Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Call To Read: Give in to the Book

The best storytellers in the world are the most appreciative of other stories. And in nine cases out of ten, those storytellers are also great readers.

Before we had writing, we had stories - and they were shared by memory, but don't you know, memory isn't always the most reliable. So when there came a way to 'draw words' and writing developed, it was a great way to record stories, and of course variations on stories. And nowadays people tell their own stories.

I'll just interrupt this here before the self-professed non-readers among you start yawning: YOU share your own stories through writing, and we read them. Oh yes. You use Facebook, Twitter, Google+, MySpace? You're writing you own story for the world to see. And you read the stories of your friends and those you'd like to be friends with. You do it every day on your smartphone, tablet, laptop, PC or fruit-decorated equivalent, you write your story and read other people's stories CONSTANTLY. You're addicted to writing, reading and sharing these stories. So don't tell me you don't read, I'm not buying that for a second.

You don't read BOOKS. Books are for school, for nerds. Or they are manuals to help you do things like use that expensive device you bought - sometimes. And newspapers? Please. Why bother with newspapers when you have the Internet?

In a way, it's a valid point. I first learned about the Malaysian jet shot down by the Russians - no, I won't change that, a spade is a spade, bitches - on Facebook. I learned about the death of the great Robin Williams on Twitter (Oh Captain My Captain), and have been following various newsworthy items in Ireland through links shared on the social networking sites. Here's the thing though: Those links are posted by newspapers. It may be online, but the premise is the same: (good) reporting and writing is cross-generational, (good) storytelling is not limited to any particular age group. Accuracy is another thing entirely, but isn't really relevant to my Call To Read. But I do feel that with some stories, accuracy is important. It's just as important to news editors as it is posting your own story online - but that's another story.

If you use social networking sites, you think you're reading for informative purposes, to keep up with your mates, keep an eye on the gossip ... but you're still reading stories. You read every day. And given the extent to the mental activity and the imagination you exercise when you read what your friends are up to without you, you are only fooling yourself when you say 'I'm not really into reading.'

You're better off saying 'I'm not really into books.' This would be more accurate, especially as books are long, and are someone else's story. Books, however, DO END. The stories you read, write and share with your friends of your own lives do not end so neatly - it could be argued they go on and on, and indeed the particular stories you share with one individual will only end when one of you dies. Not a pleasant thought. Sorry, but there it is. And unless you have their password, all the photos and everything they posted online will be gone also.

Every single book written is somebody's story. There's a whole discipline behind it, there's hours of writing followed by hours of editing followed by more hours of writing and more editing until the writer has something he/she can show an agent, and even then, there's no guarantee it will very be published, packaged and sold in a shop. If you post a lot online, and don't edit, you soon learn the hard way that not editing is not a good idea.

I got into reading because my parents liked reading. My father used to read to us, and he brought the books to life in a beautiful way. Everyone's favourite was Winnie-the-Pooh, and he managed to create voices and individual inflection for the characters, and even made up the little songs that Pooh loved to sing. Later, it was Roald Dahl and his books, and we loved Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator so much that we'd go around calling each other 'Vermicious Knids', much to the consternation of our classmates in the Presentation Convent school we attended, not to mention the poor nuns who were supervising us in the playgrounds, who didn't know what we were saying and didn't know if it was rude or not. And there were the Little House books, which were really interesting and kind of cool because of the television series as well. (The books were always better!)

And I would read a LOT. Why? Because I was exposed to good writers who could and did create wonderful visuals with words, and that stimulates the imagination, which triggers all kinds of other good brain activity. Nevertheless, the downside of this was the fact that I would always have a book under my desk and if the lesson at school was boring, I'd read instead. I got caught several times. And the teachers weren't happy, because that was an indication their classes were not as interesting as they might have liked. Some of those teachers might have benefited from more reading. And then instead of doing the homework, I'd end up reading ... sigh. But still, it was good. Some subjects work through reading, like history. My old school might not believe me, but I actually liked history. Still do. Mainly because good writers present it so much better than any of my teachers ever did, with a couple of exceptions.

I like reading so much that I read for a living. Most of it is not really the kind of material I'd actually choose to read, but no matter - I'm the geek who sees a misused apostrophe, spots and hisses at a hyphen that doesn't belong, and queries the use of the word 'unique'. (Seriously. That word has TOTALLY lost its meaning. Nobody seems to know what it actually means anymore.) I like reading so much that I read in other languages, and rewrite what was written in those languages in English - for a living. And it pays for the art.

Aside from the enjoyment and stimulation I gain from reading, it is also interesting to see how the meaning of words changes. The word 'gay', for example, has undergone a few changes in meaning: it started out to mean 'happy' or 'jolly' or 'cheerful', and now mostly means 'homosexual', for both men and women, and has started to mean 'stupid' as well - a usage I personally don't encourage, as such usage stems from homophobia. 'Awful', which originally meant 'evokes a sense of awe', now means the opposite of  'wonderful'. 'Terrific' used to mean 'evokes a sense of terror', but it no longer means this at all. A phone is no longer a device that's plugged into a physical network and you only talk through it, it has changed almost beyond recognition. Language changes to reflect the world of its users, and you see this in books also, probably more so than you would on a website, as websites are frequently updated. And this is even before you get into regional variations of the meanings of words in other countries: In Ireland and the UK, a fag is NOT a homosexual, a telephone line can be engaged, and most people have mobiles instead of cells - although, to be even more accurate, that world is divided into iPhones and Androids, never the twain shall meet. (In the 1990s, an Android was something that walked on two legs and lived in a star ship, but however.)

I have huge respect for JK Rowling, creator of the Harry Potter series. Huge. She got a whole generation back into reading BOOKS - like I said, they were already readers, just didn't really know it.

Reading is fantastic - in all senses of that word. So yeah, if you think you're not a reader, and you're reading this, please just stop deluding yourself and surrender to it. Give In To The Book. You WILL be glad you did.

Pen drawing, more of a doodle really .... 

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