One of the many magicks of books, apart from what Carl Sagan wrote, and what I will always hope to accomplish, is nostalgia – the great human weakness, second only to the neck. As far as I can see, there are different types of nostalgia books can give you, of which I have managed to experience two. I don’t know if there are any more types, but I’m assuming there are, purely for science reasons.
The first one I experienced is weird, not to mention highly dubious in its categorization as “nostalgia”. Without going the Oxford dictionary route, I assume nostalgia is longing for a bygone experience. The kind I’m talking about here is not really for your own past experience. To get really technical, its longing for the bygone nature of what our collective consciousness tells us we should have experienced. I realized a few years ago that I have reached the age where it is impossible for me to read Enid Blyton’s children’s stories, by which I mean stories like “Ricky the Magic Pixie pays Daisy Bumble an erotic visit” without shuddering at how innocent we all used to be. And this is very likely true for stories like Famous Five and the Five Fine Doubters (hehe) as well. But as soon as I do read them, especially the ones where parents seem to have no concern for their children’s safety, I feel utterly nostalgic.
Which is weird because my parents never let me go off and have adventures with cousins who were rather progressively supportive of my transgender identity. In fact my parents insisted that the world was no place for people below the age of eighteen to go wandering off by themselves in. Assholes. But despite this lack of adventure, I nostalged. I know that’s not a word. And as I discovered with my friends a few months ago, we would always feel that way when we even think about the Fine Doubters (and Dog, actually) or the Adventure kids or the O’Sullivan twins for that matter.
We were in Palolem beach in Goa on vacation and when we went on a boat ride to spot dolphins (we saw their fins but not their bodies. That was enough to cancel out the money-back-if-you-don’t-see-dolphins guarantee) we kept asking the boat guy if he would take us to Kirrin Island. One of our friends, who seemed to have not been brought up right, asked us how we knew the island we had been eyeing was called Kirrin Island. And we all looked at him as if he were an alien. Because in a way he was. It was like he never shared in the experience of knowing what Kirrin Island was, and how we all longed to go there.
None of us got to go to Kirrin Island as kids. But as kids, we were all nostalgic and longing for friendships that would take us to Kirrin Island. I doubt any of us had that. We got a chance to relive, or really just live the Kirrin Island experience, just by mentioning it, with friends, on a trip, without adults. We never really got to Kirrin Island in Goa either. The boat guys were not authorized to stop and let us live precious memories, apparently. I think I would have cried of happiness if they had let us get off and stroll around any of the beaches we saw on the numerous Kirrin Islands we saw on that boat trip.
So that’s one kind of nostalgia that books get you. Where the things you see remind you of books, and somehow it makes you nostalgic for the experience of the book even though you never lived it. This really happens up to a certain point. Till you’re a certain age, or more importantly, till you’re a few experiences short in your life, everything in a book is the first you know of whatever its about. That’s probably the reason there was such sweet magicks in reading at a certain point of time in your life, before you have lived enough of life to start being reminded of yourself in everything you read. Or maybe that’s just because after a certain age, all of us become self-obsessed, which I think is the true goal of post-modernism. But at some point, we get there. You live enough and you will already have experienced things you read in books.
And this applies to everything – love, friendship, success, loss, sex, felony, failure, notoriety – you name it, you’ve felt it. And so when you read it in a book, it either becomes a revealing memory of your own experience, or a disappointingly untruthful rendition of your experience. The latter is extremely true of sex. Sex is very perfect in books and porn. Nothing goes awry and everything works like clockwork for the most part. Sex in real life is not perfect. And it’s a lot more fun than perfect porn sex could ever afford. As for the other experiences, even if you’ve not felt them, you have some inkling of how they work, probably because your friends have felt them.
That’s Type 2 Book/ Movie/ TV Nostalgia – where what you read makes you cry not because its unimaginably beautiful and you’ve never felt it, but because its horrifyingly true and you have felt it. You pick up Judy Blume’s Just As Long As We’re Together and you start crying because your friends seem to have left you, at least you thought they did, and really that was the book, wasn’t it? You watch Dead Poet’s Society and you start thinking about all the ways in which you gave up on the life of your dreams for the sake of safety, or in my case, stubbornness and pride. You watch The Oranges, and you start wondering about all the lives you’ve blown through like a leaf on the wind, wreaking havoc, breaking happiness and doing things you shouldn’t have done. You read Eleven Minutes, and you think about the time you put on the dress and the red light and walked the streets for money…. Raaawwwxanne. You read Summer Sisters and you cry because you have sisters – biological and virtual.
You read The Book Thief, and suddenly you’re twelve years old again, and here’s a book which brings you new experiences, none of which you know, not all of which you want, but you can’t stop reading it because you long so much for a life worth reading about. Or in my case, you long so much to write things worth reading.
Either way, books (and movies and songs and TV shows and really, anything made by pot-smoking writers in dark rooms) leave you wanting more. More of what you didn’t have as a child and will probably never have. And more of what you already lived through, just for the chance of doing it right this time – this time you’ll have the guts to leave the place that makes you unhappy, this time you’ll talk to your friends rather than assume they left you, this time you won’t hurt people, this time you’ll go to the boy who loved you since he knew you and not put on the red dress. And they make you want so much more from life – you want to climb mountains after Paths of Glory, make movies after Hitchcock, live bravely after Doctor Who and keep friends after Harry Potter.
And you would think we’d hate things that make us dream of more without ever telling us that we may not get there, but as the Tenth Doctor said, that’s not how human beings function. It’s not just the mountaineers that want to climb mountains “because it’s there”. It’s all of us that want more – because it’s there, waiting for us to make up things like “love” and “friendship” and “chicken nuggets” and once we make it, we want to grab for it, because it’s there and why shouldn’t we? And then we graduate to bigger things like “happiness” and “failure” and “pizza”, because why not? It’s there, waiting to be made, given definition and to be grabbed.
All of which goes to show that (1) We’re very magpie-like, us lot, aren’t we?; (2) Books and TV and movies are awesome; and (3) I’m really into Doctor Who these days.
ME: This is not very funny. I stopped wanting to read this mid-way.
me: I know. I’ve not gone out of the house for the past two weeks except for essential activities. Very little source material except for books and TV. And I can hardly write, “Did you watch the Office Finale? It made me laugh and cry. It was awesome.”
ME: Shut up. You don’t even have good excuses. You better have something funny and awesome for the next post.
me: You can write the next one. I’m sure the internet doesn’t have enough vitriol in it. I’m sure that’ll be a welcome change for people.
ME: …… Shut up.
Here’s some fun stuff
And for those who don’t know me, and don’t know what more to expect from this blog…