Ancient Mesopotamia: Life in the Cradle of Civilization by Amanda H Podany (The Great Courses)

This is different to what I usually write about in that it is about solely an audio book. This is only a brief write up but I want to bring it to your attention none the less.

On my list of audio books on Audible one of my personal favourites is this one which is part of the The Great Courses series of lectures. It tells of the history of the peoples of Mesopotamia including how they lived, their culture and beliefs from the Sumerians to the Akkadians and Babylonians. We learn that they hold the achievement of being the first or at least the earliest known users of a written script and caused advancements in maths among other things. We also learn how this ancient script was deciphered in the more relative modern era along with discoveries and rediscoveries of the civilisations and cities that have been found by archaeologists. We get to learn of such notable people like Sir Leonard Woolley and his discoveries for example.

Unlike history books that can come across as a bit dry or encyclopedia entries that can be a bit matter of fact, Professor Podany puts her own personal touch in the lectures and talks about her own connection with the ancient peoples she discusses. Due to how ancients texts have been preserved (via clay inscriptions) she tells us of information about everyday people other than kings and warriors and such like and how she has felt linked with these people despite being thousands of years away from them. Her passion for her subject is evident in the way she presents.

We also get to hear a little bit about Podany herself and I’m not going to lie I fell in love with her a little bit. Talking about her love for her subject and how she became interested in it. What surprised me was that the student rock band she quit in college to concentrate on her studies became known as The Bangles… as in The Bangles.

This is a superb introduction to the topic and there are many more works from Padany and a number of writers out there so I recommend you give it a look. It’s interesting how although so faraway from us in distance and time and very much so culturally, there is a lot of the familiar about the Mesopotamian peoples.

The Modern Art of Reading (2)

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.

House of Leaves is like coming across somebody else’s personal documents that you have to arrange and put together to get the full story.

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.

In If on a Winter’s Nights Traveller, it’s written as if you are the main character being guided along, coming across stories within stories.

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.

With certain audio books more depth can be added over the standard book

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.