Reading as a social activity

These days, we see reading as an isolated activity. You take a book, retire to your reading nook, and don’t come out for hours. That’s how we see reading. But that’s not entirely true, and it wasn’t always the case.

In the 18th century particularly, reading was a social activity and an important one at that. As periodicals flourished, coffee houses became the places where people would read these periodicals and discuss them with each other. For women (as respectable women didn’t really have a public place for such things) it would be at the home, whether at breakfast table or in the drawing room. Reading was both a social and family activity. 

You would read something, perhaps even read it out loud so that everyone can hear it, and then you would exchange your views on it. It stimulated intellectual conversations. It was an age of enlightenment when self-improvement was a prevalent idea. 

Margaret J. M. Ezell said in her essay, Mr Spectator on Readers and the Conspicuous Consumption of Literature: 

“…Mr. Spectator’s insistence on the public performance of reading in a social environment, whether that setting is a coffee house or a family dining room, which ties it to the older tradition of social authorship. Whether in fact his actual readers did indeed discuss its contents over breakfast, the type of reading he imagines for this format is based on the model of friends circulating manuscripts for other  friends to read, to respond to, to correct, to transcribe and re-circulate texts, an ongoing participatory mode of reading, where all readers are also writers and are also actively involved in the production and distribution of new texts.” [1]

“Compare this to modern patterns of reading. Librarians rigorously enforce the practice of silent, isolated reading practices and panic at the mention of food and drink anywhere near a text; parents insist their children be undistracted while reading and reading at the table is positively anti-social and anti-family; adults read aloud in groups only to those who we feel cannot do so silently for themselves, such as children. Alternatively, we happily pay to sit silently while a professional performer on a stage reads aloud Shakespeare’s sonnets, pretends to be Mark Twain, presents correspondence from famous authors, or monologues from body parts, and we feel no need to respond to the reader or the text until we are safely out of the performance space. Indeed, we are rather alarmed when people who aren’t professional performers don’t read silently in public places: strangers reading aloud or sharing their opinions about their reading marks them as eccentric, ironically, asocial. Likewise, we can use our book or newspaper to ensure a solitary, silent space for ourselves in public when we wish to avoid conversation with another person sitting near us on the subway or in the waiting room. Reading for us functions as a means of creating solitude and passive silence, even in a crowded public space, the antithesis of the reading practices imagined by Mr. Spectator and his creator.” [2]

Yet, we haven’t completely forgotten that reading can be a social activity. Book clubs are evidence of that. The problem is we’ve been out of the habit of seeing reading as a social activity. In most households, entire families don’t read. If you wanted to read the newspaper out loud at the breakfast table, one of your family members would probably tell you to read quietly. It’s the attitude towards reading we need to change. We need to see that reading can still contribute to our intellectual stimulation, and to the betterment of our social lives, that it can elevate the level of conversations and thinking. Reading can be the best of both worlds – an ideal solitary retreat, and engaging social activity. 

Sources:

  1. Page 4, Mr Spectator on Readers and the Conspicuous Consumption of Literature, Literature Compass 1 (2003) 18C 014, Margaret J. M. Ezell
  2. Page 5, Mr Spectator on Readers and the Conspicuous Consumption of Literature, Literature Compass 1 (2003) 18C 014, Margaret J. M. Ezell
 

How to find time to read when you are busy

“I am so busy” – this one phrase pretty much sums up the modern life for most people. You hear it all the time. I don’t have time to do this or that, because I’m so busy.

I know you are busy, but I can assure you that you can still find the time to read. It really doesn’t matter what you do, how many kids you have, how many jobs you have, or if you read slower than anyone else you know – you can still find the time to read. Here are 14 ways to squeeze in some reading time: 

1. Always have a book (or e-book) on you.

This seems obvious, but this is where the majority of people who complain about not having enough time fail. If you don’t have a book on you, you won’t be able to read it during unexpected gaps in your schedule. Everyone has those gaps when you will inevitably end up waiting for something or someone. Use that time to read.

2. Use the commute time.

Don’t let the commute time go to waste by randomly staring at fellow commuters or zoning out. The only reason I used to not-hate my commute by bus was because it gave me a solid hour to read daily (30 minutes each way). Now, as I travel on London Tube (underground), I’m thrilled by how many people read during their commute. Particularly as one of the unspoken etiquette of the tube is to not make eye contact, it’s best to keep your eyes on the book.

3. Read when you are waiting for someone.

You probably have a friend or a colleague who is always running late. Or maybe you are early. Whether it’s for business or pleasure, use the waiting time to read a page or two. You will feel far more productive, and less annoyed about having to wait.

4. Read in your lunch-break.

Okay, you can spend some lunch breaks catching up with friends, but really, they are best used by reading.

5. Create a family reading time.

If you have kids, this should be a MUST. Not only you will find time to read for yourself, but you will also instil the reading habit in your children from an early age.

6. Treat yourself to a good cup of coffee or tea and book time.

Go to your favourite café or tea shop, and treat yourself with a drink, as well as some reading time.

7. Read before going to sleep.

Make it a ritual. Just a page or two before bed to ease into oblivion. Be careful though because it may also end up keeping you up throughout the night.

8. Listen to audiobooks.

If your commute involves driving, or your exercise involves running outside, where you can’t read a physical book, then audio books make an alternative.

9. Read while working out.

If you work out in the gym, or at home on a machine, then you can read while you work out.

10. Schedule daily reading time.

The best way to prioritise reading is to actually prioritise it. Put it on your schedule. Have daily reading time, even if it is only 10 minutes a day.

11. Give up on books you hate.

One of the worst things you can do with your limited reading time is to try to plough through a book you hate. That’s enough to put you off reading. Life’s too short. And your stubbornness is better saved for more important things. 

12. Join a book club.

If you find it hard to discipline yourself or motivate yourself, then join a book club. Talking about a book with like-minded people, or having a collective choice of what to read may just be what you need.

13. Read in the bathroom.

Let’s face it. You are going to spend time there. Use it well. 

14. Read aloud to or listen to your partner or friend.

If you have a partner or friend who enjoys books too, you two can read aloud to each other. It’s a wonderful thing to share. 

Do you have tips for finding time to read? Share in the comments below.

 

Harry Potter exhibition and inspiration from J.K.Rowling

Yesterday, I went to the Harry Potter exhibition at the British Library. As a massive fan of the books, I was immensely looking forward to it.

No photos, as photography wasn’t permitted, but if you are a Harry Potter fan and able to go then I would recommend it.

The exhibition is beautifully curated, and as one would expect from the British Library, very well done. It’s called A History of Magic, and you can see on display, many original manuscripts that relate to the concepts discussed within the Harry Potter books, such as the Philosopher’s stone, a bezoar, potions, and even broomsticks and cauldrons.

Several interactive elements allow the visitor to brew a potion (mine failed, so the Night Goblins are going to continue attacking), read your fortune through Tarot cards, and look into the crystal ball.

There are beautiful illustrations by Jim Kay who designed some of the artwork for the book covers. There was, in short, considerable interesting material.

But my favourites – and the reason I booked this exhibition – was to see J. K. Rowling’s original manuscripts. There was the first page of the synopsis of her first book that she submitted to publishers. There were annotated drafts of printed manuscripts at the editing stage, including some scenes and earlier versions of stories that never made it to the final cut.

There were plot sheets, basically hand-written spreadsheets where Rowling planned out her stories. One page of it from Order of the Phoenix has been well-circulated over the years on the internet. But to see that, and a few others in person was incredible.

There was an annotated copy of the first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone which Rowling annotated with her thoughts on why she wrote etc. to raise money for charity. Only the first page is visible on the display, but I would love to read her annotations in their entirety.

As I went through that exhibit, it became more clear how many years of work went into making this Wizarding World as real as it is, and how much effort and planning and thinking and edits it took to make the stories as rich as they are.

As I looked at the edit notes, I was comforted to see that Rowling also did all the “menial” work as I am doing right now, and which sometimes frustrates me. Having to edit and re-edit, and rethink. Knowing the richness and depth of a story in your own head, but wanting to make it come alive on the page when it just isn’t living up to your standards.

It was a relief, to be honest. It was a feeling of kinship, and of hope. That it’s okay. That while some people may just write pretty perfect first drafts (very few I think), most people don’t, and that it’s okay. It doesn’t mean you suck as a writer. It just means that’s how you work, that’s how you mine ideas, and that’s how you polish.

I wish I had been able to take photos of some of that stuff, just to remind me when I am having doubts. But that’s what this blog post is for. To remember. And to remind the rest of you who may also struggle with that from time to time, when the book you want to write is just isn’t coming together, and when you question whether you are good enough.

Keep writing that story. Keep working at it. Finish.

You can do it.

Whether or not you like Harry Potter is irrelevant. Rowling’s story is that of hard work and grit. And as writers, we can all take inspiration from that.

 

V. S. Naipaul on how to be a good student of English literature

 

V. S. Naipaul is a winner of Nobel Prize in Literature, the Booker Prize. He’s the author of House of Mr. Biswas, A Bend in the River, and numerous other books. Between Father and Son: Family Letters is a poignant collection of letters he exchanged mostly with his father and elder sister while studying at University of Oxford. In one of these letters, he gives advice to one of his younger sisters, Sati, on how to be a good student of English Literature.

It’s a spot-on advice, as valid today as it was then. For everyone who’s interested in not just getting degrees in English, but to really participate in literature, these few words of wisdom could open up a path of great immersion. 

 

English lit. demands more than a mere knowledge of the texts, and a familiarity with the criticism of your text editor. You must do your own thinking about the books you read. Learned criticism is what you need. In other words, if you are studying Milton, get to know something of his life, the temper of the times he lived in, the literary conventions.” 

– Between Father and Son: Family Letters, Pg 186

 

 

In other words, thought is indispensable. You must realise in the first place what the writer set out to do…Having found out the aim of the writer, ponder on the difficulties of the achievement, and then see where he has failed.

– Between Father and Son: Family Letters, Pg 187

 

 

Thoughts on why we read certain books at certain times

Like most book lovers, I’ve piles of unread books. I continuously keep adding to it by buying new books. Realistically, unless I retire and read full time, it seems unlikely that I will be able to read all the books I own in a decade. But we are not going to talk about the book buying…that’s a whole separate issue. What I have been pondering is what makes us pick up one book over another, why I start reading a certain book as soon as it arrives in the post, or even on the way home from the bookstore, whereas others must await their turn for months, years, or even decades? One thing is for certain, there is no logic behind it as far as provable logic goes. So what drives these decision?

This particular pondering started because I just picked out my “Vintage” collection, which I bought almost to the day five years ago. For five years these books have sat on my shelf, looking gorgeous, but I’ve ignored them as I selected other things to read. Oh I have admired them, I have considered reading them, but they never quite made it out of their spot and into my hands. I don’t know why. Just as I don’t know why today this is the collection I was drawn to. 

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There are other books for me to read. In fact, it would make more sense to start reading a second book in The Liveship Traders trilogy, because I recently finished the first book. It would make more sense to finish reading Rousseau’s Confessions that I’m in the middle of. There are a lot of other books that, logically, I should be reading right now. But instead, I took out my collection, intending to read a book by Maugham, and instead started reading The Easter Parade by Richard Yates. I’ve never read anything by Richard Yates. In fact, even among this collection, I should be and am more drawn to Isherwood – whose journals I enjoy – and Maugham, due to his reputation. Yet, they must wait some more. 

I believe that books are like people. Sometimes we meet the right person at the right time and everything falls into place. At other times, the people are right but the timing is wrong and things don’t work out so well. This happens with books too. A right book read at the right time has the power to transform lives. It can offer support, comfort, hope, understanding, a really good cry, fuel dreams, energize, deepen emotional understanding, educate and make you think. The right book at the right time can be a miracle, often a mini miracle, but sometimes a mega miracle. So that’s why when books draw me to them, I listen. When I feel the urge to read something in particular, against all logic, I read it. The stuff that needs to be read will be read somehow. But books that your heart/soul tells you to read…that’s where magic may happen. Sometimes, signals get crossed and it’s just an ordinary book. But sometimes, it’s another alleyway, exploring uncharted territories inside one’s own soul. 

 

Ishmael and the failings of the human race

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I just finished reading Ishmael, a novel by Daniel Quinn, which was recommended to me by Nik Perring (his book Beautiful Words is truly beautiful, and a lesson in how you can say a lot of things in few words). 

This is a philosophical novel. It is dialogue between a teacher and a student, where the teacher is encouraging the student to see through the myths human culture is trapped in. The teacher is a gorilla and the student is a human. It may sound weird, but when you read the book, the concept works. This book was awarded Turner Tomorrow Fellowship Award in 1991, a $500K price, before it’s formal publication in 1992. 

I don’t want to give spoilers, because if you haven’t read it, I would highly recommend that you do. Though published in 1992, it is in fact even more relevant today when we consider the situation humanity, and the planet is in. The dialogue is Socratic, based on logic. And like any logical conclusion, once you figure it out it seems obvious. It highlights the failings of humanity, but more importantly, WHY we fail as a race.

I read about 50% of this book on my kindle while running 17.29 miles over two days on the treadmill. If you have ever attempted to run on a treadmill, you will know that it’s very difficult to stay entertained. I breezed through it, and it was easier than running with music or movies. It’s written in easy-to-read style, not heavy academic/jargony prose. It is basically a conversation between two people, and you can agree or disagree.

It may not change your perspective, it may not change your idea of humanity, but at the very least it will make you think. Perhaps it will encourage you to see things from a new angle. Isn’t that what good books are supposed to do?

 

 

A writer’s diary: Sylvia Plath

image credit

25 February 1957

Ted’s book of poems – The Hawk in the Rain – has won the first Harper’s publication contest under the 3 judges: W. H. Auden, Stephen Spender & Marianne Moore! Even as I write this, I am incredulous. The little scared people reject. The big unscared practising poets accept. I knew there would be something like this to welcome us to New York! We will publish a bookshelf of books between us before we perish! And a batch of brilliant healthy children! I can hardly wait to see the letter of award (which has not yet come) & learn details of publication. To smell the print off the pages!

– Sylvia Plath

 

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.

 

Welcome

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 image by shahidsababa

This blog is about writing. I don’t know what exact focus it will take, but it’s more than likely going to be a mixture of informative posts about writing, about my writing projects, and general writing and reading related chit-chat.

This is the hub for my writer and reader self.

If you don’t know me yet, or if you only know one of my projects, you can find out more on the About page. But as far as online presence is concerned, I run two other websites:

Kaizen Journaling – I teach people how to use journaling for personal development. I’m the founder of Kaizen Journaling Academy, and here Kaizen Warriors learn how to use their ambition, audacity and authenticity to create arsenal for success. This is where you find my journaling ninja self, who knows how to use journaling to improve just about any area of life (or die trying!)

I look forward to getting to know you. 

 

Book review: Lexicon by Max Barry

No spoilers!

I haven’t reviewed books here before, but I just finished reading Lexicon by Max Barry. It’s the kind of book that reviewing on Amazon alone isn’t enough. I want to tell everyone about it. I want to tell people to go and immediately buy this book and start reading.

Therefore, I have decided to review it here. Maybe from now on, whenever I feel particularly inspired about a book, I will include a review.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to include any spoilers. It’s annoying when people just ruin the book you may want to read before you have a chance to decide. So all reviews will be spoiler free.

Image result for lexicon max barry

I came across Lexicon when I was browsing in Barns & Noble in Little Rock, Arkansas. It was a random visit, but the blurb really appealed to me, as did the quality of the reviews on the book.

This is what it says on the back of the book:

Sticks and stones break bones. Words kill.

They recruited Emily Ruff from the streets.
They said it was because she’s good with words.

They’ll live to regret it.

They said Wil Parke survived something he shouldn’t have.
But he doesn’t remember.

Now they’re after him and he doesn’t know why.

There’s a word, they say. A word that kills.

And they want it back…

That blurb wasn’t merely some clever copywriter’s ploy. The entire book matches the quality the blurb promises. It’s a thriller, a suspenseful ride that will keep you turning the pages. It may seem merely a technological thriller, but it’s much more than that. Though at times, it will leave you wondering that yeah everything it mentions is logical.

Barry’s writing is beautiful. Not the kind of beauty that uses big words to bog you down in the language, and leaves you with pages full of blocks of texts. But the kind of beauty that is just pure high-quality writing, while remaining a fast-paced book.

The story is told in third-person from a few different point-of-views, and each point-of-view adds depth. It is genuinely clever, and in no way feels contrived. When you are done with the book, you can see how these events happened the way they did, and how it all makes sense.

The thing that makes this book exceptional is that for all its cleverness, and beautiful language, it still remains a great story. Because that is what fiction is for. To tell good stories. And Max Barry told one hell of a story in Lexicon. A story that will leave you wondering what happens next will make you sad at times, and curious. It will make you ache for some characters, and root for them.

Barry has achieved so much in this book, and one of the greatest is the depth of characters. His characters are people. They are not black and white. They are grey. Like all real humans. When characters become real, so does the story.

As a writer, I also appreciate the skill that went into writing this book and its plotting. Every detail matters. Nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing is without purpose. It’s the type of book where you will likely learn something different the next time you read it.

So if we are to use a start system – 5* absolutely!! Buy this book, and start reading it straight away.