Tag Archives: Reading

Airports: Gateways to the Romance with the World

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?

 

 

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

 

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]

 

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. 

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.