Reader’s Regret ⎜On Reading When It’s Right For You

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I’ve been thinking a lot about when we read books. It has been said that we come to the books we read when we need them most. I’ve been going through my shelves lately, and I kept thinking, I bought this when I was a teenager, why didn’t I read this then? Why didn’t I read this then? How would my life be different? What complex emotions would I have derived from this experience at that time?

Reader’s regret?

I have to stop myself from giving into that feeling, except as a motivator to keep reading as voraciously as possible. Or, as much as I can. My eyes hate day-reading, so I end up staying up really late to read. It makes no sense; but I think years of libraries have, in fact, ruined daytime for me. So I will use this feeling to spur on better reading habits, but I won’t let it define me or make me feel bad for *past me* not knowing or empathizing or understanding those emotions and feelings the author presents or limits.

I remind myself that those books are still open to me, and, in fact, because I understand language and its nuance more than I did before, those words will take me to places into which I had, previously, been unable to tap. Booktubers often do a year-end wrap-up video about ‘Books that Made Me’. It applies to my reader’s regret. All of the books that I have read, thus far, inform how and what I read in the future. I may pick up a book that I bought when I was a teen, probably a little inappropriately (some of the books I bought were quite mature), and read and enjoy.

For example, I can’t quite remember how old I was, but Costo sold some of Ophah’s Bookclub Books. My mom bought me A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, East of Eden by John Steinbeck, and One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Márquez. I have only read one of the three, so far, and I only read A Tree in 2013. I do plan on reading the other two, but not just yet. East of Eden seems like a summer novel—and Canadian summers can get sultry—so maybe this summer. Additionally, I think my reading was informed more by Canada’s links to the UK and slight idolatry of UK literature over American literature, so that also informed my reluctance to tackle American lit. (Sorry guys…but I’ll get there). The reason I haven’t picked up Solitude, is mostly that other people have said a lot of “it was a long book”…so peer-pressure!!

A Bit of Fry and Laurie / tumblr

***

Back on point, I was an avid reader as a child, so I read other books instead of these. I think they were also a little too mature for my preteen or early-teen self. I think the language and nuance would have been a little lost compared to my reading them now. I read Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men when I was in my early teens, and I did love it a lot. But, I had many other book to read and re-read. When I was younger, I definitely had an immortality complex when it came to books. I had/have all the time in the world to read. So, I read what I wanted and what I chose. I re-read books many time. I have re-read The Hobbit more times than I can count. Indeed, I read it so many times when I was so young, that it is a “gospel truth” to me. I don’t doubt the existence of hobbits. You all need to stop being such noisy walkers!!

Indeed, I read other books. I didn’t read some of the ones I was bought or took out from the library. I snuck books that belonged to my mom or sister. The books that I read then, have read since, and am reading inform what and how I read. I read Betty Smith’s book in the spring of 2013. I read it, and I saw myself so firmly in the character of Francie. Our childhoods were quite a bit different because I belonged to the sort of middling classes of a privileged country. Yet, I learned and could empathize and connect with the main character because of our mutual love of books and language, our desire to learn in spite of the expense of school, and our desire to share language with others. When I read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, I fell in love. I recommended it to everyone. I underlined passages and shared them on twitter. I would send photos via text of underlined pages. Pages upon pages, I underlined with love. Margins scribbled in a book that was warped from the final pressure my hands, heart, mind, and eyes exerted upon the covers and spine of this precious book. I loved it so much then and there and now, that I don’t regret that I didn’t read it when I was younger because I wanted to tell the world how much I read or how sophisticated my tastes were. I regret not reading it when I was younger because it was such a pleasure and I wish I had always known that feeling.

But, I remind myself, you did and do. I remind myself of reading The Hobbit and Harry Potter and picture books with my mum. I remind myself of dragging Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland around with me everywhere and not reading it. Sometimes we read books and sometimes we don’t, but books are our most exciting and powerful resources. Wielding a book means power. If you are reading right it is not a tyrannical power, but a power to engage and develop empathy. It gives us the power to engage with the creativity or frustration of the author.

IT Crowd / tumblr

I read Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale the summer before I turned 14. I may not have really understood the stake of Atwood’s story: feminism, patriarchal structures of oppression, &c., but reading it exposed me to that language. I was exposed in a way that I had not been before. I may not have understood feminism from one book, but I was being equipped with the language to be able to understand. I read Funny Boy by Shyam Selvadurai in school, whilst gay marriage and homosexuality were being discussed distantly in the news or by our elders, this book provided a moment to engage personally and critically (literary not judgementally) with, for me and my peers, a new language: sexuality.

On a brief side note, this is why the internet is so important. It makes these types of knowledges so accessible. I read about these ideas through literature and later through various philosophers etc., but the internet allows young people to engage in discussions of feminism and LGBTQ+. Of course, there will always be trolls and havoc-causers, but I do think the internet has opened a space where language can instantaneously permeate through otherwise impervious spaces. The language of acceptance becomes normalized. But keep reading, young ones, it’s the stuff of life.

So, friends, I wish that I had always been capable of reading the way I do now. I wish that, at the age of fifteen, I could have picked up a book and seen through ideology. I saw the things I saw, even if I was still learning. I’ve read and listened; I’ve worked hard to read the way I do. It was never a chore, except sometimes. I wish I could see the nuance I do now. But, “we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” I hope that I am able to look back, in ten- or twenty-years time, and say, I wish I understood these (new) things back then, too.

The Great Gatsby / giphy

Heaps of Love,
Word Play Xx

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Alice, you’re doing it wrong!–

The Red Queen

In Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, Alice is always told that her ways are incorrect. She is doing something wrong. She tries to reason through what she is, authoritatively, being told; and sometimes she comes to her own conclusions and other times she is lost. I presume, that is how we make our way through life. We are told what is right or wrong, and we hold that information up to what we have learned or what we feel we know. Sometimes, our convictions are so strong that we refuse to hear any other truth–like the Red Queen, who wants everyone’s head off. Like the White Queen, who believes that the Mad Hatter should be locked up for what crimes he might commit; this, she claims, will teach him not to do the thing he might have done. Alice tests her own logic, but she, ultimately, gives into the bent the rules of un-reality.

Alice regards it as nonsense to lock the Hatter away for a crime he has not committed; ethnically it is not right. In the eyes of the law, one is innocent until proven guilty. Thus, one may not be locked away before a crime or evidence of the crime has been, undeniably, proven. [In an ideal world, but, I will briefly say, human error &c.,] Our society is based upon civil liberties (as much of a pipe dream that it is). But if more circumstances are added that show the person, who is locked away, is very likely to commit a crime, are we right in locking them away?  It is not lawfully right to lock someone up for something they might do. We believe that people have free will, and can chose to make the *right* choice. At least, we hope that they will. It seems unsatisfactory when there are lives at stake, or when our personal safety is in jeopardy. It is an ethical question over which the law and lawmakers will always puzzle. The simple answer is no, but, in life, there are no simple answers–are there? To lock someone away for something they might do is akin to dictatorship. Perhaps, Lewis Carroll offers us a bleak interpretation of monarchy and absolute rule of the monarch (and, by extension, in our own times, dictatorial rule). Although Alice opines that it is wrong, she does not alter the rule of authority in the stories. In fact, in order to regain her own autonomy–for she has little to none in Wonderland–she must wake up. She describes her experiences in Wonderland like a dreamworld, where we all have experienced the submission to plot and action. (I exclude lucid dreams).

disney // tumblr

Alice’s lack of autonomy raises yet another implication to the reader–are we submissive to our dreams and/or our superiors (in class/caste)? or, do we have autonomy in a dream state and/or towards our superiors? Is it possible to reclaim authority by waking, and then telling our story as we remember it? Changing events? Writing out history? In Derrida’s Archive Fever, he says memory always forgets–this is why we have archives. But the very archives themselves point out the fallibility of memory.  “Consequence: right on that which permits and conditions archivization,” he says “we will never find anything other than that which exposes to destruction, and in truth menaces with destruction, introducing, a priori, forgetfulness and the achiviolothic into the heart of the monument…The archive always works, and a priori, against itself.” (12) Derrida is explaining to his audience that the urge to record, to inscribe, to mark out a story or truth of our past always points to the destruction of that past. We record, because we forget. Indeed, Derrida cleverly plays with the classical notion of knowledge as being a priori, or that what comes before; the claim that we know by innate knowledge and not learned experience. In Plato’s Dialogues, he records the lessons of Socrates; in particular, the lesson of a priori knowledge of the soul. Socrates claims that knowledge is not something that one apprehends mortally but something that one remembers from a past life of the immortal soul. In the example of Meno’s slave, where Socrates nudges the slave to recollect past knowledge, or a priori, knowledge is something to remember. Derrida turns this on its head; the archive always seeks to destroy a priori knowledge. Derrida explains, the archive or information resource highlights to our forgetfulness, our need to collect to recollect. Our monuments, historical and cultural, inscribe historical events upon our landscape, lest we forget.

channel 4 // tumblr

Derrida explains, the archive or information resource highlights our forgetfulness, our need to collect to recollect.

Let us now return to the question of authority and story-telling. Derrida links the archive to psychoanalysis and Freud, largely, because his lecture was given at the Freud museum in London, which had been in a political battle with the Freud Museum in Vienna over which museum is the authoritative Freud resource. And, most importantly. WHO HAD FREUD’S CHAIR? It was like the Where’s Wally of Freud’s toosh. Where did that bum rest itself?

All silliness aside, this is a very real question. Who gets to claim to be the authoritative resource for a subject matter? In the dreamworld of Wonderland, where is the seat of authority? In understanding dreams, Freud would claim that our dreams reveal our desires and repressions, long hidden from our conscious minds. In this way, our waking mind seeks to control our desires, which manifest when we sleep or through slips in daily life. (This, of course, would be a suitable analogy for the idea of Victorians as repressed. Of course, there were repressions–Queen V was scandalized by her sons and their sexual liaisons. But this was also the age where serious studies into sex and sexual behaviour were beginning. As I mentioned in my Introductory post on Oliver Twist, historical periods are wrought with contrariety. It is our job, as readers, to make sure we don’t lean too far either way in our hermeneutics.) Indeed, Alice becomes a Queen in Looking-Glass, but her authority is always undermined, the reality of Wonderland changes itself so that Alice is always listening to characters who authoritatively inscribe their realness or legitimacy. The characters she meets are real and have their own rules and laws to which they ascribe. What makes these characters unbelievablly credible is their commitment to reason against our logic. The White Queen, when she offers Alice employment, says she will have jam every other day. Alice may have jam yesterday and tomorrow, but she cannot have jam today, never today but every other day. There is a strange logic in the nonsensical. To indulge in Wonderland, we willfully abandon the logic we have learned for the illogic we experience.

Alright, so we’ve reached the point in our discussion that leaves us alone with our existential crises. I think this is what is so brilliant about Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland. Adulthood is fraught with ethics, laws, and coded behaviour. Wonderland represents this foggy space where Alice can ask big questions and be confronted by them, too. She rarely has the answer, and I think, if we were able to remember our childhood, a lot of the time, we did not have adult answers when we first encountered new ideas. (This is where and when shame tends to work its darkness.) We learnt coded behaviours from our own encounters with figures of authority. Indeed, Alice and Wonderland seems to be a successful archive of the befuddled state of childhood and childishness. Is Wonderland, then, an archive of childhood that is premised on the idea that we will, largely, forget what it is to be a child?

Perhaps, the reluctance to enter Wonderland carefree, by the older reader, is the reluctance to admit the fallibility of memory. Children enter, laughing at the play. Adults enter trying to solve the puzzle. One should enter Wonderland without the drive to untangle all of its riddles and puzzles and accept play as our motive—for do we really need to know why a raven is like a writing desk? But, you’ll say, Alice offers us so much to think about! We must not deny ourselves this. Of course not, I’ll respond, because the slithy toves did gyre and gimble in the wabe——for, if anything. Carroll teaches us how to revisit childhood, at any age.

***

I am going to be reading G.K Chesterton’s The Napoleon of Notting Hill now. I’ll continue working on my Oliver serialization. It is my aim to have a new Oliver post up every Friday. This week, it might be a bit late because of my dog. She had quite a rough night, Sunday night, and Monday was a bit draining (for me). Tuesday, she will be groomed, for her hair is becoming a tad long.

Here is an excerpt from The Napoleon of Notting Hill. It seems like an absolute treasure; with the slight (& unfortunate) casual gender essentialism, as you do. I hope you’ll join me! What are you reading?! Let me know in the comments.


Heaps of love,
Word Play Xx

Jacques Derrida, Archive Fever, A Freudian Impression, trans., Eric Prenowitz (London: University of Chicago Press, 1996).

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Our Adventures in Wonderland

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Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass (Toronto: Penguin Books, 1997).

Hello Friends,
I am currently doing the groundwork and research to produce my posts on Oliver Twist. They are coming. Alongside, I will be reading Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. Join me, if you are looking for a fun and enjoyable read. As I was reading the beginning yesterday, I was chuckling at Alice’s silliness. She’s such a funny one, and I think that this book is far more approachable to me as an adult than as a child. I, at least, now know what the Antipathies…I mean antipodes…are. (And, the pink dot on the Mad Hatter’s trousers is nail polish/varnish with which decorated my book as a child.)

Research and page 100 from Alice (edition above)

Research and page 100 from Alice (edition above)

My mom bought me this copy when I was quite young. I have a few other versions. I purchased a bilingual (French and English) copy in Belgium. The English portion is a facsimile of the original text, and the French is found in the margins. I purchased a used copy from Skoob Books in London last March; it is a little too cute to read and annotate, so I’ve decided to use the copy in the image above. It is pretty useful because the font size is meant for children, so it’s a lot easier on my eyes. Like the copy from Skoob, this edition is illustrated by John Tenniel. We have a few others that my mom purchased when my sister and I were younger, including one with Whoopi Goldberg. I hope you’ll read with me, but if you’re nose is buried in another book keep reading.

Keep very well, my dearest ones. What books are you reading?!

Heaps of Love,
WordPlay Xx

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