who have never read an entire book. I’m not necessarily expecting Bronte’s Jane Eyre but at least some popular kids fiction, maybe even Twilight. (I shudder to think about that. I hate Twilight series with a passion). What is the world coming to? It is not easy getting older kids into reading.

As a kid I remember growing up in Dubai and going to a strict, proper Indian school. Only Indians will know what I mean by that. From school, I remember myths, fables, fairy tales. I grew up with both Western and Eastern fairy tales. I’ve read Indian folk tales, fables and mythology. I loved mythology. I grew up in Dubai, and in an area where there are so many cultures so that influence is there. I used to be fascinated with others. At one time when I was in 3rd grade, I was fascinated by Native Americans after hearing Native American stories in my class.

3rd to 5th grade: I loved Nancy Drew mysteries. I loved mystery stories and was into it for a long time. I also liked reading Sweet Valley High series. I was drawn into Sweet Valley High because I was curious to know about the big kids or teenagers. I read my first SVH when I was 9 years old. I was still too young to understand certain things like the realities boyfriends and relationships. I didn’t get those parts. Another one of my favorite childhood authors was the British author Enid Blyton. She doesn’t seem very popular in America. I read her Magic Faraway Tree and her boarding school stories.

I vividly remembering sitting in my 5th grade class and reading my English textbook in class. There was a children’s version of The Merchant of Venice. I liked that story because it wasn’t sugar-coated and the content of the story hasn’t changed much. I read the real version in college. Someone was about to be killed because the villian wanted a pound of flesh from that guy. My favorite part was that a woman called Portia, who was strong, intelligent and beautiful saves the day and gets the guy in the end.

Middle school: I was encouraged to read classics (all abridged, young reader versions of course). I’ve read:

Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty
Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women
Charles Dicken’s Great Expectations
Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice

I was fascinated by the 19th century. I hated reading “Where the Red Fern Grows” and sad stories about dying dogs. During 5th – 8th grades, why do the kids in American schools have to be subjected to reading about dying dogs? There’s a parody No more Dead Dogs by Gordon Korman. I read the summary and it sounds hilarious.

In 8th grade, we read Jane Eyre. I started getting into stories about relationships, friendships and books with strong women protagonists. When I was about 13 or 14, I started reading adult fiction because teen fiction bored me.

High school: I loved Shakespeare! Some of my classmates thought I was crazy. I liked drama. I liked Edmund Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac, Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House and The Crucible. I started getting into fantasy and science-fiction too. I loved classic science fiction. I wrote stories. My high school teacher Mr. Campbell encouraged me to write. I won a teen fiction writing contest.

College (undergraduate) I decided to major in English/Secondary Education. During my freshman year of college, I grew out of science fiction/fantasy. I lost interest somewhere. I started getting interested in cultural fiction, realism and magic realism. I like Indian writers because they write about things I can relate to. I like the style of most Indian writers. I read Salman Rushdie, Jhumpa Lahiri, Arundhati Roy. I liked Radhika Jha’s novel Smell, which was a story told mostly through the sense of smell. It was interesting. I’m not a fan of Vikram Seth. I read a A Suitable Boy and wasn’t one of my favorites.

I remember studying The Mahabharata and The Ramayana in the class The Hero. We also had to read The Odyssey and others. It was interesting to compare the hero in various forms of literature. I wrote a paper about the role of dharma in the Indian epics. It gave me a chance to study Hinduism, Indian culture and literature. Hinduism wasn’t new to me. My dad’s side of the family was Hindu and when I was in 11th grade, I went back to India for a semester and studied Hindu theology basics under Swami Chinmayananda’s books with my regular school subjects. Since I already had some of the basics of Hindu theology under my belt. This helped me when I was taking that undergraduate English class. I got a lot of insights and understood Hinduism better from an outside perspective.

American literature was my favorite class. It’s relevant. Dr. Hill is amazing. I learned so much about American culture as portrayed through literature. We also studied African American literature such as Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, Zora Neale Hurston and poetry from Langsto Hughes.

I also studied British Literature. The (Victorian) Gothic Novel was also my favorite class. I love Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Jekyll and Hyde gave insight to addiction.

My other favorites are Amy Tan, Bharathi Mukherjee’s Jasmine and Flannery O’ Connor’s Wise Blood. I love Flannery O’ Connor because her fiction is full of rich Christian imagery, themes and ideas.

I was staff editor of Concordia’s literary journal. I wrote fiction and poetry for that.

Grad School: Originally, I decided to go for my Master’s degree in English literature wanting to get a Phd in Postcolonial literature, but now I’m reconsidering academia. I switched my degree to Writing/Publishing. I enjoyed studying writing, including Rhetoric and Composition Studies and editorial, marketing and writing. I’m studying what I like, so that means I may end up living under a bridge someday. As long as I get to read, write and talk about books, I’m happy

Looking back, I think it’s a good idea to get children interested in stories from a young age. As soon as my children are old enough, I’d tell them stories, read to them and get them into books. It’s good for them.

I heard of my younger cousin who is also getting interested in books. When he was 13, he liked the story of  Dickens’ Great Expectations. He wrote a story about an orphan boy. I’d love to see what happens to my cousin when he grows up. Surya is also a very creative person. She writes great poetry and it comes more easily to her. She is talented at drawing comics and design. Among a crowd of engineers, business people, and sciences, a creative gene exists in my family and I’m glad to have that.

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