In 2008, while I was walking with my friends through the alleyways of Calicut town, where sellers of used-books occupied the verandas of Sunday-closed shops, I picked up Katharine Graham’s Personal History for 40 rupees. Such book-hunting, or rather spending time with my friends to converse and learn English was a normal affair during Sundays throughout my undergraduate days. Since I was still learning how to be fluent in English, the thickness of the book might have attracted me for the price. I would have thought that I can read a 600 odd pages for just 40 rupees. Or, I may have had heard Katharine’s name somewhere, I don’t exactly remember.
But I never read the book beyond a few pages, as most of the language learners do. We get bored quicker than we should. The book subsequently remained in my shelf. And in those days, we lived in a tiled house which was built in the early 1980s, and the cupboards were not custom built to the walls as we see today. So the book was ensconced into the shelf of a wooden cupboard which could be moved from room to room. The book was stuffed along many others and it did not see the light of the day for a few years.
I love to watch thriller movies and I mostly yearned for the flicks with an investigative flavour. Detectives, lawyers, journalists and athletes who acquired great things in the face of obstacles greatly interested me. I watched the ‘The Post’ a two years ago, and it was one among a few movies I enjoyed in the genre of journalism.
In 2018, we reconstructed our house and the books certainly earned a library in the new house. I was already doing PhD and my book collection had grown, and my father had accepted me as an academic and he saw sense in devoting room in the house for a library. Graham occupied the top left corner shelf of the cupboard built into the wall, along with the likes of Gandhi, Malcolm X, Adolf Hitler and John Reed. But it still remained as a book I would eventually read. My parents often wonder how I am going to read all the books if I keep adding two, three books every week to the library. I tell them it’s not whether I will be able to read them all eventually. That’s never a thought of a book collector. The books represent a desire, a yearning to learn and the yet-to-be read ones always remind you that you have to learn much more.
Today I was reading Keith Ferrazi’s Never Eat Alone and there’s a profile of Katharine Graham there and he uses her case to bring home the point that friendships and humility matter greatly in making a great human being and in building a successful business. It then dawned on me that the Katharine Graham sitting on my shelf is the same woman who shaked and moved the American political sphere by publishing the infamous Pentagon Papers and unearthing the Watergate which ultimately ousted President Nixon. And I now realise it is the same story I loved in ‘The Post’ where Graham was epitomised by Meryl Streep.
Now Graham‘s Personal History on my shelf has acquired a new purpose and meaning. And this is certainly one of the ways in which a book comes to life for a reader. There is an emerging field of scholarship that looks at ‘book history’ which delves into the production, dissemination and reception of the books. For scholars working in this field, it’s important to look at how a book comes to have value for a reader and how it shapes one’s life and attitudes.
You may have your own memories of not only how you attached value to a book, but also how you found a particular book. Share your story in the ‘comment’ section below and I would be delighted to read yours.
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