On Reading

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Reading gives us the opportunity to travel to places known and unknown to us, to share in the lived experience of others, to bridge the gaps between generations, to learn about the past in order to better understand the present and prepare for the future. Reading gives us access to information and knowledge. In times of loneliness and hardship reading can provide succour and companionship. Through books we are able to live many lives and extend our own world views. Whenever I’m trying to review a book I’ve always had to pause and reflect more on the book, think deeper about what it is that I think the author is trying to say and what are the issues that the author raised that resonate with me.

Reading books can be pleasurable and at the same time it can become a chore depending on how it is approached. I remember over a decade ago when I set myself a lofty target of reading so many books within a short period of time and before I knew it I realised I was getting worked-up and unnecessarily apprehensive for not reading as many books as I had planned. Then, I also noticed that at times I was reading books at times that emotionally I wasn’t just in sync with them and I lost the pleasure that normally accrue with reading a book or getting to appreciate what a writer is trying to say with those little fonts that manifest themselves as words. At that point I dropped the idea of setting myself any lofty goal of “I have to read certain number of books” by the end of the month. There is nothing wrong with the idea of reading a certain number of books within a particular time frame but setting unrealistic targets is what is what I found out to be my own reading Waterloo in those days.

Don’t get me wrong there isn’t anything wrong with setting such a goal but reading for self-development, personal and intellectual growth, or reading for pleasure as I would prefer to call it isn’t a race and it isn’t about competing with anyone. Rather, it is about improving one’s self. It is about developing intellectually, widening horizon, escapism, living in another person’s world, living in different eras, experiencing different cultures, empathy, transposing one’s self away from one’s immediate environment – that can feel like a little bubble, disquieting or maddening at times; all these reading does  through the pages of books.

As I was saying in two paragraphs above, I dropped those books and I decided to pick up any book that I was interested in and read, and whenever exhaustion knocked on my reading mind and I did not feel the need to read, I left reading and moved on to something else in life. But one can leave reading but reading leaves no one, even those that some people call “illiterate”. I found out I had to I was reading the pulse of the different communities I existed in, and I was still reading business documents for work. I was reading newspaper articles, religious scriptures, and digital words. I read on daily basis but consciously or unconsciously I had cognitively related reading with picking up a physical book and starting from its first page and finishing it at the last page. Hence, due to my inability to complete this physical process, I interpreted it to mean I wasn’t reading. This idea of reading brings me to Daniel Pennac’s 10 rights of a reader, which I still find interesting. However, I think the most disrespectful thing a reader can do to a writer is to wrongfully represent a writer’s view or argument based on what the reader has not read from the writer but attributed to that writer as a result of not reading the whole book while making assertions under the pretence of having read the whole book.

This brings me to some of my e-mail conversations with some authors. I realised in that period that authors are really appreciative of readers that engage with their work, and whenever they get a feedback from a reader they are likely to respond. I remember sending an e-mail to Susan Wise Bauer, an American History Professor and Homeschooling expert. After I had read one of her books – The Well Trained Mind – which she co-authored with her mother, Jessie Wise, I wrote her. In the book they had suggested that one should read aloud to kids even from birth and at that point in time my son would not sit still to listen to an adult reading to him, rather, he would do what an average toddler does – go wandering around the house, creating his own little world that to me as an adult meant – chaos – talk about an inexperienced young parent there. I told her in my email that the boy wasn’t engaging with the reading, and she gracefully replied me and showed appreciation that I read her book and I was using. She encouraged that we continue reading to the boy and that, in as much as he was within the environment that he was being read to, the boy was listening. And her assertion was correct because over time the boy was using words from some of the books, requesting for particular books, identifying shapes and objects based on what he had been read.

Recently I wrote a review on the book “The Power of Reading: from Socrates to Twitter” by Frank Furedi (an Emeritus Professor of Sociology and author of over 14 books). I was sceptical and I wasn’t sure of what his reaction would be – if he gets to see my review – but in the age of internet of things, I didn’t need to wait for so long. I wrote the review, published it here on this website, tagged him on Twitter and tweeted it. Then, the waiting game started. Will he like it or will feel enraged or outraged by it? Some few days later he re-tweeted it.

Then there was the brief mentoring I had from Jim Trelease. He’s the author of the best seller book “The Read Aloud Handbook”. After I read his book and used some of his strategies and I saw how they worked, I wrote him telling him how I’ve found his book useful and in a kind gesture he replied me. And when I decided to design a training manual based on the book I requested for his input, he accepted and actually helped me in vetting the presentation slide, and went further to gift me a copy of his DVD which cost $140.

I remember an encounter I had with an elderly lady, she told me she was 93 years old, at a local library in an English sea town. She told me that due to old age she struggles to read printed books but that she has taken to listening to audiobooks and that audiobook listening gives her companionship in the middle of the night when she could easily have become restless and not be able to sleep. She then went on to tell me about how she used to snuggle books under her blanket to read as a child after light out at home. That’s reading bringing old memories, making a 93 year old person become a child again. That’s reading, the gift that keeps giving. I also remember when I was working in the social housing sector with homeless individuals and I noticed that some of the service users were voracious readers, I then engaged them in a dialogue on – why they read? The general impression and response I got from them was that, reading took their minds off some of their life’s challenges and gives them companionship.

I have come to appreciate reading for pleasure the older I get. I have come to realise that in life few things are certain but only one is definite and that is death. Medical practitioners and people that work in hospitals would probably be able to give anecdotes of patients that took to reading for companionship, solace or hope in their dying moments or periods of prolonged illness. So, what has reading got to do with old age or prolonged illness? Well, let’s look at the narration by Scout on an event that involved her family and Mrs Dubose, an old woman who spent most of her day in bed in “To kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee. And part of the conversation has been written below:

… ‘Atticus,’ he said, ‘she wants me to read to her’.

‘Read to her?’

‘Yes sir. She wants me to come every afternoon after school and Saturdays and read to her out loud for two hours. Atticus, do I have to?’

‘Certainly.’

‘But she wants me to do it for a month.’

‘Then you’ll do it for a month.’…

…Jem re-opened Ivanhoe and began reading. I tried to keep up with him, but he read too fast. When Jem came to a word he didn’t know, he skipped it, but Mrs Dubose would catch him and make him spell it out. Jem read for perhaps twenty minutes…I noticed that Mrs Dubose’s corrections grew fewer and farther between, that Jem had even left one sentence dangling in mid-air. She was not listening.

I looked towards the bed.

Something had happened to her. She lay on her back, with the quilts up to her chin. Only her head and shoulders were visible…

It is obvious that you read because you’re already doing so now, however, this post is about some of my own reflections on reading as an adult. I have come to realise that even though I do not have the money or financial credit worthiness to dream of having a private jet, needless to say buying one; I can dream, hope and acquire any good book that is available out there without much fuss, save my own rants of why is that book £4.99 and not £4. See! Such is how cheap books can be and how cheaper a reader could still want them to be. Perhaps, you are reading this and thinking – well, some people can’t afford that. That is true. But anyone that is book savvy enough will know that book lovers and bibliophiles love collecting books and at the same time gifting part of their collections to anyone that they think would take ownership of those books, and by taking ownership, I mean read the books. More importantly, there isn’t any difference between a new or used copy of any specific book, except their physical state. We only need to look into history to see how reading has influenced people across generations and eras in different societies.

In order to create an environment in which books are discussed for better appreciation, understanding, articulation and curation; Edusounds has launched a monthly online book club. And I would like you to consider some of the benefits involved in the sharing of some of your knowledge with other people. Maybe you love reading or you’re interested in taking to reading as hobby, or reading beyond your professional or vocational interest, I want you to pause and think on how much richer the world could be if you add your unique voice to the body of knowledge out there – by sharing some of your thoughts and engaging with other people in constructive discussions on books. Imagine what can be gained by reading or listening to someone else’s view on a book you’ve read? I think the world would be a better and richer place with it.

Why a book club in this era of digital distraction? With a lot of competing needs in life, it’s easy to neglect reading. How many books have been bought and left on book shelves for years or at times decades without the owner benefiting from the benefits therein in those books. So, this Book Club is an opportunity to get a little bit more organised and set a simple and achievable monthly reading goal. If you struggle with time but commute at least between 20 minutes and 1 hour daily, then I would encourage you to consider listening to audio-books, and if you spend more time commuting then the more time you have at your disposal to listen to audio-books. And if you’re not the one driving while commuting then pick up a physical book, an e-reader or a mobile phone to read from. Remember to always disconnect your phone’s internet connection – if you want to enjoy your reading time and stay focused. And if you can create that space and time on a daily basis to read at least ten pages, then, you will most likely complete a book every month. And if not possible, then try weekend marathon reading sessions or whatever approach that suits you best.

Please feel free to join the Book Club here and you can read more about it here.

Please do not hesitate to invite your friends and loved ones to The Club. Remember, reading isn’t a race, it’s a journey. Stay calm and keep reading. Thanks!

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Thanks for taking out of your precious time to read my article/s!

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