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9 Reasons to Keep A Reading Journal

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image by mgrap

 

I am a big advocate for journal keeping for all sorts of purposes. Keeping a reading journal, whether it’s because you are a student or just an independent reader or doing it for research purposes can be immensely beneficial and rewarding. 

  1. To keep a log of what you’ve read
    When you are a regular reader, eventually there comes a time when you can’t remember if you’ve already read something or not. This is particularly possible in certain situations. For example, you’ve watched a movie based on a book, so you know the story, but you can’t remember if it’s just from the movie or if you read the book. Another instance is when you are reading a series of books which have similar titles and same characters. Bernard Cornwall’s Sharpe novels, and J. D. Robb’s In Death series are good examples of this.
  2. To keep a log of how much you’ve read
    Whether you have a specific book list to get through for a project, or because you simply want to get an idea of how much you read, a reading journal will aid you. It’s also useful to figure out what are your best reading months. For example, if you are an accountant, December with end-of-the-year work, and Christmas is probably not the most leisurely month. But if you tend to spend few weeks in summer lounging on the beach, you probably read a lot more. Sometimes, the reading amount changes from year to year, but if you have a fairly established life, then you will be able to see the patterns for what are your best reading months.
  3. To record your impressions
    We don’t read just for the sake of reading. We read for a reason. Whether it’s for pleasure, escape, research, study, or project….we read because we want to get something out of the experience. And when you finish reading that book, you feel something. By keeping a reading journal, you are spending more time on capturing that fleeting “something”. You can record your impressions throughout your reading, but particularly after you’ve finished the book. You can figure out what the book did for you, how did it impact you, and if it changed anything.
  4. For research
    Writing a dissertation, working on your PhD, writing a book, or numerous other things that involve large quantities of research? Then you will want to keep all that information straight in your head. When you read a lot of material on the same subject, after a while, it all starts to blend together in your head. It will be difficult to remember who said what, and who was on which side of the argument. By keeping a reading journal, as you read, you are not only keeping facts straight but also preserving potential sources. You will have citations ready, and all the material to mine from, without having to go back to all the books when you finally sit down to start using your research for whatever purpose.
  5. To write an essay, article, thesis
    If you have to write something based on the book, you can keep a reading journal to explore the story’s theme, it’s motifs and characters. Again, just as for research purposes, for writing purposes, having the material ready from your notes during reading, will make it a lot easier to use it for writing.
  6. To gain an awareness of your reading taste, and the changes in them
    Your reading taste will change, if not permanently then at least temporarily. Over time, as you read new material, you will be tempted to try something new, to experiment. Sometimes, other people’s recommendations or gift of books also leads us to try out something new. If you are researching a particular topic or time, that may impact what you are reading at any given time too. By keeping a reading journal, you will be able to see how your taste evolves over time, and whether or not there are any significant changes.
  7. To strengthen your understanding of the reading material
    Have you ever read something only to feel when you put the book down, you had no idea what the hell happened? It leaves you feeling annoyed, and often frustrated that you wasted so much time only to understand nothing. It may also make you feel stupid. Lack of comprehension usually has very little to do with intelligence, especially if you are a regular reader. Some books simply require closer reading than we are used to. By keeping a reading journal, you can note down your impressions, questions and confusion as you read, so that these thoughts will remain fresh in your mind. As you read further, you will able to gauge whether the text itself is answering some of your concerns or not. If it doesn’t, you can use your notes to review the book, and also to reflect on what it was that made this book difficult to understand.
  8. To better remember what you’ve read
    The act of writing things down acts as a memory aid. When you write things in your word, they sink into your subconscious better. You are not just memorising, you are taking in the substance of the words you’ve just read. By simply keeping a reading journal, everything you read will become more memorable.
  9. It makes you a better writer
    Being a better reader makes you a better writer. When you keep a reading journal, you are practising close reading. You are focusing on what works in a book and what doesn’t. You learn about structure and syntax. You think about how characters are portrayed, and how the plot works. It’s not an overnight process, but as you do more close reading, you will gain an instinct for doing things in your own writing that work.

These nine reasons to keep a reading journal have something that will be useful for almost everyone. But I’m sure there are more reasons that I haven’t thought of. If you know, please share them in the comments with us. 

Have you ever kept a reading journal? What tips do you have for others? 

 

The Little Prince: Portrayal of Adults vs. Children

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 image credit – wikipedia

 

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry emphasises from the very beginning, the difference between adults and children, and his not very flattering opinion of the former.

In the course of this life I have had a great many encounters with a great many people who have been concerned with matters of consequence. I have lived a great deal among grown-ups. I have seen them intimately, close at hand. And that hasn’t much improved my opinion of them.

[Kindle Location 60]

Saint-Exupéry’s opinion and portrayal of adults does not improve throughout the book. Adults are dull, imagination-less creatures. They are literal, and the only truth is the truth they see with their eyes, trapping them within their self-made limitations.

But in his portrayal of adults, it also feels as if he is calling them out on their fear. The truth, the kind of truth that children see, is threatening to their orderly world. The adults are only interested in what they want to hear, in things that do not challenge their established conventions, and the narrator learns as he grows older to pretend, though he never sees himself as a part of that grown-up group.

I would bring myself down to his level. I would talk to him about bridge, and golf, and politics, and neckties. And the grown-up would be greatly pleased to have met such a sensible man.

[Kindle Location 60]

The narrator has seen the truth since he was a child. He never grew out of it, and perhaps Drawing Number One which he still used as a test to judge whether someone was a “person of true understanding” [Kindle Location 60] was his tether to that truth. It was his way to not start believing in the lies of the grown-up world.

Both the narrator and the little prince go through their personal journeys, while helping each other. They, an adult from earth and an alien child, find more to relate in each other than they found in their own worlds. They reinforce each other’s belief that it’s through child’s eyes that truth is to be found. The little prince’s journey is physical, through many worlds, but his destination is the inner truth, and he discovers it and passes it onto the narrator. “…the eyes are blind. One must look with the heart…” [Kindle Location 1087]

By accepting the little prince’s journey and the lessons he’s learned as the truth, the narrator maintains his true perspective too, instead of letting it be coloured by the sheen of grown-up viewpoint.

Look up at the sky. Ask yourselves: is it yes or no? Has the sheep eaten the flower? And you will see how everything changes….And no grown-up will ever understand that this is a matter of so much importance! [Kindle Location 1259]

In this little book, which at a glance may seem like a story of children, Saint-Exupéry packs the punch of much larger themes. Perhaps it’s more a book for adults rather than children. Children would embrace it as it is, for its truth and story, but perhaps it is the adults who need to examine their narrow-mindedness, and learn to see in the Drawing Number One the elephant inside a boa constrictor, rather than a hat.

 

 

What Makes A Better Writer – Deliberate Practice or Writing for a Purpose

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 image by National Media Museum

 

As a part of the Kaizen Reading Challenge, I read Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones. The book sucked me in. Goldberg’s voice, her passion for writing, combined with practical exercises makes this one gem of a book.

It also inspired me to read another popular writing book, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. In my opinion, the popularity there is misguided. It’s about twenty pages of good stuff mixed in with a lot of waffling. So we will forget about that, and focus on Writing Down the Bones. 

Goldberg says: 

Writing practice embraces your whole life and doesn’t demand any logical form…it’s a place that you can come to wild and unbridled, mixing the dream of your grandmother’s soup with the astounding clouds outside your window. It is undirected and has to do with all of you right in your present moment. Think of writing practice as loving arms you come to illogically and incoherently. It’s our wild forest where we gather energy before going to prune our garden, write our fine books and novels. It’s a continual practice.

[Kindle Location 296]

That made me wonder about the writing practice. Those of us who are writers, we write. All the time in many cases. I, for example, write blog posts, essays, work on freelance assignments, create courses and guides for Kaizen Journaling, and work on my fiction. Emails and letters too if we count those. But what about writing practice? I journal, so that includes a little bit of writing practice as Goldberg describes it, but even journaling has a purpose. 

So I don’t really practice writing any more. Not consciously anyway. Because I’m always trying to write something that has a purpose. That will contribute towards a project I want to complete. 

That is my practice. Because no matter how often we write, we have to keep doing it to improve. 

But what if we listen to Goldberg, and practice as she says. Practice for its own sake. We write, without purpose, without rigidity, without boundaries – mixing fact with fiction. Just deliberate practice. 

Would that help me become a better writer than writing practice that contributes to specific projects? I don’t know. 

Would it be different from journaling? Perhaps, but I’m not sure. 

Because I don’t know, I am going to try it. I’m going to do what Goldberg suggests, and set up regular time, just to practice writing. I will let you know how it works out for me. 

What about you? Do you think writing practice for its own sake is better? 

 

 

Ask the Readers: How Do You Decide Which Books to Read?

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image by practicalowl

So many books to read….so little time! That’s a perpetual problem for even the most devoted of readers. If you are like me, your buying speed far exceeds your reading speed, and so even in my house, I have hundreds of books I have not yet read. Yet, each trip to the book store ends in at least one purchase. 

When there is so much choice, and so many good choices, how do you select your reading material? 

If you have a reading list, how did you come by it? Do you pick books to read from reviews, such as NY Times or Amazon? Do you listen to opinions of your family or friends? Or do you have a couple of trusted readers you rely on, or trusted websites? 

How do you decide that this particular book is worth your time, and not all those others? 

Share  your answers in the comments below. 

 

The Best Kind of Books

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 image by 0olong

 

Reading, to those who see books as living, breathing things, is not an optional activity. It is not a hobby, nor something one does only to kill time. It is not a weekend-only, or vacation-only task. It is as essential as breathing, to be done as much as possible, in whatever place, in whatever circumstances.

When you are a reader, and not merely someone who likes to read, the abundance of choice is as overwhelming as it is a blessing. But at some point, even the fastest and most dedicated reader realises that there is simply not enough time to read everything one wants to read. There is simply not enough life to sample every book one comes across, to taste and devour everything that has been described as “must-read” throughout the ages.

We are then forced to narrow down our selection. Unfortunately, there is no single list for Those-Who-Want-to-Read-Everything-But-Not-Have-Enough-Life. Each of us are left to our own devices. We may take advice from others, or try to follow those who have gone before us, but that almost always results in disappointment. The best books for us, the things we must read before we die, can only come from within us – based on who we are, what we want to learn and know, the stories we want to enjoy, and the stories that resonate within us.

There is no single definition for what these best books are, as they would inevitably be different for each of us. Perhaps some may overlap; some perennial favourites like Pride and Prejudice or the Lord of the Rings may make many lists, and yet they will still be left out from others. So how can you decide?

How can you determine what books you should spend your limited life span on?

Ben Okri, in his essay titled, Newton’s Child1 provides one of the best descriptions I’ve come across:

“The best kinds of books, however, have a delightful mystery about them. They inexplicably create powerful feelings, images, moods, worlds, and parallel narratives the farther away in time you are from the reading. They grow in time. They keep re-creating themselves in your consciousness, they keep growing, keep becoming other books, till they become part of your experience, like something lived, or dreamed, or loved, or suffered.

Further encounters with suck books make them more. There is no final point of understanding with books that live.

Their effects cannot be aspired to. And writers can never be altogether sure that they have indeed created this rare and living thing. For their mysterious effect can only be felt silently, in the secret chambers of consciousness, in the depths of sleep and forgetfulness, in states of being where the magic of the words can work unseen. This kind of writing keeps living through time, through generations, through stories people tell one another, through our solitudes and moods, and through the ways in which such books make us more creative as we live and change and grow – or even as we face the prospect of dying.”

Of course, one can only know for sure that the book is of the best kind after one has read it. How does it help narrowing our selection?

From our previous experiences. Think about the best kind of books you’ve read so far. Which books, which characters, which stories, which lessons have lingered in your mind, long after you finished the book? Which books have grown with you over time, or taken a firm place in your heart and remained never changing? Which books still make you smile in the same place, though you have smiled that smile a hundred times? Which books make you worry for the character in peril even during repeated readings, when you already know what happens?

Which books you cannot stop talking about, insisting to others that they must read them, and when they don’t feel the same as you about the greatness of these books, the only reaction you have is complete bafflement?

Which books have impacted you enough that you’ve reflected on the way you think, or the way you behave, or who you are? Which books have inspired you and encouraged you? Which books have mentored you?

Titles that make up answers to these questions would be your best kind of books. Look at these titles, and they in turn would lead you to other titles that may yet come to be your future best kind of books.

  1. Newton’s Child, A Way of Being Free by Ben Okri (Pages 25, 26)

 

Airports: Gateways to the Romance with the World

 

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I was quite excited to read A Week at the Airport by Alain de Botton, because personally, I love airports. They represent the gateway to the romance with the world. Not all of them, but certainly the big and busy ones, where there is constant movement, and screens blink rapidly with upcoming departures to places familiar and non-familiar.

I look at these screens and I am overcome with the desire to just go to these places, unplanned. I want to put aside the ticket I purchased, and hop on a different plane, to a different place because “These screens implied a feeling of infinite and immediate possibility: they suggested the ease with which we might impulsively approach a ticket desk and, within a few hours, embark for a country where the call to prayer rang out over shuttered whitewashed houses, where we understood nothing of the language and where no one knew our identities.” [Kindle Location 239]

The places I know nothing about, and particularly the ones I have never heard of, always seem more enticing. It’s not because I don’t want to visit again the places I love, but because “The lack of detail about the destinations served only to stir unfocused images of nostalgia and longing: Tel Aviv, Tripoli, St Petersburg, Miami, Muscat via Abu Dhabi, Algiers, Grand Cayman via Nassau…all of these promises of alternative lives, to which we might appeal at moments of claustrophobia and stagnation.” [Kindle Location 239]

Airports, and particularly these boards listing all these places, tantalise us with a promise of an escape, both permanent and temporary, from whatever bothers us at home. It’s up to us to remember that most of our problems go where we go. “How quickly all the advantages of technological civilisation are wiped out by a domestic squabble.”[Location 364] The airports merely offer us the sunshine if want to escape the rain, a chance to practice a new language with the natives, try a cuisine of some exotic country, or meet up with the new friends we’ve made online. Airports can whisk us away to a new romantic adventure.

De Botton seems to share my fascination with the airports, though he’s far better at capturing the sense of it than I. As I read this book and explore his, “snapshots of travellers’ souls on their way to the skies,” [Kindle Location 401] much of what I felt were familiar emotions. We both particularly agree on the importance of what one witnesses at the arrivals and departures halls. “Had one been asked to take a Martian to visit a single place that neatly captures the gamut of themes, running through our civilisation – from our faith in technology to our destruction of nature, from our interconnectedness to our romanticising of travel – then it would have to be to the departures and arrivals halls that one would head.” [Kindle Location 89]

The assembly of people from different places and races, sounds of various language, a multitude of emotions, all against the backdrop of blinking screens with names of the places unvisited reminds us how much bigger the world actually is. Bigger than our own concerns. Bigger than our personal prejudices. Bigger than our idea of normalcy. “One wants never to forget that nothing here is normal, that the streets are different in Wiesbaden and Luoyang, that this is just one of many possible worlds.” [Kindle Location 822]

With the romance of the travel we are also afforded a glimpse into the wealth of our world. Often busy complaining about the financial crisis and our personal debts, we rarely give a thought to “the modern era’s daunting technical intelligence,” and “its prodigious and inconceivable wealth,” which becomes obvious when one looks at the “dolphin-like bodies,” of aeroplanes, and “knowledge that each plane had cost some $250 million.” [Kindle Location 192]

It is not merely the romance of travel that we see. Airports offer a glimpse into our reality, into the divisions of society that still exist. First glimpse was through the luggage that passengers carried. Besides the obvious difference between the designer luggage versus the budget suitcases, “The wealthy tended to carry the least luggage, for their rank and itineraries led them to subscribe to the much-published axiom that one can now buy anything anywhere.” [Kindle Location 216]

De Botton sees the whole philosophy of life at the airport. From the romance of the travel, to financial status of the world, and to our human emotions and fears, the worst of which is usually death. Most of us hardly ever think about the amazing feat we are accomplishing, flying in a metal box in an air. As frequent flyers, we tune out the safety instructions, and disregard the possibility of a plane crash. We don’t want to think about it, because air travel has opened up the whole world to us, made it smaller and reachable. Yet, the possibility of death exists, and perhaps, “most of us could benefit from a brush with a near-fatal disaster to help us to recognize the most important things that we are too defeated or embittered to recognize from day to day.” [Kindle Location 340]

However, more than likely we are going to spend less time philosophising about death, and more time thinking about, “why, if one was in any way talented or adept, one was still unable to earn admittance to an elegant lounge,” while we waited, “on hard plastic chairs in the overcrowded and chaotic public waiting areas of the world’s airports.” [Kindle Location 605]

Despite the philosophy of the world’s real problems, De Botton returns to the romance of the travel, in comparing it with the profession of writers. “Considered collectively, as a cohesive industry, civil aviation had never in its history shown a profit. Just as significantly, neither had book publishing. In this sense, then, the CEO and I, despite our apparent differences, were in much the same sort of business, each one needing to justify itself in the eyes of humanity not so much by its bottom line as by its ability to stir the soul. It seemed as unfair to evaluate an airline according to its profit-and-loss statement as to judge a poet by her royalty statements. The stock market could never put an accurate price on the thousands of moments of beauty and interest that occurred around the world every day under an airline’s banner: it could not describe the sight of Nova Scotia from the air, it had no room in its optics for the camaraderie enjoyed by employees in the Hong Kong ticket office, it had no means of quantifying the adrenaline-thrill of take-off.” [Kindle Location 710]

We don’t book a ticket for the plane. We book a ticket for an experience. Whether it’s meeting the family back home, have a romantic gateway, a family fun time, first meeting with a new love we met online, a religious pilgrimage, a solo adventure, or something entirely different. De Botton says, “Travel agents would be wiser to ask us what we hope to change about our lives rather than simply where we wish to go…The notion of the journey as a harbinger of resolution was once an essential element of the religious pilgrimage, defined as an excursion through the outer world undertaken in an effort to promote and reinforce an inner evolution.” [Kindle Location 940]

If a travel agent teams up with a psychologist to offer this kind of service, airports will no doubt see a surge of far more happier and satisfied people in arrival halls.

Is Literature Necessary?

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 image by auntiep

I was changed by literature, not by cautionary or exhortatory literature, but by the truth as I found it in literature. I recognize the world in a different way because of it, and I continue to be influenced in that way by it. Opened up, made more alert, and called to a greater truthfulness in my own accounting of things, not just in my writing, in my life as well. It did that for me, and does that for me, and no one touched by it in this way should have any doubt of its necessity.

– Tobias Wolff

I have felt the power of literature, as Wolff described above, and I continue to feel it. Books can be mere pass time, they can be a distraction, they can be so many little things….and so much more.

Literature is both a representation and an extension of our reality.

Books that touch us are the ones that resonate with us, and they do so, usually by showing us some kind of truth. It might be a truth about ourselves, about our world, or about our faiths and beliefs. It doesn’t necessarily jump out at us from every book, highlighted and ready for a moral lesson of the day. Sometimes it does, but most of the time, it’s just a quiet recognition that settles down within us. Literature, therefore, is a force of truth as a representation of our reality.

As an extension of our reality, literature enriches our minds, nourishes our souls. From good books, we learn about places we have never seen, and people we have never met. We feel the emotions that we’ve felt many times, and some that we have never felt. We can see the depth and range of humanity – at its best and its worst. We can see, finally, the gossamer strands of complicated layers that make up our world. Layers that are made of societal rules, individuality, people in our lives, internal and external influences, and so many other things that we may not even be aware of. Things that like a pebble thrown into calm waters, could create far-reaching ripples in our lives. Literature shows this. It shows us our lives, more clearly, than we can ever understand when we are caught up in living it.

It expands our horizons. It doesn’t matter where we were born, or what our circumstances are once we have an access to the library. Suddenly, many new worlds are open to us, and it is up to us what we make of them. There are no rules binding us, nothing to stop us from exploring as far as we want. Literature gives us an opportunity to feed our mind. It gives us an opportunity to expose ourselves to all sorts of ideas and thoughts which might throw us into utter confusion at first, make us question everything we thought we knew, and then guide us, slowly but surely, to find our own way, to affirm our own beliefs, and our view of the world.

Literature is my Utopia. Here I am not disenfranchised. No barrier of the senses shuts me out from the sweet, gracious discourses of my book friends. They talk to me without embarrassment or awkwardness.

– Helen Keller

Is Literature Necessary? 

That question should not even need to be asked. It is unfortunate that it does need to be asked, because literature is not valued in our modern age as it should be. The concept of “learned men” is lost. We take literacy for granted, but we have forgotten why it’s so valuable. 

Literature, particularly great literature, gives us guidance to be great. It challenges our beliefs, and yet reaffirms others. It broadens our horizons, yet can take us home where we truly belong. It can bring untold joys and show us the ugliness that resides in the world, and in the hearts of men. Literature is the mirror of our society and our aspiration. 

Literature is not just necessary, it is essential.

The only way to protect it, the only way to ensure that it survives, is to use it.

Enjoy the literature, make the use of it, and the more we use it, the longer it will last – through each one of us. 

 

 

 

How Books Can Open Your Mind

I watched this inspiring TED Talk, and it’s something that every Kaizen Reader should watch, and think upon. I have had a similar experience to Lisa Bu, in which that books have become my ultimate teachers, my companions.

Books have either taught me the values I hold, or they have reinforced what I was taught by people. Books are there to shine a light on the path, or to illuminate an existing one. They teach, they advice, they hint, and they challenge. Books open my mind, and my heart and they make me search my soul. Watch this video, and think about how books open your mind.

Are Money and Comfort Necessary for the Writing Process?

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An Essay based on A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf 

I first met Virginia Woolf at Mrs Dalloway’s party. She was a stranger – an aloof, sharp, beautiful woman with whom I didn’t feel an immediate connection. Relationships with books and authors are the same as relationships with people. With some, it’s an instant connection, recognition of a kindred spirit. But with others, it takes time. Virginia and I are still growing. The more I learn about her, the more she fascinates me. That’s why there are three of her books on the Kaizen Reading Challenge list.

 A Room of One’s Own seems an apt place to start, with its focus on what a writer needs to be able to write. Woolf comments upon various interconnected issues, but the undercurrent running throughout the whole book is the importance of money that provides for one’s basic needs so that one can focus on writing. That is as relevant today as it was in 1928. Except that today, this is no longer an issue for just women.

We have come far enough in gender equality that this issue applies to both sexes. If there are any fortunes to be inherited, it is no longer only men who inherit them. When Woolf said,s interconnected issues, but the undercurrent running throughout the whole book is the importance of money that provides for one’s basic needs so that one can focus on writing. That is as relevant today as it was in 1928. Except that today, this is no longer an issue for just women.

A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.

[Kindle Location 37, Chapter 1]

she wasn’t talking about the importance of money for its own sake. She didn’t say a woman must have thousands of pounds, a big house and a bunch of servants if she is to write fiction. It’s about what money gives you. A sense of comfort and security of knowing you have a roof over your head, bills are paid, and you have somewhere to write.

The physical comforts cannot be overrated. However lofty heights your soul may aspire to, it is framed in a corporal body. As such, it has basic human needs like every other person.

Woolf was right when she said,

The human frame being what it is, heart, body, and brain all mixed together and not contained in separate compartments as they will be no doubt in another million years, a good dinner is of great importance to good talk. One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.

[Kindle Location 237, Chapter 1]

We have not yet gotten to a stage where science can separate heart, body and brain in different compartments. However inconvenient it may be, it’s probably a good thing for our writing, enabling us to tap into not just intellectual but also our emotional capacity. However, attempting to tap into your inner muse when you don’t know where your next meal is going to come from is rarely successful. The image of a starving artist may sound romantic, but in reality, it has no more romance than the lives of millions of other starving people.

Woolf asks,

What effect has poverty on fiction? What conditions are necessary for the creation of works of art?

[Kindle Location 329, Chapter 2]

Necessity is too definitive, for it would change from person to person. Some people are able to bear discomforts more than others. Yet, it would be logical to say that comfortable conditions of living would be more conducive to the creation of works of art, and the availability of that comfort is dependent upon having money. Even if the impact of gaining some money is not as momentous as it was in Woolf’s times.

The news of my legacy reached me one night about the same time that the act was passed that gave votes to women…of the two – the vote and the money – the money, I own, seemed infinitely the more important.

[Kindle Location 486, Chapter 2]

Woolf was an intelligent, socially conscientious woman. She knew the importance of being able to vote, the tide of change it represented for women, yet it was the £500 per year that she found more valuable. For it was the money that bought her independence, without which, political rights mean very little.

Food, house, and clothing are mine for ever.

[Kindle Location 503, Chapter 2]

These basic needs were her security. They gave her the freedom to be a writer. These are the very basic needs that prevent people today from blossoming into their inner artist.

Woolf raises this in a reflection about women who lived during Shakespeare’s time. 

For it is a perennial puzzle why no woman wrote a word of that extraordinary literature when every other man, it seemed, was capable of song or sonnet.

[Kindle Location 541, Chapter 3]

It wasn’t a puzzle. Woolf knew the answer to that too.

What were the conditions in which women lived, I asked myself; for fiction, imaginative work that is, is not dropped like a pebble upon the ground, as science may be; fiction is like a spider’s web, attached ever so lightly perhaps, but still attached  to life at all four corners…But when the web is pulled askew, hooked up at the edge, torn in the middle, one remembers that these webs are not spun in mid-air by incorporeal creatures, but are the work of suffering human beings, and are attached to grossly material things, like health and money and the houses we live in.

[Kindle Location 543, Chapter 3]

That is the same concern we face today. The environment nurtures creativity, but it can also distract. There is a reason people pay small fortunes to attend writers’ retreats. The reality that was true then, is true now.

Dogs will bark; people will interrupt; money must be made; health will break down. Further, accentuating all these difficulties and making them harder to bear is the world’s notorious indifference. It does not ask people to write poems and novels and histories; it does not need them.

[Kindle Location 676, Chapter 3]

Art available in abundance is not perceived as necessity, and yet take it away – every book, every film, every painting, and every play – and the world will mourn its loss, and be changed forever. However, until that happens, complain about being a struggling writer, and people will tell you to get a real job.

The very people, who look down upon and give “practical” advice to the struggling artists, hero-worship successful ones. Just think about a mile long queue for book-signings, midnight book releases, and intensity of fans for success stories such as Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings or Eat Pray Love. As Woolf said,

Money dignifies what is frivolous if unpaid for.

[Kindle Location 845, Chapter 3]

She is not the only one who’s being honest about importance of money and comfort in a writer’s life. She references Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch who said,

The poor poet has not in these days, nor has had for two hundred years, a dog’s chance…a poor child in England has little more hope than had the son of an Athenian slave to be emancipated into that intellectual freedom of which great writings are born.

[Kindle Location 1406, Chapter 3]

In today’s society, we are not absolutely ruled by the circumstances of our birth. Education is available to people of all backgrounds. With the long reach of the Internet, more and more opportunities are available for those with a vision and a drive. While a poor child in England today does not have as hopeless existence as a child of an Athenian slave, he also does not have the ease with which opportunities are available for the rich child. Intellectual freedom is still difficult to achieve, for it requires time to study, and to reflect. One can only find that time once the bills are paid, and there is a place – a room of one’s own – to sit down in.

 

image  credit

5 Reasons Why You Should Write In Your Books

lolita-markd

image – my copy of Lolita, marked up

 

There was a time when I would have said it was criminal to make any marks in a book. I look after my books. To treat books with care is natural for me. I don’t ever remember thinking, I must be more careful with my books. I always have been.

I always use bookmarks (or in the absence of them, something – post-it, receipt, tissue, whatever is there). The spines of my book only crack when it’s a book I re-read often, so it’s then a bit more like an old age character rather than neglect. I tell you this to establish that I love my books. I intend to have a proper library one day when I finally settle down somewhere and buy a house, so until then, all my books are waiting to have a permanent home.

However, despite my obsession with treating my books with care, I still advocate writing in books, underlining, making notes, and all sorts of things. I’m not the only one who thinks so.

Marking a book is literally an experience of your differences or agreements with the author. It is the highest respect you can pay him.

– Edgar Allen Poe

 

 5 Reasons Why You Should Write In Your Books 

 

1.  Active Reading
By underlining, or making notes as you read, you are turning reading from a passive activity into an active one. You are not merely taking in what you read, you are processing it at a deeper level. It’s useful for retaining information, but it’s also better for getting more out of what you are reading. Before you can keep an effective reading journal or a commonplace book, you need to become an active reader.

2. Thinking Out Loud
People usually mark their books when a relevant, or somehow important thought occurs to them as they read, usually because of what they are reading. By noting this down, you are thinking out loud – or rather on paper, and capturing your thought process. This will also give you invaluable insights on how your personal inner commentary relates to what you read.

3. Making Associations
Taking notes, while reading actively, will naturally lead you to make associations you might otherwise not have made. Even if you think about them, chances are you will forget them if you don’t write them now. It’s curious how many unexpected connections our mind makes, and you will find yourself recalling information from various sources, often quite unrelated, and making associations with your current reading.

4. Looking Back
Browsing through one’s marked book is a fun and often insightful thing. As you look back, you will your notes and underlines, which will tell you what made an impression on you at the time of the reading. If it’s a book you often re-read, then you might find yourself changing your opinion over time, or you might find the opposite. No matter what the final result, your markings will tell you a lot about yourself.
 
5. Leaving a Legacy
Imagine leaving not just a library behind, but a library of your very personal books. That’s a legacy indeed. What a curiosity it would be for your children and grandchildren to look at your personal notes. It will be something that brings them closer to you (or at least one member of your family, because there is usually one who appreciates such things), even after you are dead. 

How about you? Do you write or make marks on your books?