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.