Talking through Books
A tale of how an agreement between two friends inspired one of them to resume his long-lost hobby of reading books
The end of the line, the time to part ways just around the corner. The two friends, sharing their future plans, came up with a mutual agreement. Were we kids? No, grown people graduating from university, but at that point, the idea seemed so fascinating, something to look forward to despite the uncertainty the future beholden. The journey back home was full of questions and doubt. The agreement sounding simple was jolted with complications before one could start working towards it. Life’s a continuous cycle of growth and change, and to complete my side of the pact, I was willing to conquer all the obstacles thrown at me.
In my childhood, I once jumped into a swimming pool without knowing how to swim. Quite stupid now that I think about it, but my decision back then was fueled by this belief that once faced with the situation, I could somehow learn to find a way out. The same case was applicable today. The agreement was that both would read books across the summer vacations and send them to the other once they read. We reached this point in the conversation after I revealed that one of my goals for the summer is to resume my habit of being an avid reader. This pact between us was meant to help me remain motivated in my journey to become a reader the teenage Faaiz was. Right, so I made an agreement, based on the assumption that I would actually manage to rekindle the fire I once had for exploring different books and booming with imagination. The imagination that once made you impersonate every cool fictional character you read about and ponder what you would have done if you were in the shoes of the main character. The devotion to books that made tragic endings led to emotional damage that ruined your days.
To be fair, the bar was too high, and to imagine me as even a shadow of my past seemed like a mountain to climb. But there was this one super-weapon that my childhood never needed, but the 23-year-old Faaiz knew will be more than handy given the current circumstances. A mere sentence at the end of a tiring day where everything seemed like a fast-paced tragic movie. I remember saying, “I promise that I will send some books after reading them.” The initial days of trying to resume reading books were awful. Did they somehow make the words smaller and fit more lines on single pages? As it was hard to keep your focus on particular words, forgetting where you were and entering into the realm of daydreaming where you thought of everything except the issue right in front of you. Reassuring yourself that in the past you have read books stretching 600-pages long with font smaller than this, Faaiz forced himself to begin forming a habit. He decided to read 30 pages each day. You are entitled to laugh at this target, but it is fine to admit how bad the situation was, and I opted for a relatively realistic target rather than being overly ambitious, reading 100 pages from afternoon to evening.
Another dilemma was that some books did not click the way they used to before. As we grew up, life threw its challenges at us, full of complications that made you learn from experience. As a kid, you may be at the edge of your seat reading about toxic friends or people who let you down, but as adults, it is like recalling certain people and nodding in disapproval that the situation described in the book is in no way near as daunting as what you have seen. Naturally, you start losing interest in the book and question the reason for even continuing. To solve this issue, I once again decided to improvise and find a way through.
The former reader Faaiz would be fuming if anyone even accidentally placed a dot on my book pages with a pen. HOW DARE SOMEONE RUINS THE BEAUTIFUL, CRISP PAGES THAT ARE MEANT TO BE SPOTLESS? Writing on a book was a cardinal sin in my eyes, and imagining myself holding a pen and doing it myself some years later would have made the young Faaiz refuse to grow or acknowledge that the future Faaiz did grow from this childhood. Murdering the values of my younger self, I grabbed a pen and started writing on the pages of my books. No, I did not write something philosophical or intellectual, but simply what I thought at that moment. Banter, flashbacks, shared memories, and many other things were written, left, right, and between the lines. Some pages were inked to such an extent that they reminded me of my old science book where teachers used to tell us to make notes in specific areas of the book. Although this act significantly reduced my reading speed, the pause you make to grab a pen and write not only costs ample time but also ruins the momentum you had been gathering. But soon, these notes became a way to connect with my friend who (with time) turned super busy, and you would hardly find time to interact with him. Someday, he will read those lines and would read the mini-sentences in my voice, and would remember me.
Visiting bookshops became overly fascinating and frustrating at the same time. Remember, now I was not just shopping for myself, but also the potential second reader, and you would not want to pick something that you knew would disappoint. So goodbye to all the autobiographies I wanted to read along with very serious nature books. The ten-minute visit to Liberty Books suddenly needed thirty, and as I went from shelf to shelf, trying to find books that would not prove to be a waste of time, money, and effort. It was not as if the invested time reaped immediate rewards as in two instances, it was met with agony. After reading, annotating, and writing an introductory note, I got to know from him that he already read that. I wanted to bang my head against the wall at that moment, but unlike the younger version, this Faaiz was calmer and less chaotic than before. So for next time, what he did was, tell after a couple of days that these books have been shortlisted for the friend. Well, that had consequences too. Dozakhnama, a new book at the bookshop, was the ideal choice for my friend. Before purchasing, the book was thoroughly inspected, and it felt as if it was just made to be sent. I came home all excited and announced with topmost enthusiasm about my purchase, only to be informed that the other party got it already even before me. That indeed was a major mood killer.
As reading became a passionate hobby, the books became easier to read, and every week, two to three books would be read with no sweat. From the wide range read, one would be dedicated to my friend, and unlike the others, not only were they annotated, but also welcomed with a note on how our week went and major changes that took place during that time. The gradual evasion from everyday lives of one another was compensated with these books. Friendship was not restricted to this one particular fellow, as with time, people emerged who were passionate about reading too. The younger Faaiz whose eyes would gleam talking about Harry Potter, Alex Rider, or Lord of the Rings, now found himself asking for book suggestions and would return to review and discuss the listed books-same gleaming eyes but under different circumstances.
As I conclude the 27th book that I have read, since the day I had the pact, there have been only positives from the brief stint I had at resuming my reading habit. This period has not been a rosy one where overnight success was achieved with little or no effort. The journey of growth and progress faced numerous obstacles, but hey, when there is a will, there is a way. You may say that the book exchange pact had little impact, or maybe I am overstating its importance, but ever since I sent him the last book, marking the end of the agreement, the will to read again has significantly reduced. Before, it was an effort for not only yourself but for someone else too. You were excited to present them with a perfect book. Now, you have stepped down from the peak and need to find the motivation and reasons to be on top of the world again. The little Faaiz who even read books on his way back home from school, seated at one of the uncomfortable seats of the bus, would wonder what would this adult now do to ensure he keeps reading even when he has no time or significant motivator.