On reading for wellbeing

Earlier in the year, I thought that doing a PhD, working in 2 casual jobs as well as doing home-family things wasn’t enough so I enrolled my self in a 6 week MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) offered through Warwick University by FutureLearn called Literature and Mental Health: Reading for Wellbeing. The course was on how reading can be a balm, a salve for a variety of mental health problems. Each week addressed a different condition – stress, bereavement, trauma, heartbreak, depression and ageing. The hosts Jonathan Bates and Dr Paula Bates interviewed famous people like Stephen Fry and Ian McKellen as well as not-so famous people (well to me anyway – they might just be UK famous) and there were also set readings (which were not compulsory). Most of the readings were poetry or excerpts so these were easy to get through.  Continue reading

Getting all “Pistols at dawn” over reading

I took Julia Quinn’s The Secrets of Sir Richard Kenworthy to my bookclub meeting on the weekend and it caused a huge argument between myself and another member of the group. When she saw my book she was all: I can tell from the shape of the book that it is a throwaway read; there is nothing to learn from romance; You read it, it’s there, it’s fun but don’t try to tell me that it has the depths of Kundera etc, etc. I’m paraphrasing here. This was from a closecloseclose friend with whom I regularly argue on many issues that affect our lives. I also think she was deliberately riling me as she knows that I jump to the bait or as my dad would say Πεταγεσαι σαν πορδος απ᾽το βρακη/You jump like a fart from undies. It was fun seeing other people around us unsure as to how to react to our shouting. I won’t go into my response or her counter-responses here, (except to say – how can you judge a book purely by its shape? ‘Tis the content not the container!) however, I LOVE and ADORE that it was not the discussion of other reading choices but the reading of romance that brought shouting and dissension. There were fists being shaken to the skies and the thumping of tables and turned heads from all around. If we had white gloves with us, there would have been a duel challenge! The cafe owners, thankfully, did not intervene.

Julia Quinn The Secrets of Sir Richard Kenworthy

Does it really matter which cover and shape I read?

I don’t think enough people get riled up enough over books to have pistols-at-dawn moments. I think this is what I love about some reading arguments (both online and offline). People getting angry over books. People being incensed by what others read, how they read, and where they find meaning. I certainly get incredibly angry at marginalising reading interests, judgmental statements about people’s reading choices, at assumptions of people having a lesser intelligence either because they do not enjoy reading or cannot read, and my blood absolutely boils when reader shaming is bandied about.

A big disappointment for me several years ago was seeing reading evangelist Neil Gaiman talk to a room full of librarians about the power of reading. I had read the transcript several months earlier and in my head I had a powerful, expressive voice driving home the importance of reading. Watching the video, I was crestfallen (and a tad bored). It was all very English and dignified, it was a measured speech completely lacking in any emotion. Some may say that this is how professional, mature people behave when delivering a speech to a room full of other professionals (and they might actually be right). Continue reading

On Reading: The Shelf

Every day and throughout the year, I spend a substantial amount of my time reading about reading. From scholarly articles to academic books to chronicles of reading and reading memoirs. I am going to post a series of short observations on the books (and the occasional articles) that I have been reading particularly reflecting on the presence (or lack thereof) of romance fiction, and on how I feel my perceptions of reading aline with the authors.

The Shelf: From LEQ to LES

The Shelf: From LEQ to LES

The Shelf: From LEQ to LES: Adventures in Extreme Reading

by Phyllis Rose

Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014

In my final post in this On Reading reflections, I explore The Shelf  in which Phyllis Rose decides upon reading every book on a specific fiction shelf (LEQ-LES) in the New York Society Library (NYSL) allowing the library’s arbitrary alphabetised ordering principle (such as I discussed in my last post) to dictate her choices.  I really like the sub sub heading of Adventures in Extreme Reading. Extreme reading, I assumed for the risks the reader takes in serendipitous choice of a shelf that could introduce all manner of wild ideas to the reader. For if this is extreme reading then librarianship by default becomes an extreme profession, one which allows us to venture into readerships unphased and fearless. I also think that this concept of extreme reading is one that we in the library profession take for granted as we have our regulars who often tackle shelves without documenting their progress. Continue reading

On Reading: The Pleasures of Reading

Every day and throughout the year, I spend a substantial amount of my time reading about reading. From scholarly articles to academic books to chronicles of reading and reading memoirs. I am going to post a series of short observations on the books (and the occasional articles) that I have been reading particularly reflecting on the presence (or lack thereof) of romance fiction, and on how I feel my perceptions of reading aline with the authors.

The Pleasures of Reading

The Pleasures of Reading

The Pleasures of Reading: A Booklover’s Alphabet by Catherine Sheldrick Ross

published by Libraries Unlimited, 2014

So far the books I have discussed I found by browsing the library shelves at my university, whereas Catherine Sheldrick Ross’s The Pleasures of Reading led me to them.

 

Catherine Sheldrick Ross is one of “my tribe”. She is a librarian scholar and researcher of readerly people at Western University, Ontario, Canada (well actually, she is a professor emeritus of library and information  science). I first came across Ross upon reading her paper “Reader on Top: Public Libraries, Pleasure Reading and Models of Reading”. Ross, in her paper discusses the child series reader, the romance reader, pleasure reading, reading as a ladder and what I found particularly striking, is the anxiety that librarians feel in promoting reading that is not considered by literary standards to be “the best”. Continue reading

On Reading: Reading the 21st Century

Every day and throughout the year, I spend a substantial amount of my time reading about reading. From scholarly articles to academic books to chronicles of reading and reading memoirs. I am going to post a series of short observations on the books (and the occasional articles) that I have been reading particularly reflecting on the presence (or lack thereof) of romance fiction, and on how I feel my perceptions of reading aline with the authors.

Reading the 21st Century

Reading the 21st Century

Reading the 21st Century: Books of the decade, 2000-2009 
by Stan Persky
published by McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2011.

I should have posted this blog last night. Instead, my son and I had an all out battle on SingStar. We belted out power ballads and I wiped the floor with him thanks to Bonnie Tyler and Queen. In some cases we sang songs familiar to both of us and in other instances we sang songs new to us. What blew me away though was my son singing Naughty by Nature’s O.P.P. The rapping is phenomenally fast in that song. My son has only heard it a couple of times yet he was able to keep up with the text flying across the screen – I could not. Earlier in the day he spent a few hours reading his fifth novel for the summer holidays – Suzanne Collins’s Catching Fire (“it isn’t as good as the first one, mum”). I also know that amongst his feeds and apps he subscribes to daily Sports news (as a teenaged sports nut is wont to do) and SBS News (“you have to have a balanced world view, mum”). He had also watched five episodes of Community with the captions turned on. I consider my son to be an average reader. Continue reading

On Reading: Why I read

Every day and throughout the year, I spend a substantial amount of my time reading about reading. From scholarly articles to academic books to chronicles of reading and reading memoirs. I am going to post a series of short observations on the books (and the occasional articles) that I have been reading particularly reflecting on the presence (or lack thereof) of romance fiction, and on how I feel my perceptions of reading aline with the authors.

Why I read by Wendy Lesser

Why I read by Wendy Lesser

Why I read: the serious pleasure of books by Wendy Lesser

published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 2014

 

In her book “Why I read” Wendy Lesser writes that she has tried to have a broad definition of literature, including plays, poems, essays and novels, “from traditional literary forms to mysteries and science fiction, memoirs and journalism” (p 5). In describing such broadness I was hopeful. A female author, the wave of attention that romance has received over the last five years and a claim to wide reading. However, I was disappointed that, with the exception of a brief mention of fairy tales and the marriage plot (Lesser p37) Lesser does not include any romance fiction in her book. However, she does lauds Henry James’s female characters and says that they “do not come ready-packaged with a character that accompanies them through life, like a kit-bag of charms carried by the generic hero of a fairy tale”. Continue reading

On Reading: What we see when we read

Every day and throughout the year, I spend a substantial amount of my time reading about reading. From scholarly articles to academic books to chronicles of reading and reading memoirs. I am going to post a series of short observations on the books (and the occasional articles) that I have been reading particularly reflecting on the presence (or lack thereof) of romance fiction, and on how I feel my perceptions of reading aline with the authors. 

What We See When We Read by Peter Mendelsund

What We See When We Read by Peter Mendelsund

What we see when we read: A phenomenology with illustrations

by Peter Mendelsund

published by Vintage Books; 2014

I have mixed feelings about the way I read this book. I read it during grabbed moments, between meals (including one I burnt – a good indicator of the level of my engagement with this book yet not so good for the nourishment of my family), on transport, in that half hour in the morning before anyone else rises, rather than immersing myself into it and reading it in a sitting. This has affected the way I have related to the book because it is not a book to be read so haphazardly. It is a book that needs quiet and concentration. Peter Mendelsund is a lauded book cover designer and an associate art director. The New York Times ran an interesting article on him (and this book). I liked Mendelsund’s visual and textual ruminations on reading. His conscious exploration of what it means to be reading, how we view the texts, the images in our mind, the whitespace and ideas that occur on the page as well as the visualisations that the written words create in our own minds. He writes:

All good books are, at heart, mysteries. (Authors withhold information. This information may be revealed over time. This is one reason we bother to turn a book’s pages.) (Mendelsund, 2014, p 122)

Continue reading