Tuesday, October 2, 2012


This is the 4th post in the series "A CASE FOR READING....".

"I have always been a reader.
As a child I was always in the middle of a book. I just loved the act of reading. And when reading was unacceptable, say, at the dinner table, or impracticable, like in the shower, there were always the words on a ketchup or shampoo bottle upon which to focus my attention. It often didn’t even matter whether the words were once upon a time or sodium laureth sulphate. They served as a distraction: for however long I concentrated on them I would forget about the world around me.
The real escape, however, would occur after lights out when, night after night, I would reach for my torch, tent myself under the duvet and find - or rather lose - myself in fictional worlds. In a childhood which was far from idyllic, these worlds – whether better or worse than my own – were not only comforting, they were crucial.
And now, decades later, they remain as necessary as ever. And not just as a means of retreat from this world and its imperfections but also as a lens through which to see it more clearly, or indeed as a mirror in which to get a better look at myself, ourselves.
No-one, of course, would deny the power of classic literature in this regard. But what of contemporary fiction? Is it worthy of our time and attention?
Somewhat predictably perhaps, my response is yes. In this media-addicted, celebrity-obsessed world, good literature provides not only an oasis from but an antidote to the shallowness and asininity of much of contemporary culture.
We live in a world where our ever-decreasing attention spans seem increasingly to dictate how we spend our leisure-time: surfing the internet, flicking through TV channels, glancing through magazines. Even the verbs in that sentence resonate with non-commitment and disinterest. Read, then, as a bulwark against the daily deluge of soundbites, tweets and texts. The pleasure derived from immersing oneself in a good story will last long after the last page. It’s been a year, for example, since I read Rohinton Mistry's 624-page Indian epic A Fine
Balance but elements of his tale still haunt me.

We live in a world where language is no longer sacred, where words are solely used in the service of advertising or as vehicles for appalling plots in appalling potboilers. Read, then, for the sheer beauty and possibilities of language. Relish every word, every turn of phrase in The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy, savouring it all the more in the knowledge that the author never wrote another novel.

Not only are plots often as thin as the paper they’re written on, so, all too often, are the characters. But there are, thankfully, authors whose creations are so vivid, so complex, that they will, by turns, infuriate you and endear themselves to you. Read, then, to encounter such characters, and find yourself reflected in them. You don't have to have read Virginia Woolf to appreciate the depth of emotions experienced by the three female leads in Michael Cunningham’s splendidly lyrical The Hours.
We live in a world dominated by Hollywood, where ideas and narratives are recycled and reused in order to make a quick buck. Films are made and remade, and novels are never published without the possibility of a film somewhere down the line. Read then, to discover something original, for the joy of what-happens-next? Pick up a book about which
you know nothing, like I did with The Other Hand (also published in some countries as Little Bee). The back of Chris Cleave’s second novel says it all: ‘We don't want to tell you too much about this book. It is a truly special story and we don't want to spoil it.'
There are many more books I want to tell you about but I would rather let you discover what’s out there for yourself. The next time you're looking for something to read, think about reading someone who is still writing today. Maybe consider a novel set in a country you know little about, or on a theme in which you've never taken an interest before. Settle yourself in and enjoy that on-the-verge-of something-new feeling that you only experience as you begin the first chapter."
THISWEEKWITHTHEKIDS~ choose to make another visit to your local library, or if you're lucky enough to have a good second-hand book shop nearby, spend a few hours reading and browsing. As a family we do this each year when camping as there are 2 great second-hand book shops close by. I like the suggestion to read the work of an author still alive, or an a theme that you know little about. I agree that it is good to read outside your own experience.

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