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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A Not-So Valentine’s Day Post

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I’ve been trying to think, all week, about an appropriate Valentine’s Day Post. I’ve been largely unsuccessful. I wanted to write about the love in the book I’m reading. For goodness’s sake, the ‘girl’ is called Valentine! But I love the book too much to have it fit in with a themed post. I want to unravel this book more intimately, if you will. Perhaps, I am delegitimizing the opportunity for love and true caring that is meant to surround Valentine’s Day, but this book is pretty rad. I am looking forward to ruminating on the text even further. I’ve read the first book of four, Some Do Not…(by Ford Madox Ford), and I feel so in love with the text and its meaning. Valentine struggles against being a (first-wave) feminist and the realities of the Edwardian society in which she lives. For all her innocence, society has painted her as a mistress, unkept by her lover. And whilst I think we should always be wary about making anyone sexually-innocent or not, I think those societal pressures are there, so it is valid that she struggles with it. Additionally, she is quite thoughtful about the whole situation. The man she loves, and who does love her, is married and heading off to war. He may not return. Some Do Not…

I hadn’t meant to talk about the book, and look what I did! It just happens. I think when a book is that momentous, you just want to share it with everyone. I find that I am always slightly ashamed over books that have a theme of love. This text isn’t quite just that. It’s far more complicated. My GoodReads review reads as follows:

I want to rant and rave. I want everyone to know of its genius. The way the novel envelops you; reminds you of your own love. The novel cleverly creates an empathetic reader, and we want the rose-red days of love to live on forever. Tietjens is a man of great intellect, and his knowledge translates into a great criticism of Edwardian England. Richly engaged and tied to every corner of the world, England seems isolated, but this text reminds the reader the far-reaches of England’s Empire and the biting nature of a gossip-ready bureaucratic class.

Read this novel and fall in love. Fall in love and recall it’s intricacies.

From my review, it should be clear that the novel contains a lot more than just romance. And, I am going to take a little moment to censure my last sentence and my shame. I do not think that we should judge a reader, writer, or novel based on the inclusion of love and romance. Love always surrounds us. Just like Christmas:

So why do I, and others, think that books which contain romance, love, or social affairs are somehow bad or less worthy of our time? Isn’t it these kinds of books that teach us how to empathise and connect with others? Aren’t there so many internet posts about social awkwardness? I am not saying reading romance novels is going to solve these issues; I wouldn’t characterise Ford Madox Ford’s novel as a romance novel. I just think that we/I should stop shaming ourselves for liking the emotional gratification that comes with these reads.

I guess I am just trying to say that, whatever your jazz is, just enjoy it. It wouldn’t be right for me to judge someone who reads a book that I find flakey or lightweight. I’ve read YA, and I think that, whilst they don’t always contain the best of grammar or plot-lines, they do contain something current and instantly meaningful to the reader. It’s like this…you may know something really well, but sometimes someone rephrases or frames an idea in a way you never considered, and that moment of recognition is the same space in which your brain grew a little wiser. To end with an example, Ford’s novel reframed WWI in a way I hadn’t before considered. The protagonist is extremely clever and really only likeable to few people, but his cleverness presents a new way for me to think about things. His politics, though not always overt, offer me an opportunity to see the difficulties of Toryism, Whiggism, and early feminism in England.

Just read something that makes your heart swoon this Valentine’s Day. If you’ve done that. If you’ve found the book that makes your heart race, your blood rush through your veins, and your brain quiver with beautiful words…you’ve lived and you’ve loved.

Heaps of love,

Xx

P.S I think I might read Barbara Pym’s Some Tame Gazelle now…

Book List


In Alpha-Order and Updated Regularly; Please let me know if you have any suggestions. I’ll add them and tag you alongside. I will read these in no particular order, and I will discuss the book I am currently reading in more detail in separate posts.

Heaps of Love. Xx

A
[  ] Purple Hibiscus – Ngozi Chimamanda Adichie
[  ] The  Oresteia – Aeschylus
[  ] London Fields – Martin Amis
[  ] Poetics – Aristotle (re-read)

B
[  ] The Tiger Claw – Shauna Singh Baldwin
[  ] Cousin Bette – Honoré de Balzac
[  ] The Wonderful Wizard of Oz – L. Frank Baum
[  ] Whittaker’s Wife – Bloom
[  ] The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum – Heinrich Böll
[  ] The Sweetness – Sande Boritz Berger
[  ] East is East – T. Coraghessan Boyle
[  ] The Death of Virgil – Hermann Broch

C
[X] Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass – Lewis Carroll 20/4/15 
[  ] Silent Sprint – Rachel Carson
[  ] The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life – John Carey
[  ] The Poems of Catullus – Catullus
[  ] The Napoleon of Notting Hill – G.K Chesterton
[  ] Anything by Agatha Christie
[  ] The Enormous Room – e.e. cummings

D
[  ] Divine Comedy – Dante (Alighieri) (re-read Inferno)
[  ] Robinson Crusoe – Daniel Defoe (Because in Wilkie Collins’s The Moonstone one of the characters refers to the story with biblical authority).
[  ] Barnaby Rudge – Charles Dickens
[X] Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens 12/04/15
[  ] The Old Curiosity Shop – Charles Dickens
[  ] Our Mutual Friend – Charles Dickens
[  ] Bleak House – Charles Dickens
[  ] The Brothers Karamazov – Dostoevskii (read half before)
[  ] The Idiot – Dostoevskii
[X] Trilby – George du Maurier 15/7/15

E
[  ] Half Blood Blues – Esi Edugyan
[  ] Second-Class Citizen – Buchi Emecheta
[  ] The Virgin Suicides – Jeffrey Eugenides

F
[  ] Recipes for Sad Women – Héctor Abad Faciolince
[  ] The Empire Trilogy – J.G. Farrell
….[  ] Troubles
….[  ] The Siege of Krishnapur
….[  ] The Singapore Grip
[X] The Days of Abandonment – Elena Ferrante [6/6/15]
[  ] The Character of Credit – Margot Finn
[  ] Tender is the Night – F. Scott Fitzgerald
[X] A Room with a View – E.M. Forster [26/01/16]
[X] Maurice – E.M Forster [06/07/2016]
[  ] Howard’s End – E.M Forster
[  ] A Passage to India
[  ] Parade’s End Tetralogy – Ford Madox Ford
….[X] Some Do Not…
….[  ] No More Parades
….[  ] A Man Could Stand Up–
….[  ] The Last Post
[X] Discipline and Punish (re-read) – Michel Foucault [25/03/2016]
[X] The History of Sexuality Vol.I – Michel Foucault [16/08/2016]
[  ] The Magus – John Fowles

G
[  ] The Sandman; Preludes and Nocturnes – Neil Gaiman
[  ] Ruth – Elizabeth Gaskell
[X] North and South – Elizabeth Gaskell [04/07/2016]
[  ] Wives and Daughters – Elizabeth Gaskell
[  ] Mademoiselle de Maupin – Théophile Gautier
[  ] The Calcutta Chromosome: A Novel of Fevers, Delirium & Discovery – Amitav Ghosh
[  ] Sea of Poppies – Amitav Ghosh
[  ] I, Claudius – Robert Graves

H
[  ] Far From the Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy
[  ] Return of the Native – Thomas Hardy
[X] The Iliad – Homer (29/01/15)
[  ] The Odyssey – Homer
[  ] Etta and Otto and Russell and James – Emma Hooper
[  ] And the Mountain’s Echoed – Khaled Hosseini

I
[X] The Remains of the Day: A novel – Kazuo Ishiguro
[  ] The Buried Giant: A novel – Kazuo Ishiguro

J
[  ] Ulysses – James Joyce

L
[  ] The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Stieg Larsson
[  ] The Enchanted Wanderer: Selected Tales – Nikolai Leskov
[  ] Out of the Silent Planet (Trilogy) – C.S. Lewis
[  ] How Green Was My Valley – Richard Llewellyn

M
[  ] Absolute Beginners – Colin MacInnes
[  ] Man’s Fate – Malroux (re-read)
[  ] The Scapegoat – Daphne du Maurier
[  ] Saturday – Ian McEwan
[  ] Wicked – Gregory McGuire
[  ] The Paris Wife – Paula McLain
[  ] Leaving Howe Island – Sadiqa de Meijer
[  ] Moby-Dick; or, The Whale – Herman Melville
[  ] Paradise Lost – John Milton
[  ] Spring Snow – Yukio Mishima
[  ] The Wood Beyond the World – William Morris
[  ] The Bluest Eye – Toni Morrison

N
[  ] Lolita – Vladmir Nabokov
[  ] Reading Lolita in Tehran – Azar Nafisi (recommended to me by Felicia)
[  ] The Birth of Tragedy – Friedrich Nietzsche Currently Reading.

O
[  ] The English Patient – Michael Ondaatje
[  ] Down and Out in Paris – George Orwell
[X] Animal Farm – George Orwell [31/6/15]
[  ] Metamorphoses – Ovid

P
[  ] The Museum of Innocent – Orhan Pamuk
[  ] My Name is Red – Orhan Pamuk
[  ] Swann’s Way – Marcel Proust
[  ] Excellent Women – Barbara Pym

R
[  ] Shantaram – Gregory David Roberts
[  ] London Lore – Steve Roud
[  ] The Casual Vacancy – J.K Rowling
[  ] Harry Potter et l’ecole des sorciers – J.K Rowling (en français)
[X] Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Days – Salman Rushdie (17/11/15)

S
[  ] Tendencies – Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick
[  ] Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire – Sedgwick
[  ] Epistemology of the Closet – – Sedgwick
[  ] The Lonely Londoners – Sam Selvon
[  ] Romeo and Juliet – Shakespeare
[  ] An Exquisite Sense of What is Beautiful – J. David Simons
[  ] White Teeth – Zadie Smith
[  ] I am a Cat – Netsuke Sōseki
[  ] East of Eden – John Steinback
[  ] The First Circle – Alexander Solzhenitsyn
[  ] Antigone – Sophocles (recommended by Elizabeth)
[  ] On Self Esteem and Scholars, Witches and Other Freedom Fighters – Gloria Steinem
[  ] Cures for Love – Stendhal

T
[  ] Lord of the Rings – J.R.R. Tolkien
….[X] The Fellowship of the Ring 
….[X] The Two Towers
….[  ] The Return of the King
[  ] Anna Karenina – Tolstoy
[  ] The Road Home – Rose Tremain

V
[  ] The Aeneid – Virgil

W
[  ] Decline and Fall – Evelyn Waugh
[  ] Brideshead Revisted – Evelyn Waugh
[  ] Vile Bodies – Evelyn Waugh
[  ] War of the Worlds – H.G Wells
[  ] The House of Mirth – Edith Wharton
[  ] Someone at a Distance – Dorothy Whipple
[  ] A Room of One’s Own – Virginia Woolf
[  ] Mrs Dalloway – Virginia Woolf

Z
[  ] The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafón
[  ] Nana – Émile Zola
[  ] The Collected Stories – Stefan Zweig