Firstly I would like to apologise for the fact that I have not been posting much recently, I have had some interesting but not unwelcome change of circumstances out in the real world and have been somewhat on the busy side, I have also been hit with reader’s block to a certain degree and until recently have barely been able to get through a page. Anyway this isn’t a diary about me this is about the books I’ve read. As you might have guessed I have not really had the time to do much reading. I do however have a list set up of the books I would like to get through and post on here (which I will).
Here is my list of books I will be going through, I have already read one of them.
The Castle by Franz Kafka
The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa
Hopscoth by Julio Cortazar
The Hour of the Star by Clarice Lispector
King Solomon’s Mines by H Rider Hagard.
Now I’ve picked The Hour of the Star as it is one of Clarice’s works of which I would naturally like to get through and Kafka because outside The Trial and the odd short stories I have actually not read a lot of his work. Hopscotch because it is known as a piece of work that takes a different route to how a book should be read. I have also picked The Memory Police and King Solomon’s Mines purely because they are from different cultures and worlds to what a working class Welsh man in 2020 is accustomed to.
As much as I like to stretch my horizons when it comes to reading works of certain authors and genres I am fully aware that there are some I have missed completely and some that I focus too much on. I will try to rectify this however, I cannot promise anything and I don’t want to promise something of which I cannot keep.
Eventually I do want to focus on short stories from authors and will write individual posts on individual stories from wider collections and volumes. This is because it would also be quicker for me to get a post out there and will also help when I get the odd bout of reader’s block.
Poetry is an art form I’m embarrassingly not too familiar with, I know little about the technical terms used to construct a poem, I never liked studying them back in my school days. I like more famous poems like If by Kipling and a few others but I have no idea how the likes of Ibsen for example influenced poetry. There is one poet however, that I adore, not just her poetry but her as her person and the story of her life. I am of course referring to the American poet Emily Dickinson from the commonwealth of Massachusetts .
In her lifetime (1830-1886) she would live through the United States expanding westward and the American Civil war, yet as far as we are aware she rarely left Amherst where she lived only ever venturing to Boston, Philadelphia and Washington DC and rarely leaving the family home. Despite this her writings and poetry introduced us to a unique style and although she rarely left her home town she definitely understood the world better than people who are well travelled even today.
One of the main reasons that I love Emily Dickinson’s poems is that for the most part they are relatively short easy to follow and understand, and have a personal feel to them, it’s like Emily Dickinson is actually writing to you in particular. Dickinson focuses on the little things and what she has studied and thought is also added in. Emily Dickinson had an interest in gardening, you can see this with some of her poems which have a focus on nature. It’s the personal touch that we see in her poems that I like the most. One of her more famous poems, Poem 288 otherwise known by the first line for example:
I’m Nobody! Who are you! Are you – Nobody – Too? Then there’s a pair of us
How dreary – to be – Somebody How public – like a Frog – To tell one’s name – the livelong June To an admiring Bog!
For me personally and I’m sure for many people out there, the want to be successful and to be recognised as such can cause a lot of anxieties within ourselves. In this poem Emily is telling us ‘oh come on now, you haven’t got it that bad’. Her father of course was a politician who as a so called somebody, would have had a lot of supporters and enemies. Among other things Emily would write other poems on what she thought on fame, she only had a small number of poems published in her lifetime the irony being after she died she would become one of the most famous poets in the English language, the ultimate somebody.
Emily was notoriously known for rarely leaving the family home where she lived. This was especially so in her later life. It is said that she even watched her father being buried (the cemetery being by the house from her window. Though Emily kept herself to herself she was in no way shy as can be seen by her poems and by her letters to her friends and relatives. As a woman from a well off family in the 19th century she relied on her father and later her brother for financial support so the idea that she could do something with her poetry must have felt liberating. Her father made sure she had a good education and she was not afraid to say what she thought. This was especially the case with her brother after it was found out that he had an affair. The affair that Emily’s brother had with Mabel Loomis Todd would cause another conflict after Emily’s death when there was a split between the Todds and the Dickinsons over the publication of Emily’s poems. Many decades later however, Emily would have her place as one of the greats.
Her legacy can now be seen in the fact that she is studied in schools, her poems are still in print and there have been many books written about her as well as the publication of her letters.
More recently there is the film starring Cynthia Nixon, A Quiet Passion (mixed feelings on that one). I know she clearly wasn’t, but I always get the feeling in her poems that she was going across time and writing for me and this has probably how many have felt over time.
Although not entirely, The Death of The Author by Roland Bhartes has influenced how I read. It at least enabled me to look at what is out there and not to discriminate on what to read (I won’t go in too much detail about it here but I highly advise you to read it if you can find it). Although a writer can explain a number of thoughts, ideas and emotions it is up to us as readers on how to interpret such ideas to fully complete and wrap up the work that has been written
With a good book you should be able to easily fall into the world that is being described, you’re relying on every word that’s been written, the characters will feel almost like they will jump out the page, regardless of what is being described. This is what made me love Master and Margarita. This is also why many of us fell in love with the Harry Potter series.
There are a certain number of books that are very much aware of what they are. They know that they are bound codices (just as much as Marvel’s Deadpool knows he’s a made up character). An example of this can be found in ergodic literature.
House of Leaves by Mark S Danielewski is a famous example of such books. This is a collection of notes and writings which include another found collection of commentary on mysterious video footage we never actually see but have to rely on what is being described. There’s an appendix with written letters some one of them in particular is written in a code where once deciphered (using the how to decipher from another letter) gives you a different story to the one that has been presented to you. It reads like you’ve discovered a collective array of documents where you have to look at everything from different perspectives. You have to put your own effort into it to get the full story and the presentation of the narrative is truly unique.
In S by Doug Dorst and JJ Abrhams there is an initial story in what appears to be an old book and then there are the notes written in the book between two people commentating and writing to each other along with the photographs and cut-outs they have each left in the book which tell another story related to the book. What makes this truly fascinating is that the notes are written in pen almost like you’re holding the actual book that is core to the plot with all the scrap bits inside.
Though not quite to the same extent as the above we also have Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov and Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace with their footnotes which add an extra dimension to the stories.
Books that do give extra dimensions to their works are important to the progression of modern reading and I definitely think it’s better to read these types of books in the traditional paper book format. If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller by Italo Calvino starts pretty much by saying ‘Oh hello, you’ve just bought this this book’ and books like The Illuminatus Trilogy and Sophie’s World are very much aware of what they are. There are certain role playing books that work like a game that give you an option of what to do next.
There are particular eBooks and publications that appear exclusively in an eBook format and I think there will be a time where writers will have to take advantage of that fact to increase their immersion. Some are in their own way. The consciousness of what format the story is in will really add to these stories. I am fascinated by the fact that you can read Neuromancer, William Gibson’s cyberpunk story with everything it foresaw on a digital format downloaded via the Internet (the Matrix if you prefer).
Other than the physical consumption of books, what is being written and read and who is doing the writing and reading is always changing, for example when looking at what has survived from the classical Roman and Ancient Geek world (I’ll write a separate mediation on this eventually, if I start here I could digress a fair bit).
The written word isn’t the only way of getting stories across to readers of course. You can be a listener with an audio book. Harking back to the days of the oral tradition. The same can be said when you watch videos on the internet.
There is only so much that can be done with the written word, we are restricted to the vocabulary of the languages that we know and thoughts and ideas can be lost in translation. When reading something that isn’t necessarily in your native tongue you must remember that you are actually reading the work of two writes, the author and the translator. A painting or a work of art can do in a brush stroke what could take pages in a book.
Regardless of how you consume your favourite works as with everything only do it if you enjoy it. If you don’t than stop with whatever it is that you’re reading. There’s nothing worse than treating anything you love like a chore. Never forget when reading a book it is a relationship with you and the author, you are just as essential in getting the most out of the text as is the person who wrote it.
I have not done as much reading recently as I’ve been accustomed to, after a brief hiatus, I’ve been back where I work the past few weeks. I’m counting my blessings though and I know there are many people out there who have been more unfortunate than me and of course there are those remarkable people who have done more work than they have ever done during the current pandemic. As a result I thought I would do something a little different and instead of writing about a book I’ve read, write about reading in general… I’m not quite sure how this will come across but here goes.
We live in a time where we have multiple ways of consuming literature and other forms of media. Reading via a codex of course has been proven successful for centuries in case you haven’t noticed. There has been oral traditions, stories have been written on scrolls, on stelae among others. The Mesopotamians famously wrote on clay tablets, they were some of the earliest known writers and because of the nature of clay we still have what they wrote from general receipts to their grand epics still preserved for the most part and there is undoubtedly are a lot more to be discovered.
The invention of the printing press and more recently electronic and digital media has caused revolutions in how we read, think and look at the world. We must remember that how and what we read hasn’t been consistent for everyone. There are cultural, socio-economic and political factors that have an influence on what people read or can’t read as the case may be. Simply translating works such as the holy books and works of ancient periods to a native language of the reader has also had a significant affect on our world today
If you look at some of my posts you will notice that I often use my Amazon Kindle (other good e Readers are available). When space is at a premium it has proven to be an invaluable object to get access to a wide array of books through an internet connection almost instantly. There is a lot that can be downloaded for free and some that are cheaper than their paper alternatives (while some actually cost more).
There are lot of advantages and disadvantages of an eReader, depending on the brand you get, you can only buy from that particular brand’s store front. The eReaders can vary in price and quality and although all the books stored on a reader can be retrieved on a different reader through your account, it is like keeping all your eggs in one basket so to speak. They also rely naturally on battery power which is generally good for the most part. My favourite thing with an eReader however, with mine in particular at the least is that many have a backlight in them. You can read them in darkness. This is good for me as this is when I do most of my reading.
Another observation is that navigation is definitely different. When I was ploughing through Infinite Jest for example I would bookmark sections of interest on certain pages and write notes on the book marks. Though it is possible to do it on an eReader it is much easier to skim to specific pages through a regular book.
Despite all the flaws however, it is truly remarkable that when you hear about a book on the TV or via the internet that you can get access to it straight away and for self published writers it has proven to be a truly brilliant way of getting your works straight to the hands of consumers and not be limited to if the book sellers want to sell your work let alone getting the attention of a publisher in the first place.
A regular book/codex will all be preferred to an eReader in many respects. It can seem more special owning a book. You can drop them and they won’t break being somewhat durable, you can get them really cheaply, get your favourite authors to sign them and you can lend them out. Art books and prints will naturally be preferred than even something on a high def computer for some people. There is of course the fact that not everybody’s favourite work of fiction has been transferred to digital media.
There are certain species of books shall we say, are not quite suited for the digital format. Many writers with their original styles of writing have created something unique in their styles writing. That have an ergodic style, that take full advantage of what is is to be a book. The meta book. Books that take advantage of it’s format and has been infused by the author with the full awareness of what it is.
In my next post I will elaborate more with examples of such books as well as look at more on how we read our favourite stories.