In my eleventh standard, I had a blue poetry book. It was an anthology of 19th and 20th century verse—Auden, Heaney, Browning, Eliot, they were all there. The book looked rather old when I first received it; the pages smelt of closed rooms left to settle, its cover folded and tearing. It seemed so thoroughly used, as if it had been opened time and again, and I could only guess what it meant to its previous owner.
Every evening I would open the book to a random page, unplanned. And always I felt that familiar uncertainty as I held the book and slipped my finger between its pages, looking at the right hand corner of the right page, to see which author I’d be reading that day. That moment of uncertainty drew me—I knew nothing could go wrong, and I wanted more. Of the words, of the memories, of the stubborn but fragile smell of the book, and to see my own words pencilled in response.
And then one day, two years later, I put the book away.
I had no reason, it was one of those baseless things I felt I needed to do. I’d like to say it was a tough decision, that I had to fight urges to pick up the book again, but there was nothing. I finished Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye that evening, and the next day I picked up something else. I sat in the sunny corner of my room those holidays, coffee in hand, and read.
A few days ago, I began to read Anne Fadiman. I started with the last essay in the thin, borrowed copy of Ex Libris I held in my hand, Secondhand Prose. I was reminded of the narrow passageways of Blossom Book House, its bookshelves stocked with browning old books—torn, written in. Books that had stories other than the lives they held within their pages; books that were multiple stories each time they belonged to someone else.
And then, I remembered the anthology.
Finding it amidst a pile of books arranged neatly on a bending bookshelf, I picked it up, holding once again the tearing, blue book. I slipped a finger between its pages. Right hand corner of the right page, Auden. And I read.