Blog 2 Feb 2018
BOOKS: The Gift of Reading
What sensations course through you when you reach for a new book? What treasure lies within?
Reading confronts us with ideas, propositions and positions we agree with, oppose or never contemplated in a safe and non-aggressive manner. We have the time to mull over views we don’t agree with or never even thought of. This means of facing topics, without the pressure of engaging an actual interlocutor whose argument might incite or offend us, provides us the space to calmly and thoroughly study our own stance. We can then change, reject, retain or modify without losing face.
Such engagement is an important opportunity and a luxury to have at our disposal because of the resulting understanding of things we may never have personally encountered but of which we have now gained some insight.
The range of feelings and vicarious experiences we can tap into through reading is limitless. Once I began reading as a very young child, I knew I would never give it up. There is so much to learn, so many people to inhabit, so many places to visit. Fiction and non-fiction are both important. Each in its own way helps me grow and find fodder for thought and analysis.
Far too late in life, I began to keep a reading list: those I’ve read and those I wish to read. In recent years, due to several projects I’ve been working on, my reading has suffered. Normally, on average I read two books in a week or ten days. At this time, I am not at all near this number. It grieves me. I don’t feel whole without having read several books a month.
What I am happy about is keeping a list of what I have read. In the old days, I could remember titles and authors. I no longer have instant recall for this so, my list is handy. For books I particularly recommend, continue to Books. Take the Prism Questionnaire on reading.
In spite of its being such a prevalent activity, reading, of course, is a rather late comer to storytelling. The oral tradition preceded written storytelling by millennia. This tradition persists in many cultures, particularly those where literacy is not widespread. It is thought to be one of the first cultural recreations in the community where gossip and information were passed to every member for entertainment or protection and so on.
However, even in literate communities the world over, oral, communal story telling continues to be practiced. Many cultures designate an official storyteller for the group, such as a griot, who is responsible for recounting the history, lineage, mores, and so on, of the people.
I find it interesting to note that very early on, after early peoples invented writing systems, and even before writing left the cloisters, it was predicted that this would be the end of community and memory. I believe that to a large extent, this has happened. It is the proliferation of book clubs that has, in a small way, contributed to the preservation of the sense of community within the larger society. Few could argue, however, that our memories are as tenacious as those of the storyteller, unlettered though the person might have been, who could memorize entire stories of hundreds of pages when put on paper; Homer and his Iliad and Odyssey, for example.
The engrained memory of listening and recounting stories plays a role in why we love to tell stories, read them or be read to. At every author’s event, the writer is asked to read a passage. The audience listens enthralled and bursts into applause when the passage concludes. Storytelling is a communal pastime uniting disparate people in the thrill of like communication with those around them: those in their “small community.”
For most of my life, I would never stop reading a book before the end. Recently, however, I am able to do it without guilt. Life is too short to continue reading a book that is poorly written or that holds no interest for me. Still, it’s not easy for me to give up on a book.
One obstacle to abandoning a book was feeling that this was an insult to the author. After all, writing is a difficult, time-consuming craft. To prematurely close the cover on a book would be akin to slamming a door in the author’s face. Perhaps, I suffered from too much respect for the written word, the effort and hopes of the author to succeed. My respect of the material fact of books extended to never creasing the spine, never folding down the corner of a page as a bookmark, never writing notes in the margins to the extreme of not writing my name on the flyleaf. I wanted the book to remain as pristine as possible out of respect. Reverence could be a better word. Notes, if any, were made on a separate sheet of paper.
Times have changed over the years. There were many years when I could remember so much of what I read – elements that are taken for granted by readers: characters, quotations, imagery, striking metaphor and simile. My recall is reaching the end of its shelf life, so to speak. I so admire the good, careful, deep reader with the ability to remember passages and quote poetic phrases. I remain able to recognize beautiful writing and that makes me happy.