Archive for the ‘reading’ Category

No-one seems to read much anymore do they?  I know people who never read anything, not even the cornflakes box in the morning or the back of the ketchup bottle.  I have even known people who have never read a book apart from the times at school when they were forced to digest Animal Farm or Treasure Island or Hamlet piece-meal and spit out the remains in the form of the ubiquitous ‘book report’ that is and was always guaranteed to put the mockers on any love of reading forever.  I can’t imagine why someone would want to take a thrilling and absorbing adventure story [or even Hamlet for that matter] and dissect it so thoroughly that only the bare bones remain like the remnants of last nights fish dinner. 


I once took a course in Shakespeare’s Plays at University.  We spent an entire semester discussing such things as what was meant by the line uttered by the dying Lear to Cordelia, ‘Pray you now loose this button’.  Well, it’s obvious, he was either gasping his last gasp and his collar was too tight or he was gasping for a last ciggy and couldn’t reach his lighter, one or the other.  Shakespeare was writing for the masses you know, the groundlings who all stood around posing and talking loudly – just like theatre audiences of today – and hoping for a glimpse of Nell Gwinn’s oranges.  I also took a course in Chaucer of Canterbury Tales fame as well as the poetry of John Dunn which similarly was duly dissected and worried over until most of the fun and all of the humour was gone.  Chaucer can be hilarious although I can see where some people might disagree.  But if read in the right spirit [and an assumed heavy West Country accent] Chaucer is exceedingly naughty and therefore hugely enjoyable.  The Canterbury Tales reads like a Whitehall Farce, for example ‘The Millers Tale’, which begins with the cuckolded husband sitting in the bathtub in the attic waiting for the second flood to come and ends with the miller sticking his bum out the window and farting on passers by.  Dunn by contrast was the frustrated and imaginative Rector or Dean or some-such of St.Pauls Cathedral [I wasn’t always paying attention], who spent much of his time composing highly suggestive love poems that involved such things as bare bodices, bosoms and various itches [not all of them caused by fleas].


When I was a kid the school library had a reasonably large collection of adventure yarns that had somehow managed to escape the ‘book report’ list because A. they were not classic enough and B.  They were not boring enough to begin with.  However, so as to protect unsullied little minds from the evils of the larger universe most of these volumes were  ‘Boy Scout’ versions and had therefore been expurgated to within an inch of their lives so that barely ‘and’ and ‘the’ remained.  This of course provoked in us an insatiable desire to find un-tampered with copies that still contained the naughty bits, even though this meant several bus rides and a long walk to the Public Library down behind the Guildhall.  And the naughty bits were easy to find – they were the pages that fell open in your hand when you took the book down off the shelf.  However, many of the naughty bits were not all that naughty at all.  In comparison with today’s literary fodder where just about anything goes, including apparently congress with goats, they were tame indeed.  I remember furtively obtaining a copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover [banned at one time] and being bored rigid by turgid prose only enlivened in several hundred pages by people disappearing into gardening sheds. And there were lots of vaguely suggestive lines of the ‘her pointed breasts strained against the thin fabric of her damp blouse’ variety.  And rather a lot of gardening. 


Books are so much more satisfying than going to see a movie for instance. You can lose yourself in a good book.  You can travel to distant worlds, you can voyage to the bottom of the sea, you can be so engrossed in a murder mystery that you lose all sense of time and place while a tornado takes off to Oz with your house and everything in it including the dog.  You can forget your worries and just drift away.  But yes, you will say, you can also do that while watching a good movie, which is true.  However, in a book you must describe the scene with such depth and accuracy that the reader can ‘see’ everything that happens in the mind.  In a book you can’t just write a line like ‘Gandalf takes his magic wand in his hand and waves it around in the air’ and expect your reader to engage with the character – you must set the scene, describe the backdrop, set the mood, stimulate the imagination, involve the reader in the lives of your protagonists and have them ‘smell the flowers’.  In a movie it’s just a tight shot of a pair of rubber boots and some sandals outside an old shed then a quick cut to some surf pounding on the shore.  Well, at least that’s how it used to be.  Nowadays it’s 40 minutes of gratuitous sex with no particular connection to the plot – and that’s just a National Geographic Special. 


And another thing – you can’t take a movie in the bath – not without dire electrical consequences that is – so go buy yourself a good book.  Of course if you don’t read you won’t be reading this either so it doesn’t really matter.




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