5 Reasons Why You Should Write In Your Books

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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? 

 

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5 Reasons Reading is Essential

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image by DollyGarland

 

I love books. Since I’m putting time and effort into this blog, it’s evident that I believe in the power of books. Reading for escape is good, and I encourage it, but books can offer so much more. They can contribute so much to your individual potential.

That’s the topic I want to expand on in this article, and talk about why reading is essential.

Pleasure

Books are definitely for pleasure. So often people who don’t read much say that they try to read only “useful” books. That’s a completely wrong approach, and it’s even worse when you do it with your children. Never mind about the vocabulary benefit or career progression, start by reading whatever you want to read it. Encourage  your children to read, by making it fun.

Learn to enjoy the written word. Read for the pleasure of it. Once you fall in love with books, you will automatically expand your horizons to “useful” books. 

When it comes to reading, nothing is wasted. Every book, every story will teach you something if you are paying attention.

Personal Development

There is no teacher, no school or college on this planet that can teach you more than books. We live a golden age of information. Books are available relatively cheaply, and if you make use of the libraries, freely. Thanks to electronic readers, you are not required to lug volumes of physical books around (unless you want to). 

There are books on every topic you can imagine, and let’s not forget the wisdom that’s been passed through the ages in the form of books. Everything you want to learn, books can teach you. Of course, it requires discipline and will-power, because books are not going to punish you if you don’t do your homework. 

I find it baffling and an absolute shame that so many people don’t take advantage of this easily available resource to improve their personal and professional lives. But that’s why this world has a larger population of mediocrity than it has of people who are always striving to fulfil their individual potential. Look at any successful people throughout all ages of history, and you will find that EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM READ BOOKS! 

Language Skills

As a writer, it’s essential for me to keep up with language skills. It’s astonishing how little vocabulary we use on average. Oxford English Dictionary has more than 170,000 words yet on average, we use 25,000 words. That’s mere 15%. 

Reading helps you increase that percentage so that if you are not currently at an average level, you can improve your skills. If you are at an average level, you can extend it. Most people have a higher percentage of passive vocabulary than active.

Active vocabulary is the words that you can recall and use instantly. Passive vocabulary is words that you recognize when you see or hear them, but are not able to use naturally. 

Focus

Reading, and actually understanding the story or the concept requires attention. You can read with half a mind on the page. You have to focus. It’s a good skill to have, and in this current age of distraction, one that is lacking in many people. 

It may be difficult at first, but once you get into a story, you will forget about the world around you, and focusing will become easier. That’s why it’s important to start with the type of books you will love and have fun with.

Moral Education

It sounds high and mighty, but your moral values are the foundation of your character. Both nurture and nature contribute it, but reading gives you control over creating your values. My parents taught me right from wrong, but I learned more from books than I did from anyone else. Simply because what I learned from books, wasn’t advice. They were stories. They were examples of characters I’d fallen in love with, or admired. It was logical then that I would want to embrace the qualities I admired in them.

 

What lessons have you learned from books?

 

 

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The Humanity of Taboos: Explored through Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita and Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things

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 image by Dolly Garland

 

Note: I first submitted this essay with my MA in English Literature application. I received the admission offer, and so now I can publish it here. 

The Humanity of Taboos

Explored through Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita and Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things

It is not the most common thing to associate Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita1 with Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things2. Published forty-two years apart, former by an established Russian author relocated to America, and the latter by an Indian author who has produced no other work of Fiction, Lolita and The God of Small Things are two masterpieces with one thing in common: they show us, as we will see throughout this essay, that taboos are taboos not because they are against human nature, but because they are a side of human nature we would rather feign ignorance too.

Nabokov didn’t write Lolita to be scandalous. He wrote it because it was a story that called to him and he felt that if he didn’t finish it, “the ghost of the destroyed book would haunt my files for the rest of my life.” [Nabokov, 310]

Roy felt a calling too, but of a different kind. Her story is semi-autobiographical, set in the world of her childhood. When asked about the book’s focus on the caste system and attitude towards women, Roy said, “I never set out with the intention to write about it. I think one of the saddest things that’s happening to literature is that it’s getting over-simplified by this diet of simple political ideas.”3

By remaining true to their fiction, they managed to pinpoint unpleasant truths of our reality more effectively than any political statement or philosophical argument could ever have done. Through the lives of their very human characters, both Nabokov and Roy showed us the immorality of our humanity.

It’s a norm in the Western society to paint paedophiles as monsters. Yet, as we go through Humbert’s narrative, and feel disgust as we’ve been conditioned to feel by the moral compass of our times, a trace of sympathy sneaks in when we see him suffer, and know that however taboo, he loves. “…I looked and looked at her, and knew as clearly as I know I am to die, that I loved her more than anything I had ever seen or imagined on earth, or hoped for anywhere else.” [Nabokov, 275, 276]

We don’t believe him merely because he says so. We believe him because we’ve witnessed his journey, and also because even he is relieved by the awareness that it wasn’t just “the foul lust.” [Nabokov, 281]

Humbert’s relationship with Lolita is a taboo because the rules of our society say so. If that wasn’t the case, the reaction to this novel would have been different. As Humbert pointed out, “Marriage and cohabitation before the age of puberty are still not uncommon in certain East Indian provinces. Lepcha old men of eighty copulate with girls of eight, and nobody minds.” [Nabokov, 19]

The taboos in Roy’s world are labelled different, but the crimes are similar. All the central characters break rules, and suffer the consequences, though some pay a price much steeper than others. “Perhaps, Ammu, Estha and she (Rahel) were the worst transgressors. But it wasn’t just them. It was the others too. They all broke the rules. They all crossed into forbidden territory. They all tempered with the laws that lay down who should be loved and how. And how much.” [Roy, 31]

Roy shows us the humanity’s fear of any threat to its order. The society creates layer upon layer of structure, each with its own set of rules, embedded in the very consciousness of people from the time they are born. Very few people, like Ammu and Velutha, manage to escape this inherent conditioning. The majority, like Vellya Paapen, merely struggle on, accepting their lot in life.

Humbert knew he was breaking the rules. He doesn’t ask for or expect forgiveness. Though he claims his preference for young girls a natural inclination, he knows that it is a violation of legal and social rules, and accepts his due penalties. What he insists on, is making the world aware that he loved, and loved truly. “…how much I loved my Lolita, this Lolita, pale and polluted, and big with another’s child, but still grey-eyed, still sooty-lashed, still auburn and almond, still Carmencita, still mine…” [Nabokov, 276]

It is not just Humbert towards whom our emotions are inverted. Lolita, the victim by the standards of our society, should have been the one a reader would root for. However, though we can see that she is largely a product of her circumstances, there is also an element of her inherent nature that does not generate sympathy. Lolita, as a person, as a child, does not fit neatly into the victim mould. In her relationship with Humbert, she was more often the one with the power. Humbert knew it too. “…I was weak, I was not wise, my schoolgirl nymphet had me in thrall.” [Nabokov, 181]

When Estha is abused, we feel the emotions we are supposed to feel, because both characters meet our moral expectations. Estha is a good boy, a victim. The man who abuses him is someone we can easily envision standing in a corner, looking out with a predator’s eye for vulnerable children. “The Orangedrink Lemondrink Man’s hand closed over Estha’s. His thumbnail was long like a woman’s. He moved Estha’s hand up and down. First slowly. Then fastly. The lemondrink was cold and sweet. The penis hot and hard.” [Roy, 103]

Lolita is not frightened of Humbert, though perhaps she doesn’t see another way out. When we see her manipulating him, using his lust against him, while we can’t blame her, it becomes a clash of two taboos. Humbert is wrong by our moral standards for having sex with a minor. Lolita is wrong by our moral standards because she behaves like a prostitute, demanding things and money for her favours. “Her weekly allowance, paid to her under condition she fulfil her basic obligations, was twenty-one cents at the start of the Beardsley era – and went up to one dollar five before its end.” [Nabokov, 181]

Estha on the other hand is terrified that “The Orangedrink Lemondrink Man could walk in any minute.” [Roy, 194] The fear drives him to find a refuge away from home, to discover, “The boat that Ammu would use to cross the river. To love by night the man her children loved by day.” [Roy, 202]

The relationship between Ammu and Velutha is one of the two main taboos in The God of Small Things. It is this relationship that offers hope of finding one’s own happiness, even in the world made of rigid rules. “And on Ammu’s Road (to Age and Death) a small, sunny meadow appeared.” [Roy, 337] It also sprinkles sorrow that seeps through the lives of all the central characters. Everyone is somehow left broken, and alone.

The second main taboo is when the twins, Estha and Rahel, have sex. Technically, it is incest and like Humbert’s love for Lolita, based on the rules of our society, we are expected to show disgust. Yet, as we travel with the story, we can see that, “…what they shared that night was not happiness, but hideous grief.” [Roy, 328]

For Estha and Rahel, the fraternal twins with “the single Siamese soul” [Roy, 41] there was intimacy that went beyond their individuality. The events that destroyed their lives, made them accomplices in the deaths of Velutha and Sophie Mol, and the slow disintegration of their mother’s life, connected them further. For two people, so intertwined that there was no clear distinction between where one person began and another ended, the sex was merely an attempt to find solace in the company of the only other person who knew everything, could understand everything, was a part of everything – and was essentially a sharer of soul.

The characters and the scene make us think about – even if we can’t quite gather the courage to challenge – the taboos as defined by our civilised society.

Despite the seemingly destructive themes, both novels end on a hopeful note, highlighting that no matter how rigid the rules, no matter what the consequences of breaking those rules, humans will strive to capture the fleeting moments of joy. In The God of Small Things, the hopeful note is highlighted in an impactful manner by ending the story, in the middle, when Ammu promises to meet Velutha, “Tomorrow.” [Roy, 340]

In Lolita, the hopeful note comes from Humbert’s acknowledgement of his crime. “I would have given Humbert at least thirty-five years for rape.” [Nabokov, 307] His regret is not for loving Lolita, nor for having sex with her. His regret is because he caused her pain, and destroyed her childhood. However, he also convinces us that his love for her was genuine, in his own way, and ends his memoir wishing Lolita only happiness.

Humbert also shows us another side of Lolita, which in turn makes her a more sympathetic character. “She would mail her vulnerability in trite brashness and boredom…” [Nabokov, 283]

Neither of the authors set out to convert us to change our moral compass, but they show us that like nearly all the elements of humanity, the definitions of monsters and victims are not always black and white. Their works and their worlds challenge us to look at our own morality, at the taboos of our society, and consider the reasons behind them. People who don’t like that challenge are the ones who call for banning of these books.

Oscar Wilde4 said it long ago, “The books that the world calls immoral are the books that show the world its own shame.” Both Roy and Nabokov shame the world, by showing us the humanity of taboos.

 

Bibliography

1.    Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, Penguin Books 1997, ISBN 0-14-026407-8
2.    The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy, Flamingo 1998, ISBN 0-00-655068-1
3.    Small is Beautiful – An Interview with Arundhati Roy, Harper Collins Australia http://www.harpercollins.com.au/author/authorExtra.aspx?authorID=50000537&displayType=interview
4.    The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, Chapter 19

 

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My Commonplace Book and Why Everyone Should Keep One

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 image by brbl

 

Make your own Bible. Select and Collect all those words and sentences that in all your reading have been to you like the blast of trumpet out of Shakespeare, Seneca, Moses, John and Paul.

– Emerson Journals July 1836

 

I previously talked about the commonplace bookwhat it is and where it comes from. My research into the concept made me motivated to start my own commonplace book.

Why Do I Want to Keep A Commonplace Book 

As a regular journal keeper, I had to consider how this was going to work. My journal captures my life, or at least parts of it. I also have a quote journal, which while not regularly used is a place where I collect quotes. These quotes come from anywhere, and are not necessarily part of my reading. As much as the idea of keeping a commonplace book appealed to me, I wanted it to be something worthwhile so that I wouldn’t stop doing it once the novelty wore off.

I want my commonplace book to be about something specific, so I decided it would be a thing I use to improve as a reader and as a writer. In essence it will be a reading journal, but the notion of calling it a commonplace book feels far more romantic.

It differs slightly from a reading journal because the focus in the commonplace book is on other people’s words. In a reading journal, I might be too lazy to copy entire passages and may simply refer to the page numbers from the book. However, the point of a commonplace book is to write down quotes and passages you want to preserve. You make the work and the words your own, by transcribing them, and by digesting them.

Building Expertise

However, just because it’s for a specific purpose does not mean it’s limited. Think about what it would mean to be a better reader. You would read more and wide. You would read fiction and non-fiction, books, articles, essays and poems. All of these formats and ideas would bring you in contact with just about any issue humanity has faced or will face, as well as with a range of human emotions. For a reader, no book stands alone. Each story, each essay….every new sentence, it builds upon the material you have already explored. With each new piece of literature, you are not starting the journey, you are merely continuing it. 

Writing is the same. You may start a new article or a new book, but the writing ability you have today, is the result of all the words you’ve written in the past. 

Your commonplace book can be a place to see this evolution for whatever topic interests you, or whatever your purpose may be. You can see where you were when you started, and how far you’ve come. Have you finally read the classics you always meant to read? Have you finally figured out just how to appreciate Virginia Woolf’s works, or understand that Oscar Wilde’s sarcasm is so powerful because it is always coated in truth? 

Your commonplace book can be a place where you continue to build your expertise in one or more area by continuously mining the best information from available resources, by recording  your responses to it, and then using that information to come to your own conclusions and making personal associations.

We should imitate bees and we should keep in separate compartments whatever we have collected from our diverse reading, for things conserved separately keep better. Then, diligently applying all the resources of our native talent, we should mingle all the various nectars we have tasted, and turn them into a single sweet substance, in such a way that, even if it is apparent where it originated, it appears quite different from what it was in its original state.

– Seneca

A Tool for Personal Evolution and Assessment

A commonplace book can also be a record of personal evolution. As I read, as my taste changes, as my knowledge increases (hopefully), and as my mind gets used to making more and more connections between various pieces of literature, as well as between literature and life, this will be reflected in my commonplace book. A commonplace book therefore can be both a tool for self-growth, and self-analysis.

One gets a pretty good idea of a man, his likes and prejudices, his quirks and manias, the variousness of his mind from reading a commonplace book. 

– William Cole

I want my commonplace book to be a place where I take the time to not only enjoy but to explore my reading, to make associations between literature and life, to learn how great writers did things, and to use it for continuous improvement. It will be a record of my Kaizen Reading

Are you keeping a commonplace book? What would you want to use it for? 

 

 

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A Commonplace Book


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image by bluefootedbooby

 

I hadn’t given much thought to the commonplace book until recently. I’d heard the term in passing before, usually in books, but never really stopped to consider it. However, earlier this month I was talking to a professor at my former college, who upon learning about my journaling pursuits mentioned that he didn’t keep a journal but kept a commonplace book. It was a norm, particularly in higher education when he was growing up. As he is very intelligent, and really believes in learning as a lifelong activity, I thought there must be some merit to a method he’s been employing all these years. The idea of a commonplace book took root in my mind. 

Of course any kind of new “notebook keeping” is bound to get me curious, so yesterday, I spent hours researching the finer details of the commonplace book. 

What is a Commonplace Book?

Originally, a commonplace book was a central place where you collected knowledge that you can refer back to at a later date. The practice began in ancient times when books were scarce, and most people wouldn’t have been able to keep a large library. In order to remember, and to be able to revisit everything they found of value, they collected it in a commonplace book.

According to Wikipedia:

“Commonplace” is a translation of the Latin term locus communis (from Greek tópos koinós…) which means “a theme or argument of general application”, such as a statement of proverbial wisdom. 

The translation was obviously not done by the greatest mind, since they term something “commonplace” which is actually not at all common. A commonplace book was a collection of passages and quotes that were of importance to the reader, and the entire exercise of keeping such a book required one to possess an intellectual disposition and an interest in knowledge, whether to use it or simply for its own sake. 

Overtime this method of keeping a commonplace book evolved. As books became more widely available and education became accessible to more people than just the rich, a commonplace book became something that people used to collect passages and quotes from their personal reading, often organised by topics. John Milton, Emerson, Mark Twain, Virginia Woolf, Napolean, Marcus Aurelius, W H Auden are just a few of the famous people who kept a commonplace book. As one of my Kaizen Journaling reader, Samantha Russell, pointed out on the facebook page, Sherlock Holmes refers to his commonplace book in the stories. I would love to have a peek at his commonplace book.

How is a Commonplace Book different from a Journal

Let’s be clear: a commonplace book is not a journal.

Journal or a diary are chronological, and more centred on your life. They may include facts, introspections….or a combination of both. They may also include quotes and passages you collect. However, the whole point of a journal is that it is about you, and therefore the majority of words in it are yours. 

A commonplace book is where you collect other people’s words. Some people leave it strictly at that. Others will include their response to the things they quote, perhaps a reason for including it, or any questions it might make them ask. I’m with the latter group. I wouldn’t want to collect passages merely for the sake of collecting, because while it might make sense at the time, I may not remember five years later why it was important. 

I like how William Coe described it:

The key word for the commonplace book is “annotated.” It is not just an anthology; the compiler reacts to the passages he has chosen or tells what the passages have led him to think about. A piece of prose, a poem, an aphorism can trigger the mind to consider a parallel, to dredge something from the memory, or perhaps to speculate with further range and depth on the same them. 

Should You Keep A Commonplace Book

As soon as I did my initial research, I was sold on the idea. I wanted my own commonplace book, and I was already regretting that I didn’t know about it sooner. However, for each of us it would be different. I want my commonplace book to serve a specific purpose because I already keep a regular journal. 

I will talk about my personal plans for the commonplace book in the next post. If you are thinking about keeping one, think about how it would serve you. The reason for doing so is to remain motivated, long term, to continue adding to it. Otherwise you may end up with a mostly blank book.

Virginia Woolf described this ill-fate with her usual literary panache: 

Most of the pages are blank, it is true; but at the beginning we shall find a certain number very beautifully covered with a strikingly legible hand-writing. Here we have written down the names of great writers in their order of merit; here we have copied out fine passages from the classics; here are lists of books to be read; and here, most interesting of all, lists of books that have actually been read, as the reader testifies with some youthful vanity by a dash of red ink.

Though it may seem like an antiquated concept, keeping a collection of wisdom in the age of electronics, I think it is all the more valuable because of it. We live in the age where information is zooming past us faster than we can digest it. Something like a commonplace book gives you an opportunity to pause, reflect, and digest what you learn. 

Have you ever kept a commonplace book? Share your tips in the comments. 

 

 

 

 

 

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While the World Sleeps

This essay is the first in a collection in Ben Okri’s book, A Way of Being Free. The book is seemingly based on creativity, and yet really about life, dreams, authenticity, and so much more.

While the World Sleeps sets the stage for the rest of the book, the very title turning on the imagination. Think about being awake while the world is sleeping, literally and metaphorically. Think about the silence, the aloneness, and the possibilities. This essay uses that metaphor to offer both hope and a reality check.

It uses poets as its vehicles, but the truth of it applies to anyone who is attempting to seek out the truth in the world, and not be limited by the external boundaries. There are plenty of external boundaries. Even if we see the beauty and the limitless potential of what the world could be, the world doesn’t allow us to just retrieve that beauty. It doesn’t allow us to just embrace our vision.

“In the hands of the poet, the world is resistant. It is only with the searching and the moulding that the unyielding world becomes transformed in a new medium of song and metaphor.” [Pg 1]

We must snatch what fragments we can, and then put them back together like a puzzle. We must then continue to work at this puzzle, refining the rough edges, fitting it into a cohesive whole until it resembles our original vision.

To do this, to snatch these fragments of our waking dream, we must remain awake to see the world for what it truly is, in all its glory and hideousness.

“The poet needs to be up at night, when the world sleeps; needs to be up at dawn, before the world wakes; needs to dwell in odd corners, where Tao is said to reside; needs to exist in dark places, where spiders forge their webs in silence; near the gutters, where the underside of our dreams fester. Poets need to live where others don’t care to look, and they need to do this because if they don’t they can’t sing to us of all the secret and public domains of our lives.” [Pg 1]

Only by staying awake to see the true nature of the world, we can also see “the fluid nature of reality.” [Pg 2] We can see what most people are terrified to admit: “each individual reality is different. Laws do not bind our perceptions. There are as many worlds as there are lives.” [Pg 2]

The hope is that if we are courageous enough to acknowledge and accept our dreams, to go after them, then we can extend the boundaries of the world offered to us. We can alter our reality.

But courage is a must, because most people are afraid of people who have that kind of courage. By altering our own world, we may also alter theirs, and that frightens them. “…the dreams of the people are beyond them. It is they who have to curb the poet’s vision of reality.” [Pg 4]

If you choose to stay awake while the world sleeps, if you choose to notice the things the world is uncomfortable you noticing, you may be seen as set against the world because you “cannot accept that what there seems to be is all there is.” [Pg 3]

The reality is that we are expected, in this world of rules and regulations and political correction to sing “only of our restricted angles and in restricted terms and in restricted language.” [Pg 4, 5]

To go beyond those restrictions to the limitless means of expression available to us is seen often as sowing dissent. However, you don’t need to be frightened of people who are frightened themselves. You don’t need to submerge yourself in what the world seems to be, because “[the world] carries within it for ever the desire to be transformed into something higher.”[Pg 6] Use your dreams, the truth you see while the world is asleep and keep going where your dreams lead you. 

“The world may seem unyielding but, like invisible forces in the air, it merely awaits imagination and will to unloosen the magic within itself.” [Pg 6]

When you seek the truth while the world sleeps, don’t just look into the outward nooks and crannies. Look for the truth within yourself. Dig deep.

“The deeper poet feel, the deeper is their exploration.” [Pg 7]

If you feel the fire within you, if you feel that what you see and what you get is not enough, then you must go after what you wish the truth to be. Don’t let the “ghost of your possibilities” [Pg 12] hang around your neck. Don’t murder the possibilities of all that you could be. Don’t murder your dreams.

There will be people and institutions and government who don’t like your unconventional ways; who don’t approve of you extending boundaries of their world, but “it’s from the strength of your antagonists that you derive your greater authority. They make it absolutely necessary for you to be more than yourself.” [Pg 15]

Therefore, be more than yourself. The world actually wants you to be authentic, to be unconventional, and to create more realities. The difficulties that come your way are there to test you, that you can stick by your beliefs, that you can see your dreams through the completion.

Towards the end of the essay, Okri offers us hope and a challenge. “Don’t wait till you are dead to know that in reality the whole of life is on your side.” [Pg 15]

We don’t have to be caged in other people’s reality. We can choose our reality. We can tailor it to our dreams; modify it to resemble our vision. However, to do that, we must keep our dreams alive, by not suppressing “the poetic into our waking lives.” [Pg 13]

 

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Re-reading Old Favourites or Finding New Favourites

 

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image by Easa Shamih

 

There are plenty of good books, but finding books that capture you in a tight grip, and don’t let you go right until the end are rare. I love it when it happens – starting a story, and then simply being obsessed with it; unable to put it down until it’s finished. And feeling a little sad when it does. Some may call it unhealthy or weird to want that kind of obsession, but the readers I am sure will understand. 

It’s about the stories. The stories that transport us to a different world – the world in the pages – in such a powerful way that we are almost deceived we are there. Characters are not merely fiction then, but people we care about. Their lives matter to us. When they laugh, we laugh with them, and when they are hurt, we hurt too. 

I love finding books with that kind of power. But because there are no guarantees, and because it’s rare for that to happen, sometimes when I want that kind of heavy-impact book, instead of risking a new book that I may or may not fall in love with, I return to my old favourites. 

A part of me – the greedy reader who wants to devour every book out there – is aware that by re-reading books, I am missing out on reading something new. But going back to old favourites is like talking to old friends. Yes, the new friends may be exciting because there is so much to discover, but it’s the old friends who know where we come from, and what we’ve been through. Stories are the same. They stay with us from the first time we discover them, and as we change, the impact of the story changes too. 

What about you? 

Do you ever go back to your old favourites? Tell us in the comments below. 

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How Reading Influences Positivity

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image by kongevold

 

It dawned on me that any period of reduced reading (there is no such thing as “no reading” period in my life) is also a period of reduced positivity. I’m a pretty optimistic person. I generally prefer to get any wallowing or self-pity out of the way, because I hate being miserable. [Note to the cynics: continuing to feel miserable is a choice – unless you are clinically depressed. It’s an easier choice than making some effort to feel happier, so when I hate being miserable, I do something about it.]

Like any one of you, my life has its problems too. There are times when I am miserable, confused, and have no idea how to move forward. However, what I have noticed that these periods are shorter when I’m reading a lot. It’s no coincidence, and I don’t believe it would apply only to me. Reading consistently – no matter what you like to read – could impact your outlook in life, and make it more positive.

 

4 Ways Reading Influences Positivity

 

Possibilities

One thing that books gives you are possibilities. Whether you are reading fiction or non-fiction, you can read about people who have done great things, risen above their challenges, and found options where none existed.

Values & Morality

When you are tempted to take short-cuts (because we are human, and thus fallible) or do something that is not in alignment with your values, books remind you that your heroes, who are as fallible as you, never do so. And if they do, they always regret it. Books give you the courage to remain steadfast, and not sacrifice the essence of who you are for quick gains.

Inspiration

Reading provides inspiration in spades. Read biographies or memoirs of people you admire, and you can learn from them. You can see that they also had the same 24 hours in a day, and usually no more advantages than you. You can see the choices they made, and how they took their destiny in their own hands instead of waiting for the world to deliver their dreams. Reading inspires you to be whoever you want to be, and gives you the courage to believe that you can.

Pleasure

When you are in a need of a little dose of positivity, the pleasure of getting lost in a story provides you just that. The reading time offers you a window to escape for a little while. There is nothing wrong with that, because when you return, you will come back more hopeful, maybe recharged, and if not with a solution, then at least with more determination. Pleasure should not be underrated. Life is to be lived, to be enjoyed, and books can offer us the pleasure of multitude of lives.

 

Have you felt positive impacts of reading? Share in the comments below. 

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Ask the Readers: Which Writers Intrigue You?

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image by Dolly Garland

 

Sometimes, I get curious about certain writers through unusual means. It could be because of reading one of their books, as in the case of F. Scott Fitzgerald, but at other times it’s because of what I learn about them or about their work in other sources.

For example, I didn’t really get interested in Virginia Woolf after reading Mrs. Dalloway. To be honest, it didn’t appeal to me all that much. But once I read Proust was a Neuroscientist by Jonah Lehrer, which includes considerable commentary on Woolf’s work, I had a fresh interest in Woolf. The interest has only doubled after I read her Writer’s Diary. 

So today, I would like to know which authors intrigue you at the moment? Does this curiosity make you want to explore their works further, or do you want to know more about the author as a person? 

How did you become interested in them?

Share your answers in the comments below, and who knows, perhaps your list will inspire others. 

 

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4 Reasons You Should Read Books in Different Languages

 

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image by Dolly Garland

 

Do you read books in different languages? I don’t mean books translated from foreign languages. I mean, actually reading in other languages. 

I think being able to read something in the original language is absolutely the best way to experience any given material. It’s not always possible, but if you are able to do it, you should.

Personally, I love languages. A part of my goal in becoming a polymath is to be able to speak/read/write seven languages fluently. I can do so in three at the moment, and getting a move on with Spanish.

 

Four Reasons You Should Read Books in Foreign Languages

 

1. Reading Improves Language Skills

Once  you get past the basics, reading is hands-down one of the best ways to improve your skills in a foreign language. It doesn’t matter if the only things you can understand are baby books. Start with those. It will give you an instinctive understanding of how that language works, how the sentences are structured, as well as the colloquialism of that particular language. 

Reading can also be used to improve your skills in your native language. You can use it to enhance your vocabulary. (the vocabulary builder in the new Kindle Paperwhites is a good way to use modern technology). 

2. Reading Familiarises You with Another Culture

Read the original material in any language and you will have a snapshot of that entire culture before you. Stories are the backbone of humanity. Stories have been passed down, first through oral traditions, and then in writing from one generation to another. Stories tell us what any society thinks, or finds important, at any given moment in time.

Read the best material available in any culture and you will learn more about that culture in a span of a book, than you will ever learn from watching news. 

3. It Makes You More Knowledgeable/Conversational

Even if you only read fiction, you will still pick more knowledge about all sorts of things than you can imagine. All good stories base their fiction on facts. That means, all good authors do their research, and all the details of the world you see in their books, are based on reality. I’m not saying use it as the ultimate source of truth. However, you can learn a lot from fiction, if you start paying attention to those details, and take them as a starting point.

Here, for example is a picture of the journal spread I made while reading “The Sunday Philosophy Club” by Alexander McCall Smith. This is a map of all the cultural, historical and literary references made in that book. Just imagine the amount of knowledge I would accumulate if I read up on all of those specific things. (I haven’t – but just writing down these references have added to my cultural knowledge). 

The Sunday Philosophy Club

 

4. It Makes You A Better Person (Or gives you an opportunity to be so)

Reading in a foreign language means getting a foreign perspective. Did you know that Winston Churchill who is a hero from British Perspective is actually bit of a villain from an Indian perspective? One man, two views. 

The same thing would apply to Christopher Columbus, who may have discovered new land for the Europeans to get rich on, but who ruined things for the Native Americans. 

Reading those original texts gives you a perspective that broadens your world, and your thoughts. It makes the world more grey, and that can be difficult. But it’s important, because by considering those differences, perhaps you wouldn’t be too quick to make judgements or decisions that may affect lives of others. 

 

Do you read in other languages? Share your answers in the comments below. 

 

 

 

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