Tag Archives: benefits of reading

The Joy of Words

Well, last week had this in it.

Image: v8.en.memegenerator.net

Image: v8.en.memegenerator.net

For the unclickables among you, I’ll paraphrase the article I’ve linked to above: in essence, a new app is in development which allows people to read at speeds of up to 500 words per minute, mainly due to the fact that you don’t need to move your eyes at all. The app flashes the words in front of you, with one letter highlighted in red (apparently, just at the optimum point in the word for your brain to recognise and process it without even realising it’s doing so), and your eyes remain steady throughout. All you need to do is look at the red letter, and you read the word automatically.

Image: financialanalystwarrior.com

Image: financialanalystwarrior.com

Yeah. I’m with yonder sceptical dog.

The article I’ve linked to has a trial run of the app (called Spritz), and you can see what I’m talking about for yourself. You can also give it a go, and see how it makes you feel. For me, when I got to the 500 words per minute section, I have to admit the letters were zipping by so fast that I did miss a word or two every so often; my brain put together the sense of the sentence, all the same, but it actually felt like more work, to me, than ‘ordinary’ reading. It also made me feel like I’d just stepped off one of these:

Image: zuzutop.com

Image: zuzutop.com

More than that, though, it made me feel a bit sad. Has it come to this, that we’re living in a world where reading is seen as just another chore, something else to plough through at top speed so that we can get back to playing Candy Crush Saga?

I don’t know. Perhaps the app is intended for people who have to read long technical documents, or complicated legal rulings, or government papers, or something like that. I don’t deny the science behind it; certainly, it worked, exactly as it said it would. But it sucked every droplet of joy out of the act of reading, and I think that’s a retrograde step. There was no time to pause, to reflect, to luxuriate in a beautifully constructed sentence; there was no time to appreciate the skill with which the words were laced together. It was like sitting down before a gorgeous meal, prepared with love and care and painstaking effort, and just tipping the whole lot down your neck, oyster-fashion. Not only will you not enjoy the food, but you won’t enjoy the act of eating, either – the two are closely linked.

A lot like the joy of words, and the act of reading. Just in case you didn’t get the metaphor.

Then, I’m speaking as a person who reads quickly anyway, and who enjoys fluency with words. I’m aware that not everyone is like me, and perhaps this app will help some readers who find it hard to get through longer documents; if it’s useful to someone, then it’s to be welcomed, of course. But, to me, reading (for leisure, that is) should be a pleasant and immersive experience, taken at your own pace – whatever that pace may be. It should allow you time for thought and absorption, time to enjoy the words as well as the content.

Or, maybe it’s just my inner technophobe rising to the fore again.

Image: somedesignblog.com

Image: somedesignblog.com

Anyway.

As well as learning about Spritzing, last week was a word-filled one for me in other ways. I spent it glued to the computer going through ‘Emmeline’, making a concerted push to edit it, and repolish it, and finally reach a point where I can say: ‘Yes. This book is ready.’ It had already had five edits before I even began this process, but as late as Friday I was going through it and still seeing extraneous words, unclear descriptions, frankly stupid continuity errors and places where the dialogue could have been sharpened.

It just goes to show that an editor’s job is never done. However, a writer’s job is to get their work to a point where they can say they’ve done their best, and then let their words go. That, friends, is the challenge facing me this week.

Today is the day I start to submit ‘Emmeline.’

Quite. Image: athenna.com

Quite.
Image: athenna.com

I am proud of my work, and I don’t think it’s wrong to say so. I am happy with ‘Emmeline’, I am glad to have written it, I love my characters and I think the story is enjoyable. Now, we’ll see what the publishing industry thinks of it, and I’ll report back to you when I have more information.

If you never hear from me again, you’ll know what happened.

 

 

Reality Check

I’ve written before on this blog of my passion for encouraging literacy, particularly among children; if I had my way, every child on this planet would be exposed to books at as early an age as possible. If there was one thing I could do – given unlimited power and funds – it would be to equip every child in the world with their own mini-library, and with the skills to read it. I truly feel that one of the most useful things we can do for our future generations is to ensure they can read as well as they are able, and that they read as widely as possible.

Of course, there are children who just don’t like to read – that’s sad, but it’s a fact. However, they should, at least, be given the opportunity to read, and encouraged to try, and exposed to as many different types of book as possible, just in case something might engage their imagination and spark off their interest. I have a belief – and it may be a naive and silly belief, but it’s mine just the same – that there is a book for every child.

A sight that gladdens my heart... Image: shannonbrown.typepad.com

A sight that gladdens my heart…
Image: shannonbrown.typepad.com

Yesterday, I had an opportunity to put this belief into practice. I was in a bookshop – one with which I’m long familiar, and which I can never resist dipping into if I’m close enough to visit it – and I was, of course, browsing intently in the children’s section. A young mother approached me, her six-year-old daughter in tow, and asked me my opinion on what she should purchase for her little girl to read.

I’m not sure if she thought I was a staff member, or if it was a case of ‘once a bookseller, always a bookseller’ and she caught the whiff of enthusiastic knowledge from me, but whatever the reason for her question, I was happy to help. I learned this lady was the mother of a ten-year-old, the six-year-old I had the pleasure of meeting, and a four-year-old, all girls. The eldest child was a strong and enthusiastic reader, she told me, but the others struggled. They found it hard to emulate their sister, and found themselves bored by a lot of the books they’d tried in the past. They liked ‘funny’ books, and were growing tired of the princessy-type, pink and glitter books that they had once loved.

I threw my eyes around the shelves, and came up with a few ideas. Andy Stanton’s ‘Mr Gum’ books were my first suggestion, followed by Francesca Simon’s ‘Horrid Henry’ series (enthusiastically grabbed by the six-year-old); for the older girls, I thought of Jeremy Strong’s ‘There’s a Viking in my Bed!’ and the wonderful books of David Walliams, which are funny but also sweet and uplifting, with a comforting focus on love and friendship and family, so important to young readers. I think the lady was touched by my efforts and glad of the suggestions, and I certainly appreciated being asked for help.

Image: waterstones.com

Image: waterstones.com

However, as pleased as I was to have helped these young readers to find something good to exercise their brains, there was one aspect of the situation that has been on my mind ever since, and it centres on the fact that the bookshop we happened to be in was one that deals exclusively in second-hand books. The reason I like to go there so often is because I always find new authors to follow and new series to start collecting, and it’s fantastic to dig around in the piles of books and uncover some lost classics and rarities. It’s also wonderful to be able to pick up a book for less money than it would be if I bought it new – but with a view, always, to purchasing the writer’s back catalogue in a ‘proper’ bookshop if I like what I buy second-hand. I discovered Catherine Fisher this way; I got heavily into Kate Thompson by browsing the shelves of this very shop. The same thing applies to Jenny Nimmo, who I adore, and most of whose books I have subsequently purchased new. Sometimes, I don’t mind buying books second-hand if the author is deceased, or if their work is out of copyright – then, I don’t feel like I’m dipping my hand into a fellow writer’s pocket and taking their earnings from them – but normally I try to purchase books new as often as I can. Not everyone feels this way, for a variety of reasons – some of them excellent, unassailably logical reasons.

The mother of these young readers, for instance, was enthusiastic about second-hand books not because they were a gateway to new writers and their back catalogues, but because of their cheapness and relative ‘disposability’; it’s always easier to give a book away, or not to mind if it gets wet or torn or dirty, if you didn’t buy it ‘new’. I can’t blame the lady for thinking this way – as important as it is for children to read, it’s also important for them to have shoes and clothes and school uniforms and food, of course, and I can completely understand why new books would slide down a parent’s list of priorities. But, as an aspiring writer, I couldn’t help but feel a pang of pain at the thought.

Every book bought second-hand benefits, in financial terms, nobody but the person selling it; the author gets nothing. If a book is borrowed in a library, at least the author gets a tiny fraction of a payment for it. It’s tough, realising that something which benefits readers so much (i.e. second-hand book purchasing) can be such a bad thing from a writer’s point of view, but that is the reality of the world we live in. I do not judge the lady I helped for her choice, particularly because I also frequent second-hand bookshops (though I do try to support the authors I love as much as I can); I just hope that, perhaps, encouraging children to read when they’re young will turn them into not only enthusiastic consumers of books, but also enthusiastic supporters of writers when they grow older, thereby ensuring there will always be a flow of new books to read. I also hate reducing the whole ‘book creation-book consumption’ thing to crass economic terms, but that’s a reality, too. Writers need to earn a living, however meagre, and that’s becoming harder and harder with every passing year.

It’s important to clearly state that of course I believe it’s more important to encourage children to read than it is to ensure they only read from brand-new books – literacy concerns trump all else – but thoughts of ‘what will become of writers?’ have been playing on my mind since my encounter with this lady, nonetheless. I’d love to hear your opinions on this, if you have any. If you buy your books in hard copy, do you like to browse in second-hand shops? What’s your thinking on the economic issues I’ve laid out here? Do tell.

Happy Tuesday! And, naturally, I hope you’re reading, no matter where you bought your book.

It Has Been a Long, Long Time…

So.

This past weekend – which, for my husband and I, comprised Sunday and yesterday as he was working on Saturday – we pretty much had an internet blackout (besides my brief blog yesterday), and we read. He read a book which he loved – ‘The Forever War’, by Joe Haldeman, and I read three books, all of which were utterly unputdownable. My brain feels like it spent the weekend immersed in double cream; this morning, my head is spinning like a drunkard, high on dreams.

It has been a long, long time since I sat up late into the night, desperately needing to finish a book, wiping away tears with one hand and frantically turning the pages of a story with the other. Last night, that’s exactly what happened. Last night, I was reading ‘The Book Thief’, by Markus Zusak.

If you haven’t read it already, then I strongly recommend you drop whatever you’re doing (it couldn’t possibly be as important as reading this book), and get your hands on a copy, and read it. I’ll even allow you to download it to your e-reader, if you must, though I’d much prefer you had it in the flesh, as an object of beauty in your hand. If you have read it, then I’m sure you’ll know what I’m talking about.

Image: tumblr.com

Image: tumblr.com

I can’t even… there’s no way I can even talk about it yet, because it’s too present in my head. Do you know what I mean? I’m still living in the book. I’m living in the basement of Himmel Street 33, huddled under the dust-sheets, waiting. My brain’s too full to process the brilliance of this novel, but as soon as I am able I will write about it, and I will – I hope – convince you, if I haven’t already, that books have the power to change the world.

The other books I read this weekend were ‘ACID’, by Emma Pass, and ‘Wonder’ by R.J. Palacio. Here are their lovely jackets – and, in case of ‘Wonder’, a little slogan which pretty much sums up the book:

Image: nosegraze.com

Image: nosegraze.com

Image: blog.waterstones.com

Image: blog.waterstones.com

I fully enjoyed both of these books, too, and I’d heartily recommend them both. Reviews will follow in the next few weeks, once my brain has had time to let the stories settle.

This morning, I’m almost painfully aware of how extremely lucky I am to be literate, interested in books and able to appreciate stories. Honestly, I truly believe books increase my soul. Every time I read a book I love, I gain another layer, like an oyster gilding a piece of grit into a beautiful pearl. Every book I read makes me better. I can’t express to you how much I love that.

It may not have escaped your notice that I also read quite quickly. In two and a half days I managed to read three books, two of which are quite long. (Actually, technically, I read three and a half books, because I was halfway through another story, which I also managed to finish over this weekend. But we won’t count that.) I remarked over the weekend that reading, for me, sometimes feels like I’m just inserting the book straight into my brain; it’s like watching a DVD, almost. I read so fast sometimes that I wish I could retrain myself, or re-learn the art of reading from first principles, perhaps. I wish I could read more slowly, particularly when it comes to a book as beautifully worded as ‘The Book Thief’; sometimes, I really feel like I’m missing out. I don’t skim – I do read every single word – but sometimes I feel I don’t leave them to sit in my brain long enough to really absorb the full goodness. When it comes to words, I’m definitely a wolfer, not a gourmet. ‘The Book Thief’ has some of the most beautiful phrases I’ve ever read, and it is packed full of brain-jolting images, which caught my soul and made it pause, contemplating. But the pauses would have been better if they’d been a bit longer.

I feel a slower reader would have taken even more than I did from a book as rich as ‘The Book Thief’. A slower reader could have allowed the story and the writing to seep into their bones even more powerfully than I was able to. I’ll have to read the book again (not that this will be any burden) to get the full and proper effect. Sometimes, I find myself consciously trying to read slowly – making myself savour every sentence – but it rarely works for long. My natural pace catches up with me, and I race off again like a greyhound after a hare. I wonder sometimes if this happens to me due to my personal combination of curiosity and impatience – I couldn’t have slept last night without knowing what happened at the end of ‘The Book Thief’, of course. I had to know what happened to Liesel and her family; I had to know what happened to Max. I had to know who survived. There would have been no point in trying to go to sleep before I’d reached the end, and I knew that.

I’ve been reading now for a long, long time. My parents encouraged me to read from such a young age that I was cramming in whole books before most kids have stopped drooling on themselves, and I’ve always been grateful for this. It means I’ve put in a lot of reading practice, but in this case I’m not sure practice makes perfect. Practice makes me go faster, but that’s not always the best way to experience a story.

Have you read any of the books I’ve mentioned here? If so, what did you think? Also, do you tend to read slowly or quickly, and do you have any tips on how to change your ‘reading style’?

Happy Tuesday. And I’m not joking about ‘The Book Thief’. Seriously. Get a copy today.