Tag Archives: reading

What Am I Reading in 2020?

Shastra Deo – The Agonist

For the past few years I have been tracking my reading: number of books read, author (male/female), genre etc to have a look what I have been reading and to see what blind spots I do have, and to make sure I am reading more in order to improve my writing. As an English teacher I also need to model to my students the importance of reading.

In my first year of tracking my reading (2017) I read 24 books. In 2018 I managed 32 books. Last year I only read 17 books (because reasons like moving house).

In 2019 I particpated in the Goodreads Reading Challenge, and I am having another go at it this year. I go back to work tomorrow, and classes start next week so I used my time to read some set texts for classes, and my own choice. I have read 9 books so far, the majority of them poetry anthologies. I am going to change focus and read a few novels but might intersperse more poetry between them.

Over on my Instagram @handwrittenpages you’ll find my brief review and an accompanying illustration, mostly continuous line drawings but for the two most recent texts I’ve changed the style.

My hope in reading more widely is to give me greater awareness of writing styles, imagery, description, characterisation, narrative focus etc so that the projects I have lined up for this year have a better chance of delivering what I want them to.

What are you reading in 2020? And why?

A New Year’s Writing and Reading Reflection

I had a little twitter brain explosion one afternoon when I was thinking about the editing I was planning for later that evening on a short piece of flash fiction. Think of this as a series of brain farts, a Macbeth if you will, “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing” (one of my favourite lines from Shakespeare).

Why do I love to write? Because I love to read. The interplay of language to describe, emote, challenge, question, intrigue & entertain.

As readers we have favourite sentences or passages that capture the essence of our emotive response, better than our own words.

Passages w/ rhythm, illogical allusions that resonate, visceral gut punch, emotional core of who we are erupts as a volcano

These are the sentences we use as mantra, prayer, statement of intent, flirtation with a lover, standard of character.

E.g. ‘To be or not to be’ or ‘The Lord is my shepherd,’ almost cliche yet strike at our heart’s vortex & echo with symbolism. 

This is why I read and write, and why I believe reading is so important, so necessary, so vital to our humanity.

Is There A Right Time To Read A Book?

Is there a right time to read a book?

No, it’s not a rhetorical question because it’s always the right time to read a book.

What I am asking is do some books resonate with you at a certain age? Can you miss that opportunity and not have the book make the same impact as those who read it at the “appropriate age”?

For example, some years ago, a student of mine was reading J. D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye for her English Extension 2 Major Work, comparing the protagonist Holden Caulfield with the modern equivalent of the bad boy, Bart Simpson.

I read the novel to understand her thesis and I knew it was a celebrated text but it left me cold and unengaged. Since then I’ve tried to work out why. Perhaps I simply missed the phase during my adolescence when it would have taken on greater resonance.

In a similar way, I recently read Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five and Cat’s Cradle and I learned much about writing from them, but they didn’t have the “wow factor” for me. Would I have gained more if I was younger? Had a different mindset?

In comparison, reading Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness in high school blew my mind, while Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn left me cold. Don’t even get me started on Dickens’ Great Expectations.

I’m in the middle of Paul Coelho’s The Alchemist and again, it is touted as “one of the best books of all time” according to the sticker on the front cover. I am liking it as a fable but I am not “getting it.”

I’m not referring to the style or language of a text, but its engagement with a culture or generation. Context may play a significant part in a understanding a text’s reception and its reimagining in later eras through its thematic concerns keeps it relevant. Think Shakespeare and the various recreations of his texts.

But there are books, and plays, that I love. Sometimes a book speaks to right where you are, at a specific time in your life, addressing a particular issue or providing a revelation.

I love Shakespeare, ancient Greek tragedies, Homer’s epic poems, Milton’s Paradise Lost, anything by Tim Winton and Markus Zusak, Enid Blyton and Judy Blume when I was growing up, Tolkien in my teenage years (and more so now I’m older). Even the classics: Frankenstein, Jane Eyre, but not Wuthering Heights.

What books have you read that hit the right spot at the right time for you?
What books have you read that you felt were not the right time for you?

When Is Reading No Longer Reading?

When is reading no longer reading?

I am a high school English teacher and in the curriculum reading and viewing are separate modes (the other three are listening, speaking and representing).

Traditionally reading involves the printed word in either novel, poem, play or short story, feature article, news report or letter.

Increasingly, the definition of reading extends to visual media: television, film, the internet, graphic novels and comic books.

It could be argued that reading involved pictures long before words. And what are words but a recognised collection of pictograms arranged into a sequence:  Aboriginal rock art, Sumerian cuneiform, Egyptian hieroglyphics?

Reading is therefore the viewing of a codified system of verbal language.  But the modern codification of our verbal language means we now read the verbal equivalent in a codified form we call the alphabet, the written and printed word only.

With the advent of portable devices (tablets, smart phones, laptops and notebooks) the lines between reading and viewing are being blurred with multi-modal storytelling and the incorporation of multimedia into stories: text that moves, movies built into the experience of the text, the incorporation of sound.

For example, “The Fantastic Flying Books of Morris Lessmore” is a brilliant text. The illustrations are superb and the story is delightful.

There are 3 distinct modes of narrative;  3 distinct ways to ‘read’ the story: picture book, interactive narrative (app) and an (Oscar-winning) short film.

But which of these 3 modes of narrative is “reading”?

On the one hand I would argue that yes it is reading. We “read” film as we have learned the code for deconstructing and constructing meaning in film. I posit interactive narratives potentially detracts from the primary purpose of reading: the deciphering of code and symbolism to make meaning from words alone.

The imagination of the reader transports him or her into the world of the text, creating the visual images based on the words presented by the writer. In a picture book, the visuals are an adjunct to making meaning, giving the reader visual clues to the meaning of the printed words.

Brief research suggests different parts of the brain are activated by reading and viewing. Where does interactive, digital narratives fit into this scenario? I don’t know. Anyone have links to relevant research?

On a side note, the debate about handwriting and typing is analogous: what do we gain by learning to write and form letters that typing does not, despite the increased speed typing allows? 

Handwriting forms an integral part of learning and knowing a language, as opposed to learning to type (further longitudinal research needed). We are in a period of rapid change; the results of which we may not see for some years yet.

Anecdotally, I see my students who have grown up with computers and devices as a parallel, if not the preferred method of communication, rather than the handwritten word, and the formation of their language and conceptual framework is poorer than I think it should be for students who have access to more information than at any time in history. There is more educational research and study needed.

Does the definition of reading need to change?

The advent of digital storytelling and interactive narratives means we have to rethink the definition. And I suspect it will remain fluid for some time.

I have no firm answer on the matter. I define reading as the interpretation of the printed word. However, I see the reading of film as a legitimate, too. Somewhere in between lies picture books, comics, graphic novels. They are all valid texts to read, but I would caution balance between all forms.

What do you think “reading” is?

Why Shouldn’t I Continue to Read Your Novel?

Why Shouldn’t I Continue To Read Your Novel?

Coming across a couple of posts recently about when a writer/reader gives up reading a novel, I noticed a trend when a writer/reader will stop:  

  • when there’s little or no action to propel the narrative
  • lingering descriptions of ennui or minutiae (or the weather)
  • back story or info dumping (yes, I agree with this)
  • bad writing (yes, I’ll stop reading too)

The current literary aesthetic favours action over reflection, sacrificing the evocative power of language for a fast-food mentality of plot and writing.

Why not let language and words evoke scene, history and character idiosyncrasies, rather than simply pushing a plot along?

Literature is about plot and character and narrative tension, but it’s also about exploring the ennui of life, and why they are important, and the macro aspects of grand overarching themes in minute detail.

I want to read a fast-paced action story and I want to read a story that lingers on the little, unimportant things. I can have both. Trends be damned.

I want to enter the world the author has created, to see how they see the world and enjoy their word play, not consigned to reading a novel written within an artificial and constricted set of literary rules.

Writing is as much about observing and recording life’s details and universal abstract concepts as it is in participating and communicating, being involved with others, doing the action, and reading should be the same.

Boys, Reading and Subversive Acts of Creativity

In the light of the deaths of three young men recently (two I knew and one the son of a colleague), it made me think about how boys are often silent. Their deaths were the result of mental illness; something that is still a misunderstood disease. It is spoken about in terms that do not lend itself to understanding, therefore, people fall silent.

It is an issue that is not given a voice. Without a voice to speak, the sufferer is left mute.

In our Western society, traditional stereotypes of men are silent stereotypes. Their voices are limited to unctions of power and authority. Their actions reflect such notions, and this is what boys model their lives on.

Boys grow and mature into men who lack the language of feeling, empathy, understanding and vulnerability. They become silent because they do not have the vocabulary to express their emotions and because they have been taught to become so.

I can see this silence in some of the boys  I teach (high school ages 13-18), an inability to understand and express their emotions in a way that their female peers find so easy to do.

So, how do boys and men discover the art and language of feeling, empathy, understanding and vulnerability?

Within the pages of a book (in this case, fiction).

A small percentage of boys read regularly and it becomes obvious they have a broader understanding of the world and their emotions. Their understanding of the world is deeper and they are more perceptive to their emotional states. The older boys get, the less they read (in terms of fiction).

  • Fathers (and mothers), read to your sons.
  • Grandfathers (and grandmothers), read to your grandchildren.

Make reading a subversive act of creativity.

An act of creativity to give boys an understanding of their emotions. An act to subvert the silent stereotype. To give boys, as they mature into men, the vocabulary to express their emotional state.

Make reading a creative conspiracy between you and your child.

A Subversive Act of Creativity Action Plan

  • Read to them from a young age.
  • Model reading by being seen with a book in your hands.
  • Have them draw their favourite scene from the book.
  • Talk to them about the characters and the decisions they make
  • Ask them to express how they feel about characters’ actions
  • Read the book with them and share the experience
  • *insert your own ideas here*

Teach boys to understand feelings, empathy, understanding and vulnerability by examining and discussing the characters and their actions.

I count it a privilege as a male English teacher that I can model this understanding. We need more male English teachers.

Let’s help create men who understand their emotions and have the vocabulary to do so.