Love for the written word brought my husband into my life, and soon after we began seeing each other, he introduced me to his favourite author, Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I suspected, in fact, that it was a condition before we could move ahead in our relationship – if I couldn’t love ‘Love in the Time of Cholera’, which he knew backwards, then we were probably not made for each other.
Luckily for both of us, I loved the book.
A fan of authors like Elizabeth Gilbert, Orhan Pamuk and Khaled Hosseini, my literary world back then was more poetry than prose, more hopeful than realistic, showing me beauty more than grime. But then my husband came into my life and changed all that.
After Marquez came Milan Kundera – I read three of his books in a row, and they became benchmarks in our intimate journey together. After ‘Slowness’, I told my man, “That’s the way love works. Slowly. Hurried love isn’t worth it.” And we took it slow.
Then came Mario Vargas Llosa and Roberto Bolano. I felt like I’d got a glimpse into my husband’s head, his motivations and loves. I was satisfied with what I saw. We got married.
Like every good wife, I began to nag my new husband about expenses and budgets. I downloaded the Kindle app and bought him a few e-books but his real-books shopping continued unabated. I grumbled, but then got used to sleeping with books poking me under the blanket and falling out of shelves. I went back to my own kind of books – Eckhart Tolle, Philippa Gregory and Zadie Smith. Gradually, our mutual love for reading tossed us into each other’s worlds in unexpected ways.
More than fiction, my husband reads tomes on politics, philosophy, even medicine. The kids laugh when they see him read books on history that they’ve been prescribed for school reading – “You read that for fun?” His thirst for knowledge is unquenchable, and against my will, it has begun to grow on me.
I started exploring his non-fiction collection, starting with Katherine Boo’s award-winning ‘Behind the Beautiful Forevers’ about life in Mumbai slums, which left me heartbroken. I read ‘Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World’ by Jack Weatherford with wide eyes, and soon asked the husband for more. He gave me Simon Sebag Montefiore’s ‘One Night in Winter’, the first novel of an established non-fiction writer — the chilly white Russian landscape has stayed with me till today. Recently, I picked Tabish Khair’s ‘Jihadi Jane’ from the husband’s bedside table – it was the only book I have read twice on loop (it’s that brilliant).
For our anniversary this year, the husband gifted me the complete four-book set of the ‘Neapolitan Novels’ by Elena Ferrante. I quarreled with him about the unnecessary expense, but then, four books, countless tears and smiles, and a month of late-night reading later, I told him it was the best gift he’d ever given me.
And all this while, I noticed a change in myself – this willingness to try a new genre of reading. If it wasn’t for the husband’s gentle guidance into autobiographies, I would never have picked up ‘Proof of Heaven’ by Dr Eben Alexander, a book I now buy every time it is available online only so that I can gift it to people. I wouldn’t have cried my heart out at the autobiography of Paul Kalanithi, ‘When Breath Becomes Air’, a book I coincidentally finished reading on the first anniversary of the author’s death. By opening up my mind to reading different kinds of books, I am becoming a different kind of person.
For the past couple of months, the husband has taken me on a new journey: crime fiction. I have never been much of a fan of spy thrillers and violence-rich reading, so he first got me a handful of Henning Mankell novels, more about small-town Swedish life than about murder. I fell in love with Kurt Wallander so much that I fought with the husband when one of the books – ‘Kennedy’s Brain’ – turned out to be one of the few non-Kurt Wallander books that Mankell had ever written. “You cheated me!” I mourned after Kurt didn’t show up three chapters down.
Then he got me Wilbur Smith, and now it’s Stephen King. For a bit in the middle, I was hooked to the debut novel by screenwriter Terry Hayes, ‘I Am Pilgrim’. I am now facing an existential dilemma – do violent books give us more violent thoughts? Do they add to our ‘tamsik’ (lower) tendencies? I am observing my own state of mind carefully. (So far there is no noticeable change but I am alert.)
Most of all, the books bring my husband and I closer as a couple. We discuss what we read, and it is gratifying when we happen to love the same books. I give every book of his a chance – if I like the first chapter, I read it to the end. Today I even apologised for nagging him about all those expenses on books. If it wasn’t for his splurging habit, I would never have discovered these worlds. He has led me through new heavens and hells. Without knowing it, he is my library and my guide.
But better he doesn’t read this. I am pretending to be angry about a medical book called ‘Migraine’ he bought yesterday (no one in our family even has it). I’ll get round to nagging him about it, as soon as I’m done with the other one, Shirin Ebadi’s ‘Iran Awakening’, that I also found in his bag. There’s never a dull moment around here.