Good Reading : May 2017
one person who is reading. The casual reader might easily skim past this photo without realising the profound statement it makes about attitudes towards the education of girls and women held by a significant number of powerful people in Afghanistan. With the exception of that photo, the unifying factor in all the pictures is the sense of absorption of all the readers. Some readers are taking in words in quiet settings that are naturally conducive to reading. But others, such as the taxi driver resting on the boot of his car while reading a newspaper outside Mumbai’s Chhakrapati Shivaji train station as people and cars speed past, testify to the power of good writing to transport us away from whatever hubbub we are immersed in and render us oblivious to our surroundings. Another photo in this vein shows a man in Kuwait crouching to read a large book that rests on the ground in front of him; behind him lies a burnt-out, upturned vehicle, and various items that might be rubbish surround him and the vehicle. Is this the scene of a violent incident? Or is it just a garbage dump? It’s not clear, but the man is nonetheless absorbed in the book. Another strikingly recurrent feature in many of the photos is the presence of windows. More than a few readers position themselves near windows to take advantage of natural light. This seems apt, as windows are also metaphors for insight and seeing things one might otherwise not have noticed. Paul Theroux, in the introduction, outlines how books he read as a teenager introduced him to the ordeals of being black in the American South in the 1950s, providing him with a metaphorical window onto experiences to which he would otherwise have been ignorant. This book proves that photos don’t always have to be quirky, shocking or instantly arresting to intrigue the viewer or communicate profound insights. GOOD READING MAY 2017 19 COFFEE TABLE 1 ESCAPE On Reading by Steve McCurry (with foreword by Paul Theroux) is published by Phaidon, rrp $85.00.