By Devraj Singh Kalsi
Over years of reading, some authors are likely to emerge as your favourites for various reasons and occupy the venerated position forever. When an author enters your list of favourites, you tend to grow intolerant of criticism of his work or personal life, even on valid grounds. All the foibles are tossed aside as natural or unavoidable. There is no chance of losing respect once an author achieves that glorified status in the eyes of a reader.
Authors of classics are favourites when you are growing-up. They are the first ones to grab your imagination – much before contemporary authors mesmerise you with their narratives and styles. Since they are no longer around, they are admired for leaving behind a wealth of creative assets.
Reading one book makes you eager to read more from the same author and you end up reading everything the author wrote during his lifetime. This fondness makes you curious to read books by the author and books on the author. You dig up the archives, read what his contemporaries wrote about him, what his lovers and friends disclosed about him. The process of unearthing the mysteries throws up shocking disclosures.
One day you discover writings from established names that project him as a brothel-visitor, sadist, voyeur, or sexual pervert. As these graphic details emerge from multiple reliable sources, you are left to wonder why such great, exalted writers had such a dark, kinky side.
Your adoration suffers a jolt as you fail to deify him further. Even though the creative side keeps you inspired to become a good writer, the shady personal life scares you like hell. You begin to wonder whether writing actually involves dilution of character. Is it going to make the lovely people in your life suffer at your hands?
Favourite authors are often reread. They hold a special place in your heart and your bookshelf. If you are proud of displaying your acquisitions, books by your favourite authors will be displayed in front. In case you are secretive, you prefer to conceal your favourites – hide them in the back of the bookshelf to escape getting noticed by others. Many people would like to borrow such titles and you are not ready to lend it to any person – not even to your best friend.
You always prefer to buy books by your favourite authors in hardbound cover – the paperback edition is not meant for you. Your favourite authors are part of your treasured collection that you wish to leave behind for future generations.
Your favourite authors share an intimate relationship with you. You take them to your bed and bedside. You go to sleep reading their writing and wake up fresh. Their magical words would have a soothing effect on your senses.
Sometimes you think these authors should not be read casually. So, you prefer to sit straight in your study and relish the prose with all seriousness. This is also a shade of respect you accord to your favourites. You never dog-ear the pages of your favourite tomes and prefer to place roses, feathers, or bookmarks inside. The sepia pages smell fragrant even after years and you inhale the evergreen freshness and revive the pleasurable experience of reading the long cherished book.
You tell the world who your favourite authors are and the reasons why they hold this exalted status with the fond hope that the other people will agree instantly. You want all your acquaintances to know you have found your favourites and the names should make them feel proud of you.
When you want more people to read your favourite author, you behave like an influencer and hope to multiply the flock of admirers. Adulation expressed with logic or emotion – or with a mix of both – tends to surprise your family and friends who never thought it was easy to select favourites from the vast world of writing and it required some kind of scholarship to be able to do so.
As a reader, if you have simply enjoyed the prose without trying to understand what great literary insight they offered, you are likely to find your favourite authors with ease. The readability factor coupled with reader engagement. A stage when you simply restrict yourself to one concrete line of confirmed admiration: I just love his words. This closes further debate and discussion. No power on earth can stop you from loving their books.
If any of your favourite authors happens to be a living one, anywhere in the world, you consider yourself fortunate to be living in the era of such great writers. You feel a strong urge to connect with them, wish them on their birthday, buy their signed, autographed copies and flaunt the edition.
You take printouts of their photographs and put them up on the bedroom wall just as teenagers treat their rock stars. You pick up the favourite quotes from their books and frame those in your study to inspire and motivate you to greater heights – to credit the source of enrichment of your understanding of the complex world. On many occasions you feel the urge to quote their lines and express your fondness.
Such adulation rarely turns critical because you have grown up loving literature through their works. Their esteemed position remains unchallenged even if the erudite critics have contrary views to offer. After several years if you do not manage to write brilliantly, you remain in awe of their magical powers of expression.
Sometimes, you pick up a few favourites but they are not quite the famous kind. They have not written much but their output appeals to you. The inhibition to mention their names remains within you but your clandestine admiration also stays alive.
Having a favourite author who is not famous is not an aberration. After all, it is an intimate relationship between the author and the reader. In case your list of favourite authors comprises some lesser known types, you sometimes feel the strong urge to pronounce their name and make the world know these writers deserved to be on the top list but they could not make the cut.
Your repeated thrust on those names does not change public perception but if your voice counts, you can surely evoke interest in some people who visit their works to find merit in your observations. As a sincere reader, you have the freedom to get them back in the reckoning – even if the outcome fails to meet your expectations. Your homage and tributes certainly go a long way in reviving the long-forgotten authors who slipped into obscurity.
Favourite writers from your familiar world – the world you live in – and from distant lands leave you with a similar set of experiences. Space and time cease to matter and the reading experience alone decides the worth. When you have favourites from both the worlds, it shows you have no borders in the land of imagination and you respond with emotional force depending on the power of the prose.
Advice doled out by your favourite authors is revered and followed if you harbour literary ambition. You know these literary heavyweights share pearls of wisdom and hope the worth of their words gets recognised by people across boundaries and generations. Some people tend to keep one favourite, some have many favourites and some keep adding to their favourite list from different genres and countries. Whatever be the basis of cherry-picking the favourites, the installation is supposed to remain rooted in the fertile soil of your creative mind.
Sometimes you notice a trend to honour great literary names by picking on famous names and quoting them in your work. Sometimes you begin to like real people with same names as those given to characters of your favourite writer, and sometimes you rename them with those dear names. When a character becomes famous like the author, there is definitely more life in the creation.
Talking about my choices and the kind of relationship I share with my favourites, I must clarify that the choice was made on the basis of reading comfort alone. I had no idea about how great writers are judged and the parameters to define them. It was purely on the basis of pleasure of reading. Pleasure sounds a petty, sinful word for enlightened minds – a basic urge not worth writing about. As I derived pleasure from reading certain authors, I began to read more of them and that is how the relationship grew over the years.
Apart from the pleasure of reading a good story told in a lively manner, in refreshing prose, no other factor made me return to any author. Indulgent writing to show off literary flair put me off. Simple writing appealed a lot. Some living authors entered my system for these qualities. I do not say these alone should be the reasons to select your favourites, but in my case these became the glue factor. When I read A Suitable Boy (less than half), I realised simple writing is not easy. When I read A Fine Balance (just half), I realised simple writing is not easy. When I read The Guide (more than half), I realised simple writing is not easy.
Being a writer you aspire to become someone’s favourite one day and you keep working in that direction. You want a reader to confess your book transformed his life or made him look at writing in a fresh way. The list of favourites will continue to occupy the same slot in my mind. Even if respect does not come out in glowing terms, I feel inspired to write a book with such amazing simplicity some day. More than the name of the author, the name of the book leaves a lasting impact.
I do not foresee the expansion of the list of favourites any further even if there is genuine merit in doing so. Right from early years of my growth as a reader, they have fired my imagination. So I prefer to be guided by the benchmark already set high. Being far, far away from that, despite years of reading and writing, generates a sense of remorse within. The intent is not to surpass these great works but to produce something that celebrates the inclusion of the strengths these works carried. There is no sense of competition of any kind – just the desire to give a new life to the qualities these works were raised with.
Devraj Singh Kalsi works as a senior copywriter in Kolkata. His short stories and essays have been published in Deccan Herald, Tehelka, Kitaab, Earthen Lamp Journal, Assam Tribune, and The Statesman. Pal Motors is his first novel.
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