Saturday, April 23, 2016

The Need for A Balanced Diet Literally Speaking

A lot of folks ask me to recommend books for their children and look somewhat askance when I suggest letting the kids choose for themselves. “But I don’t want my underage child reading trash like 50 Shades of Smut!” they protest vociferously, “Are you saying that they should be allowed to get their hands on that sort of thing?”
            Not exactly. What I mean is that youngsters should be allowed to wander about in the aisles, inhale the delicious aroma of books, soak in the ambience of unlimited stories so that they may hone in on the tomes that speak to them. In the early stages, they may just go with a book because the cover is a virulent shade of their favourite colour with glitter to boot. But gradually they will learn to hearken to the call of the voracious reader within, attuned to the lure of the alluring opus that best meets their needs.
Parents in their enthusiasm to cultivate the burgeoning reading habit of their children tend to nudge them towards books that have educational or moral value which makes the experience feel like the literary equivalent of being force fed broccoli and spinach, thereby inculcating in kids a disdain for books and sending them back into the toxic embrace of television and ipads.
Any bibliophile will tell you that for sheer entertainment value, books are hard to beat. And as with any form of divertissement, tastes are wide – ranging and there is no accounting for it. Calvin and Hobbes is as likely to stimulate the intellect as Socrates or Plato and kids may be morally enriched by a perusal not only of Aesop’s Fables but Archie comics as well.
In the course of their literary wanderings, youngsters may want to wet their whistles in erotica and dip their beaks in novels written in blood with so much graphic gore, they make your standard Quentin Tarantino and Takashi Miike fare seem on par with Disney at its most cuddly. And I say let them. Why do we always assume the worst of our children? Today’s whippersnappers are smart and perfectly capable of making wise choices for themselves.

My father batted an eyelid but just barely when I opted for yet another instalment of Francine Pascal’s Sweet Valley series during our bookstore visits and much later, he might have winced when I informed him that Sade had taken up residence on my reading table. It is to his credit that he trusted me enough to believe that weird though my tastes were shaping up to be, the odds of my becoming a deranged serial killer were remote. Needless to say, his wisdom and forbearance paid off because to the best of my knowledge, I have not gone berserk, embarked on a mass – murdering spree or even done anything remotely illegal. Yet. 

An edited version of this was carried by The New Indian Express in my fortnightly column, For Crying Out Loud. 

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