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thoughts on reading

Updated: Apr 14, 2021

It is strange to me now that at one point in my life I shied away from books, the hangover from that period showing up when I find myself tripping over words, words eluding me, unable to articulate what I wish to convey. I am dyslexic and do not really think in words; each time I speak or write it feels like my thoughts must go through some translation process to be expressed in words. It can be frustrating and even now, at 32, I am very aware of having a slower processing of words, finding it easier to express myself through writing than conversation for being able to take my time. We can not know how it is for someone else in their body, but I do love asking, how do you think? Do you think in words? For example when I ask you to think of the months of the year, what do you "see" in your head? Go ahead, pause, take time to notice what you do "see".

I do however feel grateful in knowing both sides of that coin: struggling to make sense of words, and loving reading. I appreciate the understanding it has given me and the humble knowledge of not knowing what internal struggles others are living with.

My joy in reading now, has been a road of determination, ending in utter delight. Gosh how I remember reading the first page of The Lord of the Flies at 16, resulting in me throwing the book down in frustration struggling so much to read the words that the picture was unattainable to me. I am aware now as I look back, of the defences I created around my pains: making fun of those at school who read the Classics, declaring how dull and dry they were. You only need to read a Dickens to see how wrong I was. I feel ashamed to have put my frustrations on others in that way, but I see it now as a teenage defence mechanism.

Deep down I craved to know these worlds. Luckily one book changed it all for me: To Kill a Mockingbird. It was the first Classic I read. Yes I had read other books but anything that was deemed a classic or noteworthy daunted me. To Kill a Mockingbird I read within three days, and above all else I understood it, and in that the dawning realisation that classics are so, not because they are pretentious stories wrapped up in obscure language, but, because they are darn good stories which stand the test of time. In accomplishing this one book I felt with a little effort I could read whatever I wanted. Not knowing where to begin (as much as I love book shops, they still daunt me, how do you even begin to choose?) I literally logged on to my university website, and although being a science student, I accessed the English departments reading list for first year students; there I found Orlando..

A month or so ago I was listening to Radio 4's Start of the Week, the subject for the day being The Pleasure of Reading, with the main focus on Virginia Woolf and a philosopher I had yet to come across, Jacques Derrida. The discussion was based around what it means to oneself to read, and whether the meaning of a book comes from the author or the reader themselves. It tapped into some discussions I have had before with friends around the use of books within self discovery and self growth. I remember being taken aback by one such friend who didn't carve out that much time for fiction books, favouring to quench her amazing thirst for knowledge by concentrating upon non-fiction, factual based, self discovery books. I take this route often myself but can not deny the wealth of knowledge I have gained from reading 'stories', and particularly the knowledge I have gained in coming to know myself.

The knowledge I speak of here is not that of the world around me, but the internal insight into how my mind works and perhaps the conditioning which has been layered upon it from the upbringing and society I have been exposed to.

To lift from the mentioned podcast, they speak of how a book can spring up a beautiful cathedral within the mind and, referring more to Derrida's approach, it can be asked 'why a cathedral, and why that cathedral? Why not a Mosque?' When we read, how we form the story in our mind is very much a meeting of both the authors ideas and of us. This means that each time we read a book we learn something more of ourselves, and of course where we are in this moment of time. To read a book now that I read at 18, chances are the effect would be that the same story is not constructed within my mind. A point Woolf made herself, even saying that in recollecting a story later in life it may return to us in a completely different way, down to of course our own personal growth.

There are of course books out there that are just plain stories, "trash" or "rubbish reading" as Woolf referred to them, but not in a degrading term. More stories which will not 'add' to you within life, but are pure entertainment, and I love the use of the word 'sensual' in Woolfs description of such books.

However the books that do reshape us, we can watch how the mind reacts when we are challenged by what we read, or even at which points do we find ourselves challenged? When you formulate an impression of the story you are actually holding up a mirror to your ego, your self. Just as it is on the yoga mat: we push, provoke, we challenge, in order to gain an understanding to our inner workings.

Each time we gain insight into the self we create a bigger pause in our reactivity, become a more grounded person who can recognise the pulls of the life around us, being able to discern more what truly matters and what information we should be consuming.

From this, my intentions are to create a, hopefully, monthly post, sharing with you some of the books in life which have stayed with me and caused my mind to reshape how it thinks and how I may perceive the world. The ideas are still formulating I my head around this, however I do know that it will not be so much of a book review but more, as I say, a sharing and hopefully in some way a discussion around the effects these books can have.

My hope if to move away from the tool of Social Media to keep those who wish to read what I say here updated, and so, for anyone wishing to follow along with what is being said on these pages I will be creating a mailing list you can sign up to, which you should find on the home page soon.

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