Tag Archives: Reading

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. 

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. 

 

 

 

5 Ways to Experience Life-Giving Power of Literature

 

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When I look back, I am so impressed again with the life-giving power of literature. If I were a young person today, trying to gain a sense of myself in the world, I would do that again by reading, just as I did when I was young.

– Maya Angelou

 

Maya Angelou passed away recently, and left behind a legacy through her literature. This quote above has always resonated with me, because I have been through it. I have experienced it. 

Literature has been my teacher. It has, for a long time, been a way through which I make sense of the world. By literature, I mean both fiction and non-fiction, plays and poetry. I mean, the books I have read, and the stories I have loved, and the characters I have rooted for. 

Literature has life-giving power, because literature is unique bites wrapped in universal themes. Good literature, connects with us on a human level. We can relate to it, whether because of the experiences we’ve had, the emotions we’ve felt, or the dreams we’ve dreamt. This connection tethers us to the world around us. It gives us something to hold on to. It gives us the ultimate hope that every soul needs: you are not alone.

 

Five Ways to Experience the Life-Giving Power of Literature

1. Read Regularly

This is a no-brainer, yet most people don’t do it. They save the reading for an annual summer vacation. You need to read. I’m not saying you need to become book-a-holic (though as far as addictions go, I like this one), but you could make reading a regular part of your life. When you have downtime, instead of always vegetating in front of the TV, open a book some time. 

An average adult with a full-time job, spouse and kids, should at least be able to finish a book a month. That’s mere 12 books a year. If you are doing more, great. But if you are doing less, then start with this simple goal of reading one book per month. 

2. Experiment

You are entitled to read whatever you like. I mean it. But don’t just rule out things before you’ve tried them. If you have always read only thrillers, or only romance novels, or only fantasy – try something else. For every 5 fantasy (or your preferred genre) books, read 1 book from another genre, or a play, a book of poems, or even a non-fiction. Broaden your horizons. Become an eclectic reader. 

There are good stories being told in countless ways, in nearly every different area. Sometimes, you learn more by visiting foreign lands, and the same thing applies to reading books that are foreign to you. 

The key to experimenting successfully is to start with tried and tested. When you try a new genre, go with the best in that field, so that even if you don’t like it, you know you tried with good quality material, as opposed to some random trash that even lovers of that genre don’t read. 

It shouldn’t need to be said, but I will say it anyway: don’t just give up after one try. If you tried horror and absolutely hated it, fine. Pass. But then try another genre. Don’t return to your cocoon of fantasy after one tiny step out of Hogwarts or Middle Earth. 

3. Talk About Books 

Reading books is great, but when you get to discuss them with like-minded people, it is both a pleasure and an activity for broadening your mind. Did they get the same thing as you from a particular book? Or was their experience different?

Was it different because you both lead a different life? Are you able to see from their perspective or you have no idea how could they have possibly found Frodo endearing? 

Discussing books is a way to mine deeper into the material. If you don’t know anyone who likes talking about books, that’s not even an issue these days, because you can join in online discussions forums. Go on somewhere like Goodreads, and you will find plenty of people who share the same taste in books as you do.

4. Keep A Reading Journal

Keeping a reading journal is about connecting deeper with your reading. Do you read books, and just forget about them? Or do you like something, but are you at a loss to  figure out what you liked, or why certain character appealed to you? Or perhaps you just want to remember the name of the book you read, or the author, or  your favourite character. 

A reading journal helps you do all that and more. Keeping a reading journal is like having a book club by yourself. You can keep track of your reading, your changing taste in material, and your ability to discover personal meaning through texts. You can also use it for scholarly pursuits of dissecting and analysing texts. 

5. Create/Participate in A Reading Challenge

Reading challenges help, because you have a target. There are all sorts of challenges online. Or you can just create your own. Whether you want a challenge of reading 12 books in 12 months, or a genre challenge…whatever it is, you could use it as a way to consciously become a better reader.

Follow above five steps regularly, or even some of them, and you will begin to feel the life-giving power of literature. 

 

 

Reading As A Social Activity

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 image by pedrosimoes7

 

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 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 a 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 an 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 world – an ideal solitary retreat, and an 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

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image byFrogglin

 

“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 Reading Time:

 

  1. Always have a book (or e-book) on you.
    This seems obvious, but this is where 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 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 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 reading habit in your children from an early age.
  6. Treat yourself to a good cup of coffee/tea + 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 audio books.
    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 in there. Use it well. 
  14. Read aloud to/ listen to your partner/friend.
    If you have a partner/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.

 

 

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 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?

 

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 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.

Book Review: Lexicon by Max Barry

 

NO SPOILERS!

I haven’t reviewed books on Kaizen Reading 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.

 

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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 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 – FIVE STARS ABSOLUTELY!! Buy this book, and start reading it straight away.