Pick up the Reading Habit     

My guitarist looked at my collection of books lining the bookshelf in my living room and asked, “Dai, have you read all these books?” When I replied, “Yes,” he said, “Wow!” and was incredulous. But that is just a tiny fraction of the number of books I’ve read in my lifetime. The reading habit was instilled in some of us at North Point by a wonderful Jesuit priest named Fr. Tucker. He had his own collection of books in his room and would lend them to us and even suggest what we should read. I remember reading one of the books he had suggested I read and was surprised to find that it contained detailed sex scenes; in words of course. But I understood what he was trying to do; it was sex education through books. As a priest, he couldn’t talk explicitly about sex with us but he managed to do it through books. I’ve read more than a thousand books since then and I’m forever grateful to him for leading me into the fascinating world of books which undoubtedly changed me as a person and my perspective on the world in general.

Once a person gets into the reading habit, it’s almost like an addiction and it’s awfully hard to stop reading; it’s akin to entering another world. Sometimes you don’t want to leave that world which is why you are very often reluctant to put down a book even at dinner time. There is so much to learn from them that it is hard to fathom how much this habit adds to your life. In our lifetime we only get to experience what we put ourselves through but there is a whole wide world out there we know little about. Take for instance, if you want to learn about football; there are countless books not only about the game but also about people who play or have played the game and made a name for themselves. Today, every star player from every sport has a biography out before retirement and they take you into their private world of fame and glory. We get to learn about the kind of life they lead and how hard they had to struggle to make it. And that’s true for all kinds of sport or profession.

Whether you read fiction or non-fiction, there’s invaluable knowledge in the books that are available to us. Most authors do a considerable amount of research while writing their books which they then pass on to us. We never realize how lucky we are. These days one need not even buy a book as a good number of them are available for free on the internet. You can also borrow a whole lot from the many libraries around you. I’ve read many rare books borrowed from the AWON Library (now at Thapathali) which possesses a valuable collection donated by expats and various organizations.

Books are a form of entertainment and not just education as you spend your spare time reading. It’s particularly a great way to while away your time while traveling. I always carry a book whether I’m traveling abroad, out on a walk or visiting the doctor. Anytime that I have to wait in line, out comes my book and I’m soon engrossed; thus utilizing every second. Before the advent of ATM machines I used to sit and read while I waited for my turn at the teller’s counter. And before tokens became the norm at banks, I stood in line with a book in hand.

The fact that most books are put out in English makes knowing the language well all the more important. There was a time when the government put emphasis on teaching in Nepali but soon realized the limitation of such a move. Today everybody wants their children educated in English and parents even speak to them in English. If you want to read about gardening or even about dogs, how many books will you find in Nepali? And subjects like psychology or astrophysics are impossible to read in Nepali; a translation would certainly be inadequate. I’ve come across illegal translations of biographies of such luminaries as Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela and often wondered how accurate they would be.

One of the great places to spend a day reading a good book is the Kaiser Library next to the Garden of Dreams. No, it’s not Keshar as some people will have you believe. The man himself preferred to spell his name Kaiser probably taking it from the German ‘Kaiser’ and who are we to change it. Just as it is Toni Hagen and not Tony Hagen! The way you want to spell your name is your wish and yours alone. Turn a few pages of any book at Kaiser Library and you will find a small, neat sticker with his name on it. The library was a private collection of books that belonged to Field Marshall Kaiser Shumsher J.B. Rana, which he bequeathed to the Nepali Government before his death. It contained more than 30,000 books when it became a public library after his passing, but I wonder how many are left today. People in powerful positions have a habit of abusing their power to borrow rare books and never return them. It’s a fact that will be corroborated by many librarians from Kaiser Library to the National Libraries in Kathmandu. Who would have the gall to call up a minister and say, “Sir, you haven’t returned one of our books.” That will be the day!

It is through books (Tiger for Breakfast) that I learned that the Russian hotelier Boris Lissanevitch was a famous ballet dancer before he became friends with King Tribhuvan and arrived in Nepal on his invitation, to open the Royal Hotel which today has become the office of the Election Commission. It is also through books that I learned that the people of Sikkim did not choose to become a part of India, there was coercion (Sikkim: Requiem for a Himalayan Kingdom). I also learned that we owe quite a bit of our history to the Italian Capuchin friars who sat in at the courts of Malla kings centuries ago and recorded details of what went on (D.R.Regmi). I learned that Arniko was chosen as the artisan to be sent to Kublai Khan’s court in China at his request, to eventually find a place in his court and built monuments like the famous White Dagoba of Beijing that still stands today. I also learned that the surname Koirala didn’t exist until they took the name of a tree in Biratnagar (Singha Durbar by Sagar S.J.B Rana). Some facts you learn from books really surprise you: that Eric Clapton doesn’t know who his father is and that Steve Jobs was in the same room as his Syrian father but wasn’t aware of it; that ornithologist Robert Fleming Sr. actually came to see the Spiny Babbler (a bird) which was thought to be extinct until it was spotted after 104 years in Nepal (also found in Godavari) but ended up bringing his wife Bethel to Kathmandu who went on to establish Shanta Bhavan the hospital that became Patan Hospital and was handed over to the government not too long ago.

The knowledge that one can accumulate from books is unlimited and it also enables you to converse with people on many subject as long as your choice of books is diverse. After all what do you go to school for, but to learn from books? Keep reading, learn more, expand your horizons and if you haven’t yet started reading books, it’s never too late. Good reading!  

1. Once a person gets into the reading habit, it’s almost like an addiction and it’s awfully hard to stop reading.

2. Most authors do a considerable amount of research while writing their books which they then pass on to us. We never realize how lucky we are.