Books and choices

After noting the rate at which I was finishing books the past few years, I decided to set myself a challenge on GR. I kept it at a modest 40 for this year. 40 would be easier, and the main idea was not to set a goal that I had to huff and puff to reach in the end – that would mean tilting more towards smaller books to get to the quota. I know, that’s not the actual point of such goal setting, but am kind of wired differently. Targets and schedules are meant to be reached well in advance.

Somewhere around the middle of the year I figured I’d be reaching 44-45 this year, not ending at the whopper 51 as last year. For starters, the cab does not offer the same luxury for reading as BMTC Volvos. I do compensate with Audiobooks, but I manage around 30 pages per day with it. In the equivalent Volvo-time, that would be around 50 pages. And I also end up with a headache at home, so I don’t read much on getting back home either.

Doing 5 audiobooks over 5 months, and the rest of them proper reads, I finished 40 yesterday.(Yay!) Given that there’s only some 40 days left, I think am looking at around 45-46 this year. Which sounds pretty good! Last year at this stage I was at 44, and ended up with 51.

It has been an interesting set of books this year, and I somehow ended up missing out on a lot of old favourites. RKN, McCall-Smith and Pratchett were given a miss. There’s still some time left, and I’ve put them on the unread list (real books sitting on my shelf giving me that look). The McCall-Smith is done, just the RKN and Pratchett to do.

This year there’s been a lot of reading of short stories. Munro, Gordimer, M.T. Vasudevan Nair, KP Tejaswi. They help in a way that you can stretch your reading for a while, doing one story once in a while. But it doesn’t work like that with me. I tried that with Gordimer, stretching the book over 3 months for 31 stories. I finished the last 5 over a few days. The reading was also pretty bursty. Maybe I shouldn’t worry about it, and let things go the way they are meant to be.

Either way, it’s a bit of a relief that the ‘challenge’ is done. I can now go about the business of reading as I want to do it.

***

Some people get everything wrong. How can I explain? I mean, there are those who can have everything against them – three strikes, twenty strikes, for that matter – and they turn out fine. Make mistakes early on – dirty their pants in grade two, for instance – and then live out their lives in a town like ours where nothing is forgotten (any town, that is, any town is a place like that) and they manage, they prove themselves hearty and jovial, claiming and meaning that they would not for the world want to live in any place but this.

With other people, it’s different. They don’t move away but you wish they had. For their own sake, you could say. Whatever hole they started digging for themselves when they were young – not by any means as obvious as the dirty pants either – they keep right on at it, digging away, even exaggerating if there is a chance that it might not be noticed.

Things have changed, of course.There are counsellors at the ready. Kindness and understanding. Life is harder for some, we’re told. Not their fault, even if the blows are purely imaginary. Felt just as keenly by the recipient, or the non-recipient, as the case may be.

This was Alice Munro in ‘Pride’. And the rest of the story goes on about two people who go about making bad choices all along. Every time you think “okay dude, take this and run, here’s your ‘happily every after’!” they go the other way. Right till the end.

The other day, on Twitter someone was asking: “If you could go back and do your life differently, would you?”

Now would I? Yes, why not? It’s always tempting to go back and wish for different things, or wish to be face to face with the same choices and wish to choose differently. We all have our paths that were not taken. Those greener pastures that were shunned. If not, it’s just that you’re content, not that you think you’ve chosen correctly all your life.

To wish so, is also not a sense of a deeply unhappy life. We all have our ideas of ideal lifes, and there is always the fantasy that if we’d chosen that path at that time, we’d be there.

The thing I fear most is what if given the same choices again, we realise that we’re still making the same choices as before – in fact, forced to make the same choices. What if we realise that nothing was ever in our hands and we were just playing the hand we were dealt, all along? It’s like Groundhog Day, except that he doesn’t get to choose what to do, and is on an endless repeat of the same day everyday, trying to get out, but not able to find the way out as time is on a relentless march each day.

What if you think you’ve fucked up big time, and just can’t stop fucking it up? And given a choice to go back, realise you still can’t help it. Or what if that’s exactly what you want, what makes you happy, to constantly fuck up your life? It’s a bit like Ka, having to constantly chase happiness, and right when it is at hand, to turn away and run in the opposite direction. Just because you think being Happy is wrong and vulgar.

Rising up inside him was that sensation he had always felt as a child and as a young man at moments of extraordinary happiness: the prospect of future misery and hopelessness. In a panic, he tried to bring this happy moment to a close. This, he hoped, would lessen the impact of the unhappiness he knew would follow. The surest way to calm himself, he thought, would be simply to accept the inevitable: that the love he felt for İpek –the source of his anxiety –would be his undoing; that any intimacy he might enjoy with her would undo him, as salt dissolves ice; that he didn’t deserve this happiness but rather the disgrace and denigration that would result. He braced himself.

-Orhan Pamuk, “Snow”

Oh well, I don’t know where I stand. I don’t know where my forks and turns were, and on facing them again if I’d choose a different path. I do believe that your choices weren’t objective “eeny-meeny-moos” and they were a result of what you were at that time, just as those choices define what you are now. Your choices were as much a product of your past, as your future is a product of your choices. Pretty much, you never really had a choice.

 

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7 thoughts on “Books and choices

  1. I’m glad I stumbled upon your blog. 🙂 That was a great read. Personally, if I had the ability to go back and change decisions I made in the past… I can honestly say I wouldn’t. Sure there were wrong choices (or not the best) that I made in the past but thing is, everything that I decided in the past has helped me shaped me as the person I am today. Would I give up what I know now in order to change what I did in the past? No way! My struggles, failures, lessons of the past helps me appreciate everything that I have today. Had I not gone through what I went though I wouldn’t be the same.

  2. Given a chance to go back, I could definitely change some decisions. These were made with less/mis-information, so no brainer changing those. On the other hand, emotional choices are dicey. They might be like Groundhog Day.

    In any case, this is just a pointless day dreaming exercise. I have been guilty of thinking about it many times too. Pointless in the end, cause we don’t yet have a time machine. And probably won’t in our lifetime.

  3. 50 books or thereabouts in a year is impressive. I struggle to get to half of that. Well done.
    On the looking back at life choices thing: I don’t attach too much relevance to hindsight as a pointer to re-evaluating choices made in the past. As long as one is true to one’s conscience, nothing else matters as much, IMO. On not really having a choice, well, I guess it depends on which side of the “you become what you are Vs you are what you become” fence one stands on.

    1. Yes. This was mostly pointless hypothesising, like a lot of my blog is. 😬
      End of the day it does not matter one way or the other, as the choices you’ll make won’t be or will be affected by your past only when you look back with hindsight, and as you mentioned which side of the fence you’re on. With hindsight you can justify anything, yes. 😂

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