Rebellion is a poor excuse to deny oneself pleasure but that’s the only thing I can come up with when I look at the list of books I ought to have read but haven’t.
I should explain that my mother is a lady with definite literary tastes that she has sought to pass on to me for as long as I can remember. Part of her determination, I suspect, stems from the fact that it has been years since my brother so much as looked at a book and, even if he did, he’d read something she’d automatically classify as degenerate. I, on the other hand, read pretty much everything that comes my way, including flyers and restaurant menus. It’s a disease.
Ma got her first good shot at me when I was eight and bedridden – I couldn’t so much as make it to the bathroom without help so visits to the bookstore were out of the question. I still scribbled the names of the books I wanted to read (I was then in my Nancy Drew phase) which my mother took without comment and then completely ignored. Instead, she bought me what she thought I should be reading – The Scarlet Pimpernel, The Count of Monte Cristo (both unabridged), six of Shakespeare’s major plays (abridged) and, by way of light relief, The School at the Chalet.
I was furious. I was in a mood to begin the Supermysteries starring Nancy and the Hardy Boys. Thanks to the power of the blurb, I was convinced these were going to be the best adventure mysteries ever known to mankind, and here was my mother forcing fuddy-duddy literature down my throat in direct opposition to my stated wishes. I threw a tantrum – and Ma coolly closed the door behind her.
After I’d cheered up by imagining the shock and everlasting grief she would suffer when she came back and found me dead of whatever life-threatening disease that stalks ignored children, I defiantly picked up a Nancy Drew I’d read a dozen times already. This was India before the advent of cable television and in any case, my parents to this date don’t believe in spoiling their children with TVs in their bedrooms, so it was read or be bored. I was bored. Giving in to the inevitable, I chose The Count of Monte Cristo (it was lying closest to hand) to prove to myself that my mother knew nothing whatsoever about books. And I fell in love.