Today’s Prompt: Tell us the story of your most-prized possession.
Today’s twist: We extolled the virtues of brevity back on day five, but now, let’s jump to the other side of the spectrum and turn to long-form writing. Let’s celebrate the drawn-out, slowly cooked, wide-shot narrative.
Despite having a public playground on the street where I grew up, I could hardly be called an active kid. Or maybe I was never allowed to play as much as I was actively encouraged towards academics. Either way, I ended up reading a lot. Be it school textbooks or fun storybooks — I ended up reading a lot. It also helped that I studied in a school which had a good library, friendly librarians, and other kids with whom I could discuss books.
…books that can transfer to where I want and to when I want. One moment I could be lazing around with Tom Sawyer, the next moment battling Lord Voldemort and then swaying into the future with an Asimovian novel. The smell of the papers in the book. The sight of towering shelves of volumes of publications…
Books have kept me company for the longest time. If there was time I could spend, it would be with books: be it in the van in which I went to and from school, or at home where I should be studying, or while I was eating, and most daringly, in the classrooms when I should have been listening. A fair share of books were confiscated thanks to this. It sounds scary, but I got them back later in the day or by the end of the week with a warning. But I almost always had a book on me.
With so much of my childhood being spent with a book in my hand, it shouldn’t be a surprise that one of my most treasured memories would be a book or the circumstances I got it, or as it is my case, how I never got to finish reading it. I was someone who had never left a book incomplete by choice and this book was to change that forever. Just to clarify, later in life, I would go on to pick up certain “classics” and abandon reading them. They were dropped by choice, but this one book, the last one that I picked up in school, ended up being the only book that I didn’t get to finish.
So, a bit of background here about my reading habits in school might be required here. Apart from other sources of books, the school library was a great leveller for all of us who loved to read. We had access to the same books at the same time. Except, we didn’t. A quick detour is required to explain how children were grouped in school:
- We had grades/standards which was the year of study.
- Each grade had multiple sections based on the elective subjects. For younger children, it was an elective language while those in high school were sectioned based on the subjects they studied (more on this later).
- There were further subdivisions based on sports houses, but that isn’t required for this story.
Now, back to the main plot.
Younger kids had dedicated library hours with exclusive access to the library depending on their sections. This meant that you had a better chance at scoring the book you wanted if your timetable listed an early Monday morning as your library hour, versus a late Friday afternoon library hour. Sometimes we’d have to work deals with kids who went to the library before us to make sure the books we wanted weren’t taken. Older kids had greater liberty. We had days scheduled for us. If my section was allotted Mondays, I could go anytime on Monday. If you didn’t already realise, the school library was a place that I oft-visited.
At times, I would be privy to the knowledge of when the school librarian would buy new books. She’d show me the list for me to see which ones were coming in the next week, and that was something to look forward to over the weekend. Life was so simple back then. Or if I was confused between picking between two books (we had a limit of one book per week) I could request her to keep one of them safe so that I could borrow it later on.
This cycle would start in late June (the start of the first term of the academic year starts) and wind up by January (the start of the last term of the academic year). They’d audit the books and close up the library. We’d have to wait till the next June when school reopened. This is a crucial factor in this story of my most prized possession, the memory of the book that got away: Chicken Soup for the Writer’s soul.
It was December of my last year in school. I would be writing my final exams in March and would start college by July/August of that year. Apart from the bitter sweetness of finishing school, it was also a strange time for me.
Here’s why: about a couple of paragraphs back I told you about highschoolers picking electives. This decision was usually made keeping in mind two factors: the subjects that would get you a seat in your college of choice, which then would lead to a career. Or your parents would pick it out for you out of good intentions.
While I had a passion for reading and writing, an author wasn’t a fulfilling career to my folks who wanted me to get into medicine. If you didn’t already know, the competition is tough as it gets and I needed to crack some of the toughest papers to get into medical college. Anyhow, it was a time when I felt confused, lost, and was questioning my life’s choices. I was wondering if I was fit to clear those exams, what to do if I couldn’t, and if writing could be a decent backup career. Here’s some more detail into my life at that point.
It was at that time I found a book that was titled quite strangely. I had never come across the Chicken Soup series before — and it roused my interest. The gist at the back, and a quick flip through the pages confirmed that this might be a good read, and I signed the book out in my name.
The book was wholesome, to say the least. People from across the world, from different walks of life, with different skills sets, and yet all of them united by a common interest in writing. They spoke of how they got into writing, how they got over their inhibitions, and how they found peace with it. For some, it helped find the right people in their lives, for others it was their careers. It was a great book for me at a point in time when I was wondering if my passion for writing was worth exploring. A large group of people seemed to have gotten together to share their experiences to confirm that it was worth it. If I didn’t know better, I would probably attribute it to my future self dropping the book in my way at the right time to ensure I picked it up.
What happened next is the climax of this long winding story. And if you’ve stuck to reading till now, you already know how it ends. December ended, January came, and it was the new year. And with it, the rule to return all our library books was put out. Normally, this wouldn’t be a problem as I could return to school in June to read. But this was my last term in school.
This came out feeling a lot like a fleeting romance, and it probably is. If Prince Charming held onto one shoe and tried to find his true love who had disappeared; all I had was a wholesome memory and the title of the book. But it was to no avail as I wasn’t able to find this particular edition to continue reading from where I left off. I was even gifted a different edition of this book by a friend in college. But it wasn’t the same. And that is the story of my most prized possession: a book that assured me that I could become a writer, the book I could never finish. I know I can find an ebook of the same edition, but an ebook will never measure up to an actual book will it?
Of course, an ebook is going to consume less space, it’s easy to move around, and if you want to convert someone to a bookworm, you can do so without worrying what they’d do to your book. And let’s say someone does damage your book, and you want to take revenge, punish or physically maim them, try throwing a thousand paged book at them. You can never get that satisfaction from an ebook. Never.