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Jerry Pinto
Jerry Pinto

STRANGE ENCOUNTERS

Reading the runes

At the end of the year, one is always being asked questions that are almost unanswerable. One of them is what one’s New Year resolutions are. These are easy enough. Anyone my age wants to eat less, exercise more, stop to see the daisies, take time off to think, read more, have fewer unnecessary opinions, that kind of thing. But to actually tell anyone else about them, and the public at large, is to set oneself up for a fall, for the desire to change one’s life rarely lasts past the first strain that it puts upon the Newtonian tendency to inertia.

The other questions seem easier. Tell us what you read in the last year. Well, I could at that but the general idea is: tell us the books you read that came out last year. I can’t remember when my books were published because I am bad at dates, so I can’t even begin to conjure up which books by other people were published in the past twelve months. Perhaps publishers could put out some handy list. But this wouldn’t help much. I am not an early adopter. I have only just begun watching Downton Abbey. I have a copy of The Sellout which has not come out of its brown paper bag. I don’t do phone banking. I read about 130 books last year—a bad year, I used to read much more but I find I want to spend more time with the books I read and I am savage about stopping when a book does not hold me. I don’t have the time to spare for books that are canonical or fashionable.

66readingtherunes Illustration: Bhaskaran

The third question which is almost impossible for me to answer is, “What are the books you are looking forward to reading next year?” I find this perplexing. I don’t know which books are coming out next year. I don’t even know where to find this out. I mean with the books that are published one could go and check publication dates on a website but how do I know what’s going to be published? And even if I know that an author I like is going to write a new book, I never know that it is going to be one I like. This is the terrifying thing about books. Each one is different and the assured hand that guided you through the words on a certain book may suddenly fumble the ball—not because the author has got it wrong, although that might certainly happen, but because this is not your book. (This applies as much to me as to anyone else.)

There is nothing more satisfying than settling into a book that seems to have been written specifically for you. I felt that way about so many Ian McEwan books, I couldn’t believe it was the man who wrote Nutshell. But when I had finished it, I went back to The Cement Garden, just to check what I felt and the cold horrid chill at the heart of the book was still there and when I started to read Atonement again, it was just as welcoming.


was back in a magic garden and there was the figure of the child again, a waif, a terror.

That’s also what happens to me. I tend to read in circles and in chains. This book takes me back, that one makes me feel I know nothing about the situation there and so I should try and find out... and then there’s the reading that I should be doing in order to write the introduction for something else that I promised to do in a moment of bravado. (This evaporates at the moment when you start writing and you wonder what you know about the subject and surely there’s someone who has a PhD and can do a better job....)

One day I will be able to do this. I will be mature. I will read more reviews. I will buy the books that have just come out. I will read them in time. I will not be lured off the straight and narrow. I think I’ve just dreamt up a literary dystopia.

Pinto's next novel, Murder in Mahim, will be out soon.

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