Roddy Doyle thought thus about receiving books as presents when he was ten: “Books weren’t presents. I loved books, but they were a bit like food. I loved chicken, but a leg in wrapping paper would have been a huge disappointment.” (Look here for the full article.)
I have always loved receiving books as presents. I just realised that when I mentioned that the volumes of Muriel Spark given me by Airborne marked the second time someone had gifted me books, I was wrong. At the end of Class 1, when we were moving away from Bhilai, my class teacher gave me two books; one a children’s dictionary and the other a book of short stories.
I have no idea why she chose to give me books instead of a game or a doll as other people were wont to, but I think she was a very wise woman. On a long day alone at home (and newly unemployed, I’m going to have several), there is nothing that keeps you company like a book and your imagination. The book of short stories carried the tale of a princess who loved good things to eat and was thrilled by Turkish Delight, and for some reason I interpreted it as a whole recipe. I was determined to make it at home- I had decided it was something akin to pink-coloured, rose-flavoured ice candy- and I got as far as making ice cubes. I had not the vaguest notion of how to proceed from there, and whiled away the rest of the afternoon sucking at the ice cubes and hoping they’d somehow turn pink and rose-flavoured.
I could have been excused at that age for such ill-informed ideas; but what got into me during one summer vacation when I was fourteen or fifteen, I’ll never know. I had grand plans to make reasonable inroads into my father’s vast library; I ended up reading only two books in those two months. One was Larry Collins/Dominique Lapierre’s O’Jerusalem– I read it very eagerly, appalled and enthralled by turns at the courage of the people fighting for what they believed in, and the means to which they were prepared to resort. I finished it pretty quickly and began Frederick Marryat’s The Children of the New Forest, and I still blush to think I took so long to finish it. Part of the blame I can conveniently lay on my imagination- in the dim, curtained room, door closed and AC turned on, it was very easy to believe you were in the depths of a thick forest, the light barely let in by heavy foliage, fighting Roundheads with simple handmade weapons and weeding small plots of land. I stopped short at imagining I was having wild boar for dinner, because my vegetarian sensibilities rule over the romantic.
It isn’t always easy to adapt a book on film, and several movies manage to warp the very idea of the book and create cardboard characters who seem the very antithesis of their originals in the book. Watching a movie made out of a book can be a very traumatic experience particularly if you live and swear by the book. Looking up adaptations of Little Women this morning, I stumbled upon a 1978 version, where the actress playing twelve-year-old Amy looked older and wiser than I do at this ripe old age of mine. An adaptation of Anne of Green Gables featured a pedestrian-looking Anne Shirley, without the spark of the eyes or the vim of speech that makes the legendary redhead the heroine that she is. An insult to the writer’s imagination is what I call these shoddy adaptations.
Skipping lunch and writing this makes me feel a bit like Jo March, but I don’t have a garret, apples, or a wonderful idea for a story, so I’ll just rise now and betake myself to my simple lunch of cold rice, curd and potato chips.