Long ago, my brother gave me a £10 book token for a birthday present. I chose the biggest book I could find, A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth. My copy has been on my bookshelves for over 20 years. It has moved house with me more times than I can care to remember, including emigrating with me from the UK to Australia, but I was determined that I would read it ‘one day.’
This reading challenge has been good for me as I’ve been reading more over the past six months, even if I’ve not been blogging as much as I wanted to. (Life, the universe and everything), I’m easing myself back in with this post.
With A Suitable Boy, I also had the pleasure of Sagar Arya reading it to me. At over 68 hours long, it took me a month to listen to it, (and that was on 1.2x speed, (more later). It’s one of the longest books ever published in a single volume at 1488 pages. But it was worth it.
When I was listening at home and not doing anything else, I’d pick up the book and read along with him. The audiobook came with me on walks, drives, shopping, train trips into and out of Melbourne. Now I’ve finished it, I feel a bit lost.
I’m no longer hanging out with Lata and the Mehra family; watching Lata fall in love with Kabir, whom she can’t marry as he’s Muslim. Lata is a modern woman, studying at university and wanting to forge her own path in life in the new India, fresh from Partition in 1951, Kabir stimulates her mind and their sweet tender romance is passionate and chaste at the same time.
I’m not visiting with the Kapoor’s, watching Maan fall in love with courtesan Saeeda Bai. I’m also not thinking in rhyming couplets like the Chatterji’s, or travelling on old steam trains and drinking Nimbu Panis.
The book is set over 18 months, and follows the intricacies all lives follow. How one decision today will have a ripple effect across the rest of your life, whether you realise it at the time or not. On the cover of my copy it says, ‘Make time for it, it will stay with you for the rest of your life’. I’m cross with myself I’ve not read it before now, but there you go. I thought I would be a long time ago, but still never picked it up.
I do like big sweeping novels, epics and sagas. Anna Karenina was a good read last year, with Maggie Gyllenhaal reading it to me before I dove into the book. Possession is a firm favourite, also on the pile of books for the challenge. Jilly Cooper too, the Rutshire novels with Rupert Campbell-Black and his cronies are anything but lightweight.
A Suitable Boy, Anna Karenina, Possession, Rivals, Swallows and Amazons, Mapp and Lucia, these (and so many others) books are with me. I’m very lucky that I retain great swathes of text; sometimes from endless re-reads, sometimes because when my ADHD spins me into hyperfocus, it’s in there forever.
Listening to podcasts and audiobooks, I increase the speed to between 1.2- 1.5x speed. It is a tip I was given ages ago, (thank you Val!) because I both read and speak quickly; if I speed up what I’m listening to, I comprehend it easier as my processing speed is higher. Go figure.
A bit like speed reading I guess, which isn’t recommended for reading for pleasure. Although I pack books away quickly, I do go back or re-read things I’m loving slowly, and in turn listen to some parts and podcasts at 1x speed. I love words and relish in them, which is why I re-read Possession every winter. You have to slow down and wallow in it, like a hot bath.