Thank you for joining us all summer long for Last Read posts from a long list of talented writers, librarians and readers.
Sonali Dev’s first literary work was a play about mistaken identities performed at her neighborhood Diwali extravaganza in Mumbai. She was eight years old. Despite this early success, Sonali spent the next few decades getting degrees in architecture and writing, migrating across the globe, and starting a family while writing for magazines and websites. With the advent of her first gray hair, her mad love for telling stories returned full force, and she now combines it with her insights into Indian culture to conjure up stories that make a mad tangle with her life as supermom, domestic goddess, and world traveler.
Sonali lives in the Chicago suburbs with her very patient and often amused husband and two teens who demand both patience and humor, and the world’s most perfect dog.
My Last Read (Not Quite)
This morning I awoke under a mountain. You know that mountain of things-to-do that gets so heavy sleep can never quite take hold under it? Well, every time I wake up under that mountain my first thought is this: “I’ll just take a sick day and read all day long.” And although I’ve never really been able to translate this delicious, self-indulgent, very unwise thought into action, it never fails to lighten the load just enough to push me up on my feet. For one precious moment it makes my lungs swell as though someone just released the fingers pinching my nose and knowing that there is that kind of escape available helps me take on that to-do list no matter how mountainous.
So, okay, I use books as an escape. (Doesn’t everyone?) But on less harried days I also use them to plumb depths of emotions that I know exist but I can’t always touch in my own life. To examine sorrow, to bloat with joy, to ponder how things would feel in a different life.
So if my days were numbered would I choose a Last Read that helped me escape? That let me take an epic journey one last time, like JK Rowling’s Harry Potter where good always defeats evil and our world could be so much more than what we believe it to be, or one of my beloved romances where all I want love to be, is?
Or do I choose something that attempts to reach for Truth, slicing through beliefs like a scalpel to extract meaning hidden beneath them like a bullet that you can’t leave unaddressed, like Louise Erdrich’s Master Butcher’s Singing Club that dances on the edge between the crushing weight of our histories and the heights and depths of our human potential, or Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance that burrows into the darkest corners of our souls to examine what we can and cannot survive and questions what survival even is, or Jodi Piccolt’s My Sister’s Keeper where courage can be as much a curse as a boon, or even A Fault in Our Stars where tragedy, no matter how brutal, cannot alter the beauty of our existence?
Or do I reach instead for a book that changed my own life? Something more deeply personal, more formative to me, like Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy. Because it was the first story I read that put someone with my cultural identity, my color, my faith on the page and did it in prose so beautiful that it took away the option of not succumbing to the crazy need to write while fanning the even crazier urge to dream that someday my writing might find readers.
Asking me to identifying one Last Read is cruel because the more I try to zero in on one book, the more books I think of that I need to read at least one more time before I go to a place where I’ll have to leave all the books behind. It’s like being attacked by one of those weapons in sci-fi movies where the bullets multiply on contact.
But since the goddesses of the Land Of Lost Books cannot be messed with, I’m going to squeeze my eyes shut and place my finger on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. And it’s only because it was the book that taught me what kind of woman I wanted to be. It taught me what kind of man I had the right to demand for myself and on what terms (to say nothing of the fact that the crash and burn proposal scene might be the most perfect turning point in any book ever where every thread in the book unravels and demands to be tied).
Amazingly enough, Regency England had more in common with the middle class India I grew up in than it should have had and this unsuspecting guidebook was exactly what I needed to navigate it. It showed me that societal norms, while a pain in my behind, were certainly not chains around my ankles. That it was really okay to not just question but to scoff at what society expected and do what I wanted because in the end right and wrong were only as right and as wrong as I believed them to be. And that this life that we take so very seriously, might in truth be nothing more than a farce. So we might as well lighten up, smile at all its machinations, and find a way to get our hands on what really matters: Mr. Darcy.