Books and Me: Bookless in Baghdad

Book Title: Bookless in Baghdad – And other Writings about Reading

Author: Shashi TharoorBookless in Baghdad Book Cover

I picked the book up simply because it said it contained essays by a writer on ‘reading’. I love to read and I was quite inquisitive to know what the author meant by calling the book – ‘Bookless in Baghdad’. I must say I enjoyed the book thoroughly for number of reasons. While the essays are all standalone pieces, curated from the author’s earlier writings for various periodicals / newspapers and edited for the volume. This facet of the collection is visible from the number of repetitions of references / experiences across essays. But repetition is a useful aspect of writing, especially when conveying some firmly held beliefs and important points that a reader must definitely receive. I did not find the repetitions too distracting; in fact I read them all happily!

The book is divided into five parts, each containing a selected number of essays. I found the author’s reading of literature quite interesting. Developing reading habits early seems to be a good indicator of potential writing later in life. Shashi Tharoor is not the first writer speaking about voracious reading early in life. The author’s interest in books, reading and writing from early years shows up early in the book. The part titled ‘inspirations’ truly is inspiring. It is inspiring to see what reading can do to a person. It is inspiring to see how we select and fall in love with certain writers, eventually becoming fans and evangelists for their works. The joy of reading, especially the works of authors we love, brings fascination, excitement and imagination. The author’s excessive indulgence and love for Woodehouse and the activities he engages in to spread the love are both interesting and engaging.

Many essays are on books, authors and poets – some popular and some we may not have heard, but whose works have left an indelible impression in the world of literature. The section titled ‘Literary Life’ shares numerous situations that create authors, brings forth their love for writing, and how they sustain their craft. Insights into handling critics and criticisms, what writing can do to you, and how to handle repercussions of writing the truth are beautifully weaved into the writing in a subtle manner. The section titled ‘Appropriations’ was humorous and entertaining. The essay that gave the book its title is another interesting read. The description and detailing creates a sad visual of the people who have always been great readers, now denied access to the world of literature. The street of Al Mutanabi, the books being sold there, the bargains that only a foreigner acknowledges, and the limited availability of textbooks for students (due to lack of major trade) in Baghdad, are both sad and disheartening. ‘Teaching fishing’ instead of ‘providing fish’ has to happen, and for this – books are a great medium. Some of the quotations of the poet whose name adorns the street where the booksellers line up are amazing and give a glimpse of reality. The author’s love for literature, his exposure to international developmental organizations, and his experiences from being in the UN provide a distinct style to the essays. Through his eyes we get to see some places, events, people, authors and books.

Overall it provides an insight into the world of books, literary festivals, book clubs, reading and writing. The book is well made and for light consumption. Anyone, who enjoys the company of books, will come away with numerous insights, discover authors, books and thought triggers.

NOTE: 14th to 20th November is celebrated annually in India as the ‘National Book Week’. As part of the celebration I am posting ‘book reviews’ daily. Happy Reading!

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