There are times when you want to read a book that challenges you, or confronts you, or opens your mind to new ideas.
And then, there are times when all you crave is the comfort of an old favourite, a careworn title rendered dog-eared from multiple rounds of reading, an edition that tells not just the story within its covers, but also the many adventures it has been on with you.
These past few weeks are an example of the latter – amidst the rush and stress of packing up and moving to the US for almost a year, I haven’t had the time nor been in the mood to read something new. Instead, at times like these, I tend to find solace within the pages of the familiar: Diana Wynne Jones’ Chrestomanci books perhaps, or the Anne Of Green Gables series by L.M. Montgomery, or, as was the case this time, any of Isaac Asimov’s works.
There is something indescribably therapeutic about opening the cover of a book that you know you’re going to love, and to go on a journey where you know each next step because you’ve taken it so many times, and yet undertake with willing excitement.
The Foundation series by Isaac Asimov was my introduction to the prolific science fiction writer’s works, and to the best of my memory, also my proper introduction to the genre itself.
To me, it was pure magic, that anyone could conceive of such mind-blowing ideas, and yet ground them in solid, plausibly-explained science.
When I was in my early teens, I came across the first book in the series one day while browsing through my Uncle Shankar’s shelves, and was so taken with the synopsis that I went home with the entire set.
The story, set in a future when humankind spans galaxies and the Earth is a distant memory, tells of a mathematician named Hari Seldon who develops a branch of mathematics called psychohistory, which is able to predict the future on a large scale. Foreseeing the fall of the current regime and a period of barbarism, Seldon establishes a “foundation” at the farthest edge of the galaxy, made up of artists, engineers and thinkers, to serve as the beginning of a new empire.
To me, it was pure magic, that anyone could conceive of such mind-blowing ideas, and yet ground them in solid, plausibly-explained science (Asimov was of the hard sci-fi tradition). Over the next few weeks, I devoured all seven books in the series back to back, and emerged a lifelong Asimov devotee.
The next decade or so of my life was then spent trying to complete my collection of Asimov books, which was a lot more difficult to accomplish back when one couldn’t simply track them down on the Internet.
Many hours were spent digging through second-hand bookstores and obscure sci-fi stores, both local and abroad, but trust me when I say every minute of it was worth it when I located a new title.
It’s not for nothing that Asimov is considered one of the fathers of modern sci -fi, and 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die lists two of his titles: Founda-tion (the first of the series) and I, Robot, a collection of short stories centred on the theme of robots, humans and the interactions between the two.
Yet, in my entirely biased opinion, one can’t simply read just either one of these books; if you read Foundation, you must finish the entire series, and if you begin with I, Robot, how can you not want to read the rest of his excellent Robot series? And then there are the Galactic Empire novels that set up a pre-Foundation galaxy, not to mention all his stand-alone novels.
And that brings me to the danger of comfort reading. Now that I’ve been reading Foundation, I have an irresistable hankering to continue reading the entire series … and then maybe the Elijah Baley books … and then perhaps some of the short stories. Help! I’m leaving the country in two days and still nowhere near done packing!
Sharmilla Ganesan is reading her way through the titles in 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. Join the conversation at facebook.com/BeBookedOut or Tweet @SharmillaG.