The world is in lockdown; real life sucks. So I am taking a break from it — one book at a time. Welcome to my quarantine-reads series, y’all!
A day after I hit publish on the first article in this series, I was talking to a friend (virtually, of course) about what I am trying to do with this blog. Somewhere between my rambling on books reflecting my mental-state and reading as productive procrastination, she said, “… writing about books as an experience — yeah, that’s a cool idea!.” At that moment, it just clicked. That’s what I am trying to do. We often talk about movies and songs as an experience, visiting parks or restaurants as an experience. But books, they usually aren’t included as an “experience” — the process is often long-drawn, and you don’t get instant gratification. But I think that’s what I wanted to do with the “quarantine-reads” series. Talk about my experience and journey of reading a book, watching movies, and discussing the general state of mind and miscellaneous musing. So, thanks for reading
If we see books as an experience, this next read is going to be like a three-part documentary. This is Not The End of The Book, while written concisely, isn’t exactly a “chill” book. It’s slightly academic, refers to a lot of exciting but demanding historical events. I first heard about this book when I was serving as a Teaching Assistant for an Introduction to History course. During which, I read a few chapters but never got around to completing it. It’s pristine white cover stayed unsoiled in my bookshelf, and I always thought I’ll find myself in “the zone” to read this someday. Come week three of quarantine, I needed a break from fiction, as I was reading for the purpose of escapism. My routine consisted of waking up, making coffee, reading a book, showering, doing chores, eating, and back to making tea, reading books until the sunlight sustained. This needed to change. I had other things to work on (like my *coughs* thesis *coughs*) and couldn’t just discount my underlying fears and carry on reading to hit snooze on my anxiety. A balanced way to work through this was to pick a not-so-easy but still highly-anticipated book and assign a time to read it.
I won’t say I have a book ownership problem. I am quite proud of my modest little library. Have I cut down on my clothes to create space to keep books? Yes. Do I have a monthly budget set aside for buying books? Yupp. Do I restrict the number of books I can buy every year to curb my purchase? Yess. Would I stab someone if they mess with my first edition Bertrand Russell’s Introduction to Western Philosophy? Yes, multiple times, with pleasure. Do I have an unhealthy Monica Geller like behaviour when it comes to upkeeping of my book? Absolutely. But just to be clear, I do not have a book ownership problem. So early last year, when I first heard about the process of annotating books — underlining individual bits and parts, I was first taken aback. Surely using a pen/pencil on the pages of your book is some form of bastardization. But after watching this lovely video inspiration by Ariel Bissett on Annotating Books, I wanted to change my style — make every book I read my own. I read this book with a pencil and boy, oh boy, what a great decision it was. There were so many iconic dialogues, data points, quote-worthy lines that I knew I was going to revisit in years to come.
Books that talk about books are the best kind of books because you can’t physically read all the books. (Take a shot every time I say books in this article …actually don’t you’ll get alcohol poisoning, and our healthcare works don’t need that right now)
The major premise of this book was to argue “the role and relevance of the book in the digital age.” But the authors pretty much cover that in the first two chapters. TL;DR a book is like a wheel or a spoon; once invented, it cannot be bettered, it is already in its best state. As someone who reads books on multiple devices like laptop, Kindle, iPad, phone (even audiobooks) — I still prefer a physical book over everything else. Yes, some books are costly, inaccessible, and therefore, their electronic version is better. But nothing is more comforting and intuitive as a paperback and a pencil with maybe a random piece of paper as a bookmark (because only satan’s children dogear books, you monster).
The majority of the book was Jean-Claude Carriere and Umberto Eco just chilling and discussing the formation of knowledge, modern arts, and cinema, gossiping about French poets and Italian painters. Comparing their expensive vintage books collection, dropping life advice while discussing English theatre, what a delight to read! Not going to lie, it felt a bit boring and slightly alienating in a few places. There was so much to learn, I found myself taking breaks to Google some things, marking out items to read later, but I just felt so happy to be a part of such a conversation. They shared their fantasies about how they would plan their heist if they entered a wealthy book collectors library, shared their disdain for “people who cut up precious books to sell the parts” and who would they leave their collections to once they’re dead. They talk about Restif, a French novelist and shoe fetishist, who created a “live book” — a report, wherein he would curate his adventures of a night of debauchery and get them printed in the morning. My man, Restif, was doing Insta stories before Instagram. Revolutionary. With such random tit-bits and some substantial commentary on the need for preserving the written word, JCC and UC really come through.
#3: This is Not the End of the Book — Umberto Eco & Jean-Claude Carriere
the most intelligent and sophisticated conversation I’ll ever be a witness to?
Umberto Eco is a well known literary icon, author and historian, and Jean-Claude Carriere, a filmmaker, critique, and collector. Both these stellar, well-read, cerebral personalities discussing relevance, evolution, birth-death of books was such an enriching journey. This is one of those books that talks about so many books that you find a new gateway to many more books.
This book is a glowing tribute to the books — old and new, disappeared and forgot, Avante-Garde and downright stupid.
They talk about filmmakers and forgotten rolls of master cinema, of burnt scrolls of Alexandria. They speak about Italian poets and French “live writer,” there is such so much to learn from their conversations; this requires you to follow through with a pencil.
I see myself revisiting this book, rereading parts I highlighted, and maybe even charting out some fancy libraries and bookstores to visit taking this as a guide. Overall, this is slightly exhausting but still an excellent piece of literature. :)
Bubblegum Factory recommends:
favourite lines from the book:
This book has so many quotable lines. While writing this article, I got to revisit my annotations and enjoy them all over again, so thanks! Showing some constrain and not typing out half the book here, I’ll share my top four picks.
Hey Bollywood, you listening? Take note, you formulaic film-makers.
When you do nothing but apply a set of rules, the elements of surprise, brilliance and inspiration all evaporate. I sometimes try to impress this on young film-makers. ‘You can carry on making films, that’s relatively easy — but it’s not cinema.’
I just never thought about this pattern in the artistic medium over the years. See, this is what good books do, make you ponder about topics you think you know too well.
Why do certain periods appear to select an artistic medium to the exclusion of all others? Painting and architecture in Italy during the Rennaissance; poetry in sixteenth-century England; theatre followed by philosophy in seventeenth-century France; the novel in Russia and France the following century.
Okay, confession time. I believe a part of me nerds over all things Europe is because, over the years, I have downplayed traditions of Indian arts and culture. I subconsciously find them less-than; blame it on my ignorance or post-colonial hangover. But one of the main reasons is the lack of representation of Indian arts and cultural practices on a world-forum, labelled as a “masterpiece.” This also reminds me of this video from Art Assignment discussing “What Makes a Masterpiece,” addressing some similar topics and more.
It’s important to realise that in the ancient traditional cultures, there was no cult of the great artist. Superb artists existed, but they didn’t sign their work. And they didn’t think of themselves, nor were they thought of, as artists.
Perdonami padre perchè ho peccato. Another confession, last year, I set a reading goal of 12 books for a year, and I exceeded — finally finishing 51 books in 2019. But there was a time when I wasn’t sure of my intentions for reading a book. I felt that maybe, just maybe, I was reading for the sake of reading, marking a book as completed, and getting that score. So the following phrase felt like a personal attack and a gentle reminder, especially for now, when I am reading a lot more than usual. Thanks, JCC.
The aim isn’t to read at any cost, or to watch at any cost, but to know how to turn the activity into something nourishing and sustainable.
other works by the authors
Jean-Claude Carriere is an overall cinema superhero. You might like his following works:
- Please Mr Einstein, 2006
- The Mahabharata, 1985
Umberto Eco is a literary critic, philosopher, and overall Italian master academician. My top picks for his works are:
- Foucault’s Pendulum, 1988
- The Name of the Rose, 1980
Another book that merges talking about books in a semi-autobiographical manner is The Year of Reading Dangerously by Andy Miller. As someone in a reading slump last year, this book really inspired me.
Ideally, I would have liked to read this book in a cute French cafe, sipping on my café créme with a pain au chocolat. But since that’s not happening, I’ll make me a filter coffee and play this Parisian chic playlist and read this book.
… the story so far
as quarantine continues — so does my reading list. I am constantly updating my reads and reviews. You can check out more of it on my Goodreads — https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/47323133-sneha-nanavati
For more real-time update and fun book quizzes, check out my Instagram — https://www.instagram.com/bubblegum.factory/
… in the next episode:
#4: The Reader — Bernhard Schlink
This is a part of an ongoing series titled “Quarantine Reads”. If you enjoyed this, you can find more entries over here:
Hi, Welcome to my semi-charmed kinda life. I write about my experience with books, movies and share occasional thoughts…
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