What do books mean to you?


Mani Bhavan, Gandhi’s residence in Mumbai

The pages are thin and its cheap printing may have smudged the ink in places, but my copy of Gandhi’s The Story of My Experiments with Truth falls squarely in that category of books whose value is greater than the words on their pages.

As with many objects, it’s the value added by the memories associated with them. In the case of Gandhi’s book, which I’m currently reading, the memory is of buying my 50 rupee copy from Mani Bhavan in Mumbai nearly five years ago.

It was a hot day in which we explored Gandhi’s Mumbai residence (1917-1934) and the base from which he launched Satyagraha in 1919 and his civil disobedience campaign in 1032. Now it’s a museum and naturally we exited via the bookshop.


It’s just one example of the presence – or resonance – that some books accrue.

Given that whenever I’m travelling I always do my best to seek out either a record shop or a book shop or, ideally, both, there are many such books (and CDs) that have these additional resonances for me.

Casting around at my pile of books that are still to be read, there’s the signed copy of Patti Smith’s M train that I bought at New York’s Strand bookshop, whose resonance is of the last Sunday of a treasured holiday with my wife.

Or the copy of Hanne Ruth Thompson’s Bengali-English dictionary, which is in regular use for my Bengali study and which the author was kind enough to send me a signed copy of a while ago.

Those kinds of memories come from where, or how, you obtain a book. An additional element can come from the location in which you read a book.

I don’t remember where I read every book. Averaging 30 to 35 books a year that would be quite a bit to recall.

Nevertheless, I do remember it was on our 2007 trip to India that I chose to read Lizzie Collingham’s culinary and social history book Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerers, a fascinating look at a country’s food, complete with not always practical examples of recipes.

I brought on that same trip Rudyard Kipling’s Plain Tales from the Hills and a related last-days-of-the-Raj social history account, whose title currently escapes me (except that it was a play on Kipling’s own title).

A later trip to India saw a Shah Rukh Khan biography read in Mumbai, a visit that also saw me secretly delight in the prosaic sight of another Khan advertising products on the side of a bus about to turn onto Marine Drive.

Salman Khan on a bus

Salman Khan and Revital advertising on a Mumbai bus

Much like choosing a Maigret novel for a trip to Paris (which I’ve done) or a Raymond Chandler story when visiting Los Angeles (which I’d like to do), combing appropriate books and locations makes the act of reading yet more powerful.

The physical fact of the book is, in and of itself, important in a way that computer files and e-books never will be. But more than that, the memories associated with a book’s location, where you read it, where you bought it all add an important element to this.

And for me these kinds of resonances are just one of the many advantages printed books have over their electronic counterparts.

What books resonate for you?

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