Reading Roots: Niranjana from Brown Paper

May 31, 2011

Posted weekly on Tuesdays, Reading Roots features a variety of book bloggers talking about their early reading influences and experiences, letting us catch a glimpse of the “roots” that each person has built upon in forming their identity as “a reader”.

Today, I’m interviewing Niranjana from Brown Paper. Let’s explore her reading roots!

What is your earliest memory involving books or reading? How were books, reading, and literacy approached in your childhood home? Were your parents or other family members “readers”?

I probably had a book in my fist when I slid out of the womb. My earliest bookish memory is from when I was about 3 or so, when my dad took me to the library and together, we chose The Enormous Turnip. My family read madly, and still does. We used to read at the table while eating, and I thought this was the norm for the longest time. I was quite shocked to learn other families made conversation at dinner.

Did you enjoy language arts/English classes as a kid, or were you more of a reluctant reader? When did you first consider yourself “a reader”?

I loved language and literature classes, didn’t much care for anything else–I was one of those kids who always had her nose in a book. I didn’t realize that some kids didn’t like reading–that would have been akin to not liking dessert. Inconceivable, and frankly, idiotic, to *choose* to miss out on such delights.

Did you have any interesting reading habits when you were growing up? Do you still have them now?

I used to read way above the reading level for my age, partly because I had an older sister, and partly because I did nothing else but read. I read my first Agatha Christie at six, that sort of thing. I also read very fast. Back when my husband and I were dating, he didn’t believe I truly read the books I claimed to have, and would quiz me. Yes, he’s quit doing that.

Where was your favourite spot to read as a kid? Are there any books you distinctly remember from your childhood? Why?

I didn’t have a favorite spot–I read wherever there was enough light, I guess! I remember tons of books–Mary de Morgan’s fairy tales, Gerald Durrell’s animal books, Iznogoud, the Just William books, the Chalet School series–I could go on and on. When I exhausted the children’s books at my library, my mom pointed me towards the classics, and I have a distinct memory of her handing me Lorna Doone when I was eight.

How have your reading tastes developed from childhood until now? What were the phases that you went through along the way?

I grew up in India, and there just wasn’t any Indian children’s
fiction back then. As a very young child, I read mostly British books, and I pretty much memorized Enid Blyton’s entire oeuvre. Naughty Amelia Jane! Mr. Muddle Meddles! Mr. Pink-Whistle! I also remember a lot of weird Russian pop-up books–India and Russia had a thing going back in the eighties.

I then discovered Nancy Drew, and got on to Beverly Cleary, L.M.Montgomery etc. etc. I started on bullshit romance novels and potboilers at about ten, obsessed over Ayn Rand, read angsty-yet-drippy poetry…Standard teen behavior, I guess?

In my high-school years, though, the Indian publishing scene began to develop, and finally, books by Indians about Indians started to appear on the shelves. It was an enormous validation–that people who looked and spoke and lived as I did could feature as protagonists rather than as side-kicks or comic relief. Of course I’d read the likes of Rushdie and Naipaul, but they were literary stars, and I was looking for down home, earth-bound heroes. Over the last twenty years, South Asian writing has exploded, and while much of it is execrable, I am heartened that the range of voices is getting wider each day.

Besides South Asian writing, I read a lot of Canadian writing. I tend to focus on immigrant and feminist fiction, but I still escape into old British faves, esp. cozy mysteries, and children’s literature. I’m currently reading an Icelandic police procedural (by the fantastic Arnaldur Indridason), a non-fiction book about Abu Dhabi (by Jo Tatchell), and a Canadian YA novel (by Courtney Summers), so I think I’m fairly omnivorous in my literary tastes. I would rather eat The Fountainhead than re-read it though.

Bonus Literacy Question: If you have children, how did you encourage them (or how are you encouraging them) to become readers? If you do not have children of your own, what do you think is the most important thing to focus on in order to promote reading in the coming generations?

My three-year-old son is adept at twitching books out of my hand while whining “Mommy, stop reading.” He thinks of books as competition for my attention, and he’s quite right. I mean, I took books to the hospital when I was in labor.

Seriously: I think he’s absorbed the value I place on reading. He has quite a large book collection already, and of course, I read to him everyday. I also make up stories about characters I love–he knows about Tintin and Sherlock Holmes and William, for instance. I think it’ll be hard for him not to be a reader, unless he does it as a conscious act of rebellion. *Shudder*

I hope you enjoyed learning about Niranjana as much as I did! If you haven’t read her blog before, I suggest that you go take a look.

See you next week for a look into the “roots” of another fantastic blogger!

4 Comments

  • Amy May 31, 2011 at 10:29 am

    This was probably my favorite reading roots yet – what fantastic answers. I love especially the imagine of you reading in the delivery room Niranjana! And reading at dinner. And the comparison of reading to dessert 🙂

    • Carina May 31, 2011 at 1:02 pm

      I think I’m totally the kind of person who would be reading in the delivery room. Or, at the very least, with some headphones in listening to an audiobook. Zaid might want to kill me. 😀

  • Niranjana Iyer May 31, 2011 at 11:23 pm

    Thanks for featuring me on this great series, Carina!

    And a new meme right there–what books would you take with you to the labor room?!

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