Monday, 22 June 2015

How to read

Vetch unfolds its story in its own time.

How to read Nick Hornby
But I do not wish to produce prose that draws attention to itself, rather than the world it describes, and I certainly don't have the patience to read it. (I suspect that I'm not alone here.
That kind of writing tends to be admired more by critics than by book-buyers,
if the best-seller lists can be admitted as evidence: the literary novels that have reached
a mass audience over the past decade or so usually ask readers to look through
a relatively clear pane of glass at their characters.)

I am not attempting to argue that the books I like are 'better' than more opaquely written novels;
I am simply pointing out my own tastes and limitations as a reader.
To put it crudely, I get bored, and when I get bored I tend to get tetchy.
It has proved surprisingly easy to eliminate boredom from my reading life.
And boredom, let's face it, is a problem that many of us have come to associate with books.
It's one of the reasons why we choose to do almost anything else rather than read;
very few of us pick up a book after the children are in bed
and the dinner has been made and the dirty dishes cleared away.
We'd rather turn on the television. Some evenings we'd rather go to all the trouble of getting
into a car and driving to a cinema, or waiting for a bus that might take us somewhere near one.
This is partly because reading appears to be more effortful than watching television, and usually it is; although if you choose to watch one of the American HBO series, such as The Sopranos 
or The Wire, then it's a close-run thing, because the plotting in these programmes,
the speed and complexity of the dialogue, are as demanding as a lot of the very best fiction.
One of the problems, it seems to me, is that we have got it into our heads that books
should be hard work, and that unless they're hard work, they're not doing us any good.
I recently had conversations with two friends, both of whom were reading
a very long political biography that had appeared in many of 2005's 'Books of the Year' lists.
They were struggling. Both of these people are parents - they each, coincidentally,
have three children - and both have demanding full-time jobs.
And each night, in the few minutes they allowed themselves to read before sleep, they ploughed gamely through a few paragraphs about the (very) early years of a 20th-century world figure.
At the rate of progress they were describing, it would take them many, many months
before they finished the book, possibly even decades.
(One of them told me that he'd put it down for a couple of weeks, and on picking it up again
was extremely excited to see that the bookmark was much deeper into the book
than he'd dared hope. He then realised that one of his kids had dropped it,
and put the bookmark back in the wrong place. He was crushed.)
The truth is, of course, that neither of them will ever finish it - or at least,
not in this phase of their lives.
In the process, though, they will have reinforced a learned association of books with struggle.
I am not trying to say that the book itself was the cause of this anguish.
I can imagine other people racing through it, and I can certainly imagine these two people
racing through books that others might find equally daunting.
It seems clear to me, though, that the combination of that book with these readers
at this stage in their lives is not a happy one.
If reading books is to survive as a leisure activity - and there are statistics that show
that this is by no means assured - then we have to promote the joys of reading,
rather than the (dubious) benefits.
I would never attempt to dissuade anyone from reading a book.
But please, if you're reading a book that's killing you put it down and read something else,
just as you would reach for the remote if you weren't enjoying a television programme.
Your failure to enjoy a highly rated novel doesn't mean you're dim –
you may find that Graham Greene is more to your taste, or Stephen Hawking, or Iris Murdoch,
or Ian Rankin. Dickens, Stephen King, whoever.
It doesn't matter. All I know is that you can get very little from a book that is making you weep
with the effort of reading it. You won't remember it, and you'll learn nothing from it,
and you'll be less likely to choose a book over Big Brother next time you have a choice.
'If reading is a workout for the mind, then Britain must be buzzing with intellectual energy,'
said one sarcastic newspaper columnist: 'Train stations have shops packed 
with enough words to keep even the most muscular brain engaged for weeks.
'Indeed, the carriages are full of people exercising their intellects the full length of their journeys.
Yet somehow, the fact that millions daily devour thousands of words from Hello!, The Sun,
The Da Vinci Code, Nuts and so on does not inspire the hope that the average cerebrum
is in excellent health. It's not just that you read, it's what you read that counts.'
This sort of thing - and it's a regrettably common sneer in our broadsheet newspapers –
must drive school librarians, publishers and literacy campaigners nuts.
In Britain, more than 12 million adults have a reading age of 13 or less,
and yet some clever-dick journalist still insists on telling us that unless we're reading
something proper, we might as well not bother at all.
But what's proper? Whose books will make us more intelligent? Not mine, that's for sure.
But has Ian McEwan got the right stuff? Julian Barnes? Jane Austen, Zadie Smith,
E.M. Forster? Hardy or Dickens?
Those Dickens-readers who famously waited on the dockside in New York 
for news of Little Nell - were they hoping to be educated?
Dickens is literary now, of course, because the books are old.
But his work has survived not because he makes you think, but because he makes you feel,
and he makes you laugh, and you need to know what is going to happen to his characters.
I have on my desk here a James Lee Burke novel, a thriller in the Dave Robicheaux series,
which sports on its covers ringing endorsements from The Literary Review, The Guardian
and The Independent on Sunday, so there's a possibility
that somebody who writes for a broadsheet might approve.
Any chance of this giving my grey matter a workout?
How much of a stretch is it for a nuclear physicist to read a book on nuclear physics?
How much cleverer will we be if we read Of Mice and Men, Steinbeck's beautiful, simple novella?
Or Tobias Woolf's brilliant This Boy's Life, or Lucky Jim, or To Kill a Mockingbird?
Enormous intelligence has gone into the creation of all these books,
just as it has into the creation of the iPod, but the intelligence is not transferable.
It's there to serve a purpose.
But there it is. It's set in stone, apparently: books must be hard work,
otherwise they're a waste of time. And so we grind our way through serious,
and sometimes seriously dull, novels, or enormous biographies of political figures,
and every time we do so, books come to seem a little more like a duty,
and Pop Idol starts to look a little more attractive. Please, please, put it down.
And please, please stop patronising those who are reading a book - The Da Vinci Code,
maybe - because they are enjoying it.
For a start, none of us knows what kind of an effort this represents for the individual reader.
It could be his or her first full-length adult novel; it might be the book that finally reveals
the purpose and joy of reading to someone who has hitherto been mystified by the attraction
that books exert on others. And anyway, reading for enjoyment is what we should all be doing.
I don't mean we should all be reading chick-lit or thrillers (although if that's what you want to read, 
it's fine by me, because here's something else no one will ever tell you:
if you don't read the classics, or the novel that won this year's Booker Prize,
then nothing bad will happen to you; more importantly, nothing good will happen to you if you do);
I simply mean that turning pages should not be like walking through thick mud.
The whole purpose of books is that we read them, and if you find you can't,
it might not be your inadequacy that's to blame. 'Good' books can be pretty awful sometimes.
The regrettable thing about the culture war we still seem to be fighting is that it divides books
into two camps, the trashy and the worthwhile. No one who is paid to talk about books for a living seems to be able to convey the message that this isn't how it works,
that 'good' books can provide every bit as much pleasure as 'trashy' ones.
Why worry about that if there's no difference anyway? Because it gives you more choice.
You may not have to read about conspiracies,
or the romantic tribulations of thirty-something women, in order to be entertained.
You may find that you're enthralled by Antony Beevor's Stalingrad,
or Donna Tartt's The Secret History, or Great Expectations.
Read anything, as long as you can't wait to pick it up again.
I'm a reader for lots of reasons. On the whole, I tend to hang out with readers,
and I'm scared they wouldn't want to hang out with me if I stopped.
(They're interesting people, and they know a lot of interesting things, and I'd miss them.)
I'm a writer, and I need to read, for inspiration and education and because I want to get better,
and only books can teach me how.
Sometimes, yes, I read to find things out - as I get older, I feel my ignorance
weighing more heavily on me. I want to know what it's like to be him or her, to live there or then.
I love the detail about the workings of the human heart and mind that only fiction can provide –
film can't get in close enough. But the most important reason of all, I think, is this.
When I was nine years old, I spent a few unhappy months in a church choir
(my mum's idea, not mine). And two or three times a week, I had to sit through the sermon, 
delivered by an insufferable old windbag of a vicar.
I thought it would last forever, and sometimes I thought it would kill me - that I would,
quite literally, die of boredom. The only thing we were allowed for diversion was the hymn book, 
and I even ended up reading it, sometimes.
Books and comics had never seemed so necessary; even though I'd always enjoyed reading
before then, I'd never understood it to be so desperately important for my sanity.
I've never, ever gone anywhere without a book or a magazine since.
It's taken me all this time to learn that it doesn't have to be a boring one,
whatever the reviews pages and our cultural commentators tell me;
and it took the Polysyllabic Spree, of all things, to teach me.
Please, please: put it down. You'll never finish it. Start something else.

Nick Hornby. 'The Complete Polysyllabic Spree', by Nick

Introduction to Turbo Charged Reading YouTube
A practical overview of Turbo Charged Reading YouTube 
How to choose a book. A Turbo Charged Reading YouTube
Emotions when Turbo Charged Reading YouTube
Advanced Reading Skills Perhaps you’d like to join my FaceBook group ?
Perhaps you’d like to check out my sister blogs:         gives many ways for you to work with the stresses of life               which takes advantage of the experience and expertise of others.         just for fun.

To quote the Dr Seuss himself, “The more that you read, the more things you will know.
The more that you learn; the more places you'll go.”

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