ode to reading
“you must read more novels.
not pleasant stories
that make you forget yourself.
they must be searching,
drastic, stinging, relentless novels”
– Ceridwen Dovey
welcome to an ode
to my favourite pastime.
my professor once told me:
“to be a good writer, you
need to be a good reader”
that same professor also told me
my writing was “unpublishable”
for a long time, i allowed
what my professor told me
to paralyse me on the page.
u n p u b l i s h a b l e
i listened and believed her.
but now i choose
to reject the lie.
i can be unpublishable, but:
i can also be publishable
i can be a good writer
i can be a good reader
i can be
and i can live
in the tensions
in the unknowns
in the uncertainty
of whether or not:
i am worthy of writing
or worthy of reading.
but let’s not make this
a woe about my writing;
this is an ode to reading.
did teach me
that to learn the art of the writer;
one must learn to be a good reader.
welcome to a collection
of my reflections on reading
reading teaches the heart a lesson in listening;
listening to stories, to inner rumbles, to enigmatic expression.
the heart is a memoir, a diary, a collection of truths.
the heart cannot be a mere monologue, a record, a map, to self.
we must introduce self to other.
bibliotherapy is a new concept to me,
the notion of prescribing a narrative as a form of pain-relief,
or to target certain symptoms through stories.
i suppose it makes sense,
to address emotional needs,
whether that be joy or grief.
i wonder if a book is like a soothing syrup,
whether it coats the soul
with a sweet layer of sensory wanderings
to distract and offer temporary relief.
the idea of choosing what we read is quite subjective,
so this form of therapy might expose other alternatives;
the cure might not be something of our choosing.
perhaps a cure is curiosity itself,
being open to the uncertainty of a new read;
a new narrative, a new story,
a new unravelling of thought and self.
interestingly we often read
as though we are searching,
looking for something.
do we read to discover new words, new worlds, new stories –
or do we read to find ourselves in the word, the world, the story?
as a reader, do we possess ownership of our reading –
or as reader, do we surrender to the author’s intention for our reading?
do we draw our own conclusions, opinions, interpretations
– do we possess our own imaginations –
or are we given these, directed to these, by the author’s steering?
do we truly read as seekers?
books are like a
reflection of the world,
or another version of it.
reading is almost
a duty of discovery,
a quest to find out
what other people see.
to enter into a reality
other than our own;
whether that is the
idea of another reality,
or experience of reality.
it all comes back to how
we frame this narrative of life.
“i think of literature… as a vast country
to the far borders of which i am journeying,
but cannot possibly reach. and i have
started too late. i will never catch up.”
– Alan Bennet
there is power in discovery,
in the pilgrimage of the page,
in the neuroscience of empathy.
books can orient us
in the shoes of another,
a Brechtian distancing
from self-seeing to
to think that mirror neurons fire in our brain
to connect our action with another,
our thoughts with another’s thoughts,
our stories with another’s stories.
is this where reading contains
a level of transcendence?
in this sense of ‘Other’,
a voice both foreign and familiar,
that speaks to our collective seeking,
a joint discovery of the narrative of life.
there are brains behind books,
but more, there is heart.
it beats in and through each page,
as we enter not only the entries of an author,
but extend into the crafting of experience.
social abilities are exchanged through the page
as you navigate dialogue and conflict,
character arcs and landscape cryptography.
for Ceridwen Dovey, books:
“give us a chance to rehearse for
interactions with others in the world”.
there is preparations that occurs;
time is spent in this inward, imaginative state of reality.
reading truly does medicate,
for it draws the self to meditate.
a healthy dose of reading ruptures reality;
where thoughts break and hearts ache.
there are plenty of novels
that describe the feeling
– of not being good enough –
and how it interplays
with not feeling loved.
this is a part
of all of our stories
– not measuring up –
this quote sums it up:
“where there is perfection,
there is no story to tell”
– Jessie Stephens
there is an echo, a lie,
that we may be led to believe:
there is something
wrong with me
we search social media, books, movies
to find similarities to our own trajectories
we are afraid
that we are the only ones:
experiencing what we are experiencing
thinking what we are thinking
feeling what we are feeling
if we allow ourselves to believe this,
everything will seem to confirm it.
“books generally just confirm in you what you have,
perhaps unwittingly, decided to do already.
you go to a book to have your convictions confirmed.
a book, as it were, closes the book.”
– Alan Bennett
as is often the case
when we choose
to believe something:
suddenly everything else
serves as evidence
to support our belief
or our theory of self
we are believers
disguised as deceivers
when it comes to reading
we need to be careful
not to only read stories
that confirm our own view
we may look for stories
that resonate with our own
or that validate our
experiences, feelings, thoughts
there is a danger to this
reading is not about us
nor about our stories
when we project our own stories
onto the stories we read:
we dishonour the author and story
when we apply our own
overlay of meaning to the text
without allowing ourselves
to be moulded, shaped,
or challenged by the text
we abuse our power as reader
instead, we need to challenge ourselves:
to read differently, to see differently, to think differently
we need to enter alternative points of view:
that challenge us to weigh up our beliefs and opinions
to confront our existing knowledge and experiences
reading is not
meant to be
an echo chamber
a black hole
into the unknown
it is fascinating to consider the correlation
between reading and experience,
and how formative books can be
in our memory and upbringing.
what are the origins of:
good reading and a love of reading?
does a desire to read emerge
from a mysterious void inside of us?
there is a sense of unknown,
and many unpredictable factors,
that underpin any motivation in life.
there can be an innocence, or ignorance,
that leads up to new possibilities, new horizons.
in a way, books provide this entrance into the new,
as they invite and entice the reader to enter a new world.
the development of a hunger,
or lust, for reading must be fuelled
by this certain curiosity to explore.
“the lust for printed matter
is a biological thing, a visceral
and intellectual necessity;
the urge must be in the genes”
– Alberto Manguel
it may be of use to question the nature
of this “new” if it is self-guided;
if we are the ones choosing the books
(the worlds) that we will brave
is that not our bias again, us applying:
a reading on our reading,
an intention on interpretation.
maybe there needs to be
more ambiguity in this process,
so it is not a selective narrowing.
how can we be exposed
to something truly “new”
something unfamiliar, provoking?
there needs to be a fluidity;
as is the unfixed nature of life,
so should be our flexibility in reading.
there is the notion of the text as a construct,
a result of a multiplicity of factors
– cultural, social, economic, spiritual, etc. –
the shifting and changing nature of culture.
this is not a new dynamic in and of itself,
reading has always been interactive.
reading is not an escape;
but more-so a passageway,
a portal into another world.
readers can meet resistance in themselves
when trying to enter into another’s world.
there is a certain onus on the reader,
as active and creative,
in entering into the story world.
the author cannot claim
authority of their ‘world’
once they have enabled
the free mind of a reader
access into their world.
(to further explore this,
check out my previous post
on ‘the death of the author’)
there is a certain shape and form
that our imaginations can take.
we can experience this phenomenally
pure connection, raw relationship,
with art, emotion, reality, perception.
we can be fascinated by
the world that emerges in a text,
and the creative destruction
that disrupts our sense of self.
a metaphor, a dialogue, a word
can transport us away,
to another place, another world.
do we lose a part of ourselves
when we detach from our own self
and allow ourselves to become
attached to a character, a world, a story;
swept up in another’s storytelling?
the notion of telling and re-telling
is pivotal to story-telling.
there is the idea of resurrection
found in book, in art, in life.
this birthing of story,
this renewal of perspective:
where new life comes from
the destruction or breaking
of past attachments, past selfs,
past ideas, past mindsets,
to the construction, or reconstruction,
that occurs when a new bridge is built.
“your door is my wall;
you wall in my door.”
– Rebecca Solnt
perhaps we cannot fully
enter another’s experience.
in order to choose empathy,
we have to surrender, to sacrifice, to break
from our own self, story, assumption.
we have to allow ourselves
to crumble, to be fragmented.
and as we have discussed,
there is this primate bias we possess,
this desire to read the stories
we already tell ourselves,
and to be in control
of the narrative of our lives.
perhaps there are no
pure intentions or encounters
in reading, in writing, in life.
but only a possibility to cultivate open mindsets
and craft pure, unassuming, curious minds.
when ideas, minds, stories connect
there is a chemistry to be found.
Rebecca Solnt posits that:
“we in the West have been muddled by Plato’s
assertion that art is imitation and illusion”
if art (a book) is created from
experience and emotion
that does not mirror our own:
this introduces the potential
for distortion and distance
perhaps though, this is a tension
we need to probe further:
is this not the inherent nature of art?
the unspoken poetry of story?
art (story) does not have a surface;
there is deception in distortion of depth,
in fragmentation of reality and truth.
all art (story):
copies and re-copies,
creates and re-creates,
extends and expands.
art (story) is more than
illusion and imitation,
it is interpretation.
art (story) taps into intelligence
it is a reflection, a mirror,
of our understanding, and
our ability to interpret the world.
the beauty of the exchange
of writing and reading
if how we adopt another’s
and how this in turn helps us in
our own understanding (world-telling).
the world is full of images and stories,
opinions and understandings.
we better understand the world.
we better understand ourselves.
through reading and writing,
our own images, stories,
takes shape and form.
there is a core drive to share with others
our understanding, our voice, our story.
there is creative expression of experience and insight,
there is new interpretation and reframing of reality.
we breathe life into the shape and form of writing.
“a book is a heart
that only beats in the
chest of another”
– Rebecca Solnt
a text, a book, only comes alive
in the mind, the eyes, of the reader
writing is a form of expression
often, of the unspoken:
of words that cannot be contained
in a moment, a conversation
but can only be framed on a page
“the shared solitude of writing:
is it that separately,
we all reside in a place
deeper than society,
even the society of two?
is it that the tongue fails
where the fingers succeed,
in telling truths so lengthy
and nuanced they are
almost impossible aloud?”
– Rebecca Solnt
there is a need for the page
for extended exchange
but is it an exchange?
that is the question.
there is silence and solitude
in writing and reading.
for the writer,
there may be a sense
of speaking to no one.
for the reader,
there may be a sense of intimacy
as we immerse ourselves in:
relationships that rival our own
soul-whispers that makes us shiver
hard truths that make us fume
there is a coupling
of unseen forces
in writing and reading
books facilitate a
an affair with
a generative warmth
is created and sustained
our own journey
can turn to hope,
and the mundane
there is a certain poetry
to the act of pondering:
reading or writing.
interestingly, our word for poetry
p o i e s i s
is also the greek word for all
the “making” in the world.
Solnt puts it more succinctly
than i ever could:
“making a poem is
like making a chair;
a poem is as real as a chair
and sometimes more useful”
reading is spectating, in a way
– observing a craft –
where writing is trying it out for self
reading and writing
are not just for the mind
they’re also about the eyes
you learn to notice things
you get a sense for other’s feelings
you embrace empathy
there is a correlation between
the art of writing
and the art of seeing
but, once again, let’s not
make this an ode to writing;
this is an ode to reading.
the books that truly speak to us
are a taster, a tempter,
a sample of a deeper-seated emotion:
like licking the finger for the remains of a meal
that contained a certain level of addictive flavour
what we find in these books are stories that capture desire,
giving us a language for our inner yearnings.
when we finish books like these,
we grieve their absence.
we hold onto their presence,
the imprint they made to
in this way, a good reader
appreciates a good book
as an infusion of life.
“the object we call a book is not the real book,
but it’s potential, like a musical score, or a seed.
it exists fully only in the act of being read;
and it’s real home is inside the head of the reader,
where the symphony resounds, the seed germinates”
– Rebecca Solnt
at the risk of this post
becoming a book itself,
let’s start to wrap up
my internal monologue
of philosophical poetry.
we can search for beauty in the seams of books:
but as we encounter the beauty, the stories,
we will find we are still searching for something.
we need to open another seam, one that truly
creates and ruins everything, the seen and unseen:
the Word that transcends all other words
in these seams the psalmist writes of beauty
poetry for the cosmic-lovers who yearn
for a divine love language, a chorus of vows,
a covenant of love, an inheritance into
a beautiful, dangerous, terrifying kingdom
where life is spoken, death is defeated,
and where love is an eternally-binding vow;
a pledge of love that makes anything possible,
a life changing commitment into divine covenant,
for as our heart searches for the one our soul loves,
the one who translates both heart and spirit,
we find ourselves invited into a cosmic love story.
where love defies all lies,
where truth speaks to power,
where we discover that to find
our names in the Book of Life
is to find what we would
otherwise be looking for
for the rest of our lives.
keep reading, friends!