Making friends at the library

Chintan Girish Modi

Teachers and parents who love reading wonder what to do with children who are reluctant to pick up a book, let alone curl up with it for hours without a break. They desperately want to pass on the joy that they have discovered from being immersed in the words of authors. However, it can be tough for them to digest the fact that some people do not gravitate towards reading as a leisure activity and that it is alright to pursue other interests. They keep looking for the perfect book to recommend and convert a non-reader into a lifetime lover of books.

If you count yourself among these well-meaning adults, you might enjoy meeting Aleisha and Mukesh in The Reading List – a novel by Sara Nisha Adams. Aleisha is introduced as a 17-year-old who works at a library, but unlike her brother Aidan, does not read. She has taken up the job for the money. Her mother Leilah is a freelance designer struggling with mental health issues that often demand time off from work. Aleisha wants to help Leilah and Aidan.

Mukesh is a widower who lives alone but is supported by his daughters Rohini, Deepali and Vritti through visits and phone calls. He enjoys watching documentary films but has never been much of a reader. His wife Naina used to be a bookworm and Mukesh misses seeing her deeply absorbed in the pages of her favourite books. He also wants to connect with his granddaughter Priya, who seems to prefer books over people. Mukesh joins Aleisha’s library.

How do Aleisha and Mukesh, an anxious teenager and a lonely grandfather, become friends? What role do books play in helping them deal with the harsh circumstances of their daily lives? How do these non-readers figure out what to read in the first place? You will find answers to these questions in The Reading List. This review hopes to be free of any spoilers but let me tell you that this is a heartwarming book that will take you on an exciting journey.

This book is not only about the characters mentioned here. It is also a tribute to the institution of the public library, which offers a space, a service and a sanctuary. It provides human connection to the misfits and the marginalized, and to readers eager to discuss the books that they adore. The author notes her gratitude “to all the librarians and booksellers who make the book world what it is.” She writes, “You do so much for people and for communities!”

The author lives in the United Kingdom. She was raised by Indian and English parents. Her debut novel draws inspiration from her own life. Her maternal grandfather used to often ask her about the books that she was reading as a child. In the process of talking about these books, she also shared about herself. This special bond, forged through books, is beautifully fictionalized in the relationships between Mukesh and Aleisha as well as Mukesh and Priya.

Some of the books on their reading list are: Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (1813), Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women (1868), Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca (1938), Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird (1960), Toni Morrison’s Beloved (1987), Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy (1993), Yann Martel’s Life of Pi (2001), Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner (2003), and Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife (2003). Which ones have you read?

Title of the book: The Reading List

Author: Sara Nisha Adams

Publisher: HarperCollins

Year of publication: 2021

Number of pages: 432 (Paperback)

Price: Rs. 599

The author is a Mumbai-based bookworm who loves to write, travel, and conduct workshops with teachers. He can be reached at [email protected]

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