Grab a Book, a Good One -Haidar Saif
Can you live a thousand lives? No, no, I am not talking about the eternal hereafter. I am talking about living on this very planet earth. George Martin believes we can. He is a bestselling American writer, quite famous for his book series- A Song of Ice and Fire. He said this – “a reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.”
Sounds exaggerated? Actually not. Think this way: you are reading Robinhood. The moment you are reading, you are actually living with him, roaming around the Sherwood Forest, with all those green-dressed people, hunting, competing in archery, fighting the King’s forces, and so on. How thrilling is that! Or maybe you are reading Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea. Many of you have lived that moment, I am sure. You are riding that crazy submarine with captain Nemo and witnessing those incredible magical moments.
These moments of living a different life are so real that when your mother is calling for you, if you are emersed in a book, you don’t even hear her for a while. Even after finishing the book, you behave like your favorite characters, often consciously, sometimes even subconsciously. These pieces of imagination actually build your inner self, construct your intellect, sometimes transform your entire personality. The more books you read, the more varieties of lives you live.
Such is the power of a book.
And such was going on for a while. Then came a different type of book – Facebook, and its other cousins. And people started losing appetite for the real book. Have you ever overheard some of those conversations? Your friend’s parents are frustrated because their children don’t read books any more. Or maybe some writers at the Ekushey book fair are arguing that they don’t find the urge to write, because very few people buy their books. Or if you talk to the publishers or booksellers, you will see all these arguments are mostly true.
Sadly, and truly, a whole generation is getting cut off from this incredible universe of imagination. They have no idea what are they missing out.
Well, yes, I know, there are those arguments that the medium now has changed. Now it is time for audio, video, multimedia, web space, 3D, and so on. People once used to read, but they can watch things now. Maybe you didn’t read Oliver Twist, but you can watch the movie. It’s the same, sometimes even better, they argue.
Sorry to disappoint, it is not the same and never will be. Not ignoring the utility of those audio-visual content, the truth is that it actually stops your imagination process. You know why? When you are watching the movie, you are looking at an Oliver through the extremely finite imagination of another person, the director. You see a boy, white-skinned, wearing pale red t-shirt, bit of unclean, and so on. The director is literally limiting your imagination within his own framework. But when you read, your imaginary world is wide open, almost infinitely. You can imagine an Oliver in whichever appearance you like, you can put him in your favorite place, walk him along your favorite roads, and so on. That’s why, in the process of reading, your world of imagination expands. When you watch the movie, it doesn’t.
Take it as a test. Read a couple of books that have been filmed. Read the book first, and then watch the movie. In almost all the cases, you will find that the films have been pathetically failed to encapsulate the book. Sometimes, the differences are so vast that it becomes grossly inappropriate to compare the two. Another good reason is that you can show the characters acting on the screen, but cannot show what they are thinking, cannot show the tumultuous emotion tormenting their inner selves. The books can, and that makes a whole lot of difference.
Then there are other reasons.
Have you ever imagined talking to those beautifully enlightened people who have paved the way of civilization? Again, sorry to disappoint, no audio video of them is available. But you still can talk to them. Grab a book. You will be talking to Al Ghazali, Jalaluddin Rumi, Leonardo da Vinci, or Fakir Lalon Shah, Rabindranath, Nazrul or Jibonanda Das. How exciting is that! All the greatest minds, poets, scientists, rulers, novelists, artists are waiting for you. Just grab a book. No, audio visual media is not going to help that much. Your only gateway here is the book.
You want to time-travel? Want to go back to the distant past? Grab a book by William Dalrymple, you will be walking through the streets of Mughal empire. Or grab a book on crusades. It’s like opening your backyard window to watch the great Salahuddin marching towards Jerusalem. You can even hold the bridle of his horse and walk along. Or grab Hejajer Kafela, one of the great historical fictions by Nasim Hijaji. You will see, firsthand, how the Muslims of the first-generation conquered lands and people’s hearts with love and courage.
The world of books is truly incredible. Once you learn to access it, an enormous universe will be opened for you. But then there are chances to get lost. So, learn to navigate. How’s that? Nobody can read enough books in his or her lifetime. There are too many of them. So, you must choose the correct one, the necessary one, the most beautiful one. Just be a little bit more careful so you don’t spend too much time in less necessary roads and alleys. Better if you don’t walk the dark roads at all.
There are numerous sources that will suggest which books should be read. 100 must read fiction. 100 must read nonfiction. List of life changing books. Books you must read before 18. And so on. You can consult these lists. Also be careful about the sources you are taking from. After cross-checking a few lists, you can make your own list.
Just one small tip for choosing any book. Do not waste your time on any book that won’t enhance your inner world even a little bit.
One final point.
You remember the very first revelation Allah sent down? Yes, it was ‘iqra’. Read. But then our beloved prophet sallallahu alaihi wa sallam didn’t know how to read. Critics might say your prophet violated the very first commandment. No, he didn’t. Actually, iqra is not merely reading. It is decoding the text. It is finding out the hidden meaning. Remember, the Quranic verses are not called sentences. They are called ayat, meaning ‘sign’. So, when you engage in the process of iqra, you don’t just read, you try to decode the sign, you try to find the inner meaning.
That’s not ordinary reading. That’s called deep reading. So, grab a book, a good book, read, and learn the process of deep reading. A world within you surely will be opened up, the way you have never imagined.