This is a continuation of my last post, The Day My Books Were Rescued, where I mentioned I would be writing about books that are precious to me; each one for a different reason – such as where it was bought, who gave it to me, what it reminds me of or how I serendipitously read it at just the right time in my life.
The Complete Chronicles of Narnia – Boxed Set (Gifted to me sometime in the late 1980’s or early 1990’s)
I met a second cousin of mine for the first time in London, where she used to live, when we were around 4 or 5 years old. There is an age difference of about a year and a half between us. We have only met each other a handful of times after that, but when we were very young we used to send each other gifts every time a relative from London visited India or vice versa. This is one of the gifts she sent me. It is a 1987 edition and one of my all-time favourite children’s series. I hope to pass it on to my son one day, when he is old enough to appreciate it.
It is precious to me because it reminds me of a time when there was no email and though telephones were around, communication across continents was mainly via post or visiting relatives and friends. Also, the idea of two little cousins, thinking of each other and sending thoughtful little gifts across the many miles that separated them is, well…..just heart-warming.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and White Teeth (Both bought at Waterstones in Aberdeen, Scotland, 2001)
At the time, I didn’t even know who Harry Potter was! I only knew that I had seen numerous people with their noses stuck in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire almost every time I rode the London Underground. From teenagers to adults, everybody seemed to be reading it. What made me curious was the fact that the cover looked very unlike a book meant for grown ups. What was this book that seemed to have gripped everyone around me?!
I was studying in England then and during that year my husband (boyfriend at the time) and I made a trip to Scotland – to visit a friend of ours in Aberdeen and also to see Loch Ness. While walking around Aberdeen one morning, we passed a Waterstones that was running a “3 for the price of 2” offer and sitting in the store window, staring at me was that alarmingly ubiquitous book yet again! Enough was enough! I made the rest of the party wait and ran in to pick it up, along with White Teeth by Zadie Smith, which looked interesting too. For the life of me, I cannot remember what the third book was, but Harry and the Teeth returned with me to India some months later, and it was only then that I read Potter for the first time (realising a bit into the book that I had three more books of the series to finish first!) Of course by then Harry Potter was the phenomenon it was destined to be.
I always smile when I think about how I first ‘heard’ about Harry Potter and remember where I was when I bought my first HP book.
Wuthering Heights (Bought as part of my high school syllabus, Bangalore, India, 1997)
Over Class 10 and Class 12 of my schooling we studied two Shakespeare plays, assorted poetry and two classics – Pride and Prejudice for class 10 and Wuthering Heights over classes 11 and 12. I have a beautiful hardbound edition of Wuthering Heights, but this, the book I actually used in school is far more precious to me. I have underlined important sentences and paragraphs in it and the margins are filled with notes in miniature handwriting. The price of the book was Rs. 45!
It reminds me of a time when I began to appreciate English literature and also fills me with a sense of gratitude for the good English teachers I was fortunate to have throughout my school years. These women – and all my English teachers were women – played a vital role in developing my interest in the English language, books and writing in general.
Northanger Abbey (Bought in Bath, England, 2000)
I don’t think there is a person who enjoys English literature that does not appreciate Jane Austen. My introduction to Austen was in school, where, as I’ve mentioned above, we studied Pride and Prejudice in Class 10. While I was studying in England, I made a day-trip to Bath with a few close friends and it was there, after wandering around the whole day, feeling very “close” indeed to Jane Austen, that I bought my copy of Northanger Abbey.
(For those not in the know, these two sentences from janeausten.co.uk sum up perfectly why a person who appreciates Austen would jump at the chance to visit Bath. “Jane lived in Bath for 5 years and Bath provides the backdrop to 2 of her novels, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion and features in her other novels and in the collection of letters to her sister Cassandra.” So it’s basically what Graceland is to Elvis fans!
I am filled with so many warm, happy feelings when I look at my copy of Northanger Abbey – my love for reading, my appreciation of Austen, that trip to Bath, the wonderful time I had while studying in England – just a lot of happy things!
War and Peace (Gifted to me in Oxford, England, 2001)
Before I went to England to study, I had studied and lived away from home for 2 years, so I never dreamed I would be home sick. But I was, and terribly so. What made it worse was that I never expected it.
And then I made my first friend at the halls I was staying at. I think she sensed I was lonely and homesick and one evening, during my second week there, after dinner she asked me to come over to her room for a cup of coffee. Though we live in different countries today, and hardly see each other, she is still someone I consider amongst my dearest friends.
And I will never forget her thoughtfulness and sensitivity that eventually blossomed into a treasured friendship between us.
When the time came to leave halls and go our separate ways, she gave me this book and wrote in it ….. “Good luck with life! And just want you to know that I am glad I met you, you really made a difference.”
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Bought at a book sale, Bangalore, sometime between 2002 and 2008)
I bought this beautiful hard bound, gilt-edged edition of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban at a second hand book sale in Bangalore and it boggles my mind that someone would want to get rid of it! Well, lucky me, especially since it is my favourite book of the series!
The Alchemist and The Pilgrimage (Both gifted to me in Bangalore, India, 2004)
Have you ever read a book and felt that it was serendipitous that you read it at exactly that point in your life? This is what happened to me with both The Alchemist and The Pilgrimage, especially the former, which helped me make some life altering decisions when I was at a crossroads in my life. Both books were gifted to me by a cousin from Portugal, when she was visiting India. You can read more about that in my post Remembering Santiago de Compostela.
These two books remind of the difference this particular cousin made in my life when I really needed it and the subsequent holiday I had with her that really changed my outlook, again, when I really needed it.
Veinte Poemas de Amor y una Cancion Desesperada (Bought in Lisbon, Portugal, 2005)
This book is precious to me because it is the first book I was able to read (with some assistance from a dictionary) in Spanish, after I had begun to learn the language and I can’t think of a better way to have begun!
El Amor en los Tiempos del Colera (Bought in State College, Pennsylvania, USA, 2010)
It is difficult to find books written in a foreign language in bookstores in India. You can buy some online, but then I so much prefer an actual bookstore. When I was visiting friends in State College I had wandered into a book store, if I remember correctly, a Barnes and Noble, where I bought this. I haven’t read any Gabriel Garcia Marquez yet, in the hope that one day my Spanish will be good enough to read his books in the original language in which he wrote and that’s why I bought this book. I still haven’t read it, my Spanish still isn’t good enough and I think I may read the English version of one of his books soon. But not this one. This one shall be kept in hope of achieving that goal one day.
Persepolis (Gifted to me in Paris, France, 2011)
In 2011, when my husband and I embarked on a month’s holiday to Europe, I was delighted that one of my oldest friends said she, her husband and little son would be able to join us from England for a few days in Paris. We had the best time ever and while we were there she bought me this book at the famous Shakespeare & Co.
The book reminds me of course of our lovely holiday in Paris and any book lover would be thrilled to own something bought at Shakespeare & Co. But it also reminds me of a friendship that spans a lifetime, for we have known each other from kindergarten, since we were five. Today we live in different countries and she visits India a couple of times a year, but every single time, it’s like nothing has changed – we pick up exactly from where we left off. There is such comfort in friendships that have been there for what seems like forever. We are truly ourselves with people who we have shared our childhood and grown up with, from the awkward teenage years to adulthood and today, when we have children of our own!
What are your most precious or favourite books? Is there a story behind why you hold them so dear?