Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Armchair Travel

I like to think of myself as a fairly responsible, together person. I pay bills on time, am pretty faithful with my bi-annual dental checkups and don't forget appointments. But I will admit that when it comes to my library books I can be a bit laissez-faire.

For instance, I've had Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found out from the library since August. Yes, appalling I realize.

In my defense I did actually renew it several times, so it wasn't as egregious a lapse as it sounds. But you can only renew so many times (5 times as it turns out) and then things become illegal. And the formerly pleasant librarian starts sending you annoyed emails.

Why didn't I simply return it you might wonder? I couldn't bear to, it just looked so fascinating that I didn't want to let it out of my apartment without having read it. I finally sequestered myself for a few evenings and a weekend to finish it (and subsequently return it) and was thrilled to find that my instinct had been correct.

Suketu Mehta, who returned to the land of his birth for a few years both to write about the experience and to reconnect his young family with their culture, did not just wander about the city commenting on the hustle and bustle, describing charming markets and purveyors. Oh no. Although the book starts out mildly enough with the tale of getting an apartment (a nightmare beyond comprehension) it quickly moves to deeper, darker material.

Mr. Mehta goes to the ground, hanging out with gangsters, suicidal bar girls, policemen (both corrupt and not), slum lords and slum inhabitants, the upwardly mobile...the intimacy with his subjects is absolutely startling. After a few years in Bombay he knows the city far better than I know New York, despite spending the better part of a decade here.

While reading the book I alternated between yearning to visit Bombay and yearning to stay far away. The mark of a true city I think...that love hate relationship. And the mark of a fantastic book, the reader connecting enough with the material to feel something about it.


Laura in Paris said...

To avoid that .. I buy the books I'd like to have for me - and yes, have no more room in my shelves, where I piled them ... But I love to see they are there if I want to read them again.
I have not read Mehta yet, and I have now one more book to order from

Terry B, Blue Kitchen said...

I totally get your nefarious library ways, Laura. Over the years, we've paid extravagant overdue fines at libraries and done so with a smile. Because we've saved tens of thousands of dollars [not to mention bookshelf space] by not buying every book that's caught our attention. If Ben Franklin had accomplished nothing else but inventing the public library, he would still be a great American in our eyes.

Mlle Paradis said...

Yes, great book. Can understand why you held onto it, and also why it took so long. It's very dense and demanding and intense.

I've only kept one book from the library for a terribly long time. Borrowed it when I was 14 and returned it when I was like 21. "At Terror Street and Agony Way" by Charles Bukowski. In hard cover. I knew I'd never find it anywhere again. And I haven't. It was in good condition when I returned it.

I've said it before elsewhere, but I'm with Terry B. - it's a good thing to (pay taxes to) support our public library system. Happy Reading!

Laura [What I Like] said...

Laura in Paris - I think a home crammed full of books is one of life's great pleasures!

Terry - I'm glad I'm not the only one...I feel a bit good about paying the fines sometime as it's a bit like supporting the library with a donation...maybe? Love Ben Franklin, the man was beyond genius I think.

Mlle Paradis - That is quite a long time for a library book to be away from a good of you to bring it back! I think in New York they would have send the collection agency round quite in advance of your 21st birthday...

French Fancy said...

Oh I wish we had a good library of books in the English languageout here. We have an expat one which consists of all the books no longer wanted by any Brit who has moved to this bit of France - most of them are not my taste at all.

Glad you finally got round to reading this one and that it didn't disappoint.

Angie Muresan said...

Oh, I do that all the time too. My husband gets so annoyed that he wants me to stop checking books out from the library and buy them instead.
Speaking of books, I have 3 book giveaways going on at the moment. Stop by when you have a chance. Two of them are cookbooks.

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