Mark on Books and Reading
Updated: Mar 15
"I used to pretend to read books when I was too young to understand a single word it said, at a table that could not have been higher than my knees now. It must have been the book cover art that attracted me at first, but then it stuck with me longer than it should, if that had simply been the case, being merely superficial. This attraction led me to the first book I’ve ever read, The Swiss Family Robinson. It was my first adventure."
WAY OF LIFE
"Reading gives you inner spectrums to even the simplest things you may encounter in life. It sharpens your imagination and investigative mind. Because of it you experience things in its many facets, and there’s this fullness to it, as opposed to the narrow-minded, the lack of ideas and greyness; life gradually killing you."
"For me it’s the freedom, the idea of entering a new artistic realm where you are not restricted as in poor reality. It is a place where anything and everything is possible."
"Was it Wilde who said, you are what you read? I personally think that’s a very precise statement. What separates Humanities from other sciences is that it doesn’t lead you by the numbers. There is complete freedom in artistic creation, its interpretation. I remember being down one time and I found myself riding things out with Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha. His work is priceless and helped me to no end. What I’ve learned from that book I still apply in terms of living simply, of aspiring to be wise, in the general approach to life with minimal aggravation."
"Readers have that ace in the hole. You can tell how someone shapes an idea or an argument if it’s made to hold, or if it’s just bull. And good readers are critical thinkers, and you won’t see them sharing fake articles because they are able to spot it a mile away."
Reading gives you inner spectrums to even the simplest things you may encounter in life. It sharpens your imagination and investigative mind.
"I read regularly. It’s like food to me, it’s almost automatic. It’s my way of life. To most people it may feel like leaving their homes without a mobile phone. So I always have my e-books in case I can’t bring a physical copy. Anyhoo, I always need to have a book with me."
"There are so many books to read with so little time, so I start with the authors that are successful. I enjoy American Literature, not so fond of the Baroque. I read most days, except on Sundays. It’s usually the first thing I do after breakfast, while having coffee, before I do any other work. I start with at least an hour and a half or two. Then I sparsely read when I have the chance for the rest of the day and almost wherever I happen to be, unoccupied - at the mall, a lounge, when I tire of window shopping, or when I get left in the automobile while the family’s out on an errand, or something. I like to read alone in a quiet place, but I don’t mind reading elsewhere if the opportunity presents itself. Even in cafes where some people go to socialize, to read for show."
"Sometimes I read 3 books simultaneously at most. And, no, I never speed read, nor do I understand why many people do that like it’s something worth boasting about. On the contrary, I always take it slow."
"Learning is a daily pleasurable experience. It does not have to start and end in school, nor does it have to come with a certificate. Some of the most successful people in history don’t even own a degree. Frederick Douglass learned to read and write when he was a slave, at a time when education among the minorities was expressly prohibited by society. I read the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, and learned that he became an intellectual despite the odds. He wrote the sharpest antislavery articles and became a famous orator most people in that period could not believe how."
But heavy readers have this ace in the hole, the advantage of a back-end office that scrambles, run by tiny people in your head, that keeps processing pertinent data so you don’t fall for such gimmicks.
"I remember how a friend of mine used to tell me with naive enthusiasm, circa 2016, about how governments, new administrations, plan to manage its people and the media, its opposition, moving forward. I guess it has a lot to do with psychology, critical thinking, and taking notes from history. It struck me that he’s never heard of the book 1984 by George Orwell that was published in 1949, which details how easily people can be played and robbed blind by the very people entrusted to protect them, all in the guise of public service. It was disturbing for me to find him being so malleable and all that. But heavy readers have this ace in the hole, the advantage of a back-end office that scrambles, run by tiny people in your head, that keeps processing pertinent data so you don’t fall for such gimmicks."
"When I was a kid I was a sucker for adventure books. I loved the Hardy Boys, and Choose Your Own Adventure. There was a time when I enjoyed reading biographies and random articles about wars. I love the Classics."
"I stopped reading in High School to focus on sports and mostly nonsense. I didn’t want to be so serious with things, being so young and full of life, and prayed and hoped that God would completely understand me backing off a little."
"I’ve missed characters that I’ve felt I have known personally while reading about their story. Some books are written so well that you are wholly drawn to it, and I wish I were friends with Scout Finch, Holden Caulfield, and of course childhood buddies with Tom Sawyer, and Huck. In a way, I guess they are. They’ve shared so many things with me, more than other real people have even if I’ve known them for a long time. Finishing a good book makes me feel like dropped off in a street corner while the party moves on to a good place for a picnic without you. But you’re just glad you’ve spent some time together for a while and now know them for life."
"I can’t imagine reading now as I did when I was a teen. It has to change for anyone who’s serious enough to learn out of any reading material. Students read perforce to pass an examination, for example, and nothing much about what they read really stays, nor do they really care much for it at all, except as a means to cinch a good mark. Personally, I’ve never treated even my earliest personal list of books that way, in a casualness that is a close shave to indifference. I took The Swiss Family Robinson quite seriously even if I don’t remember much of its details now, decades after. But that’s a different case of course. I can’t suppress a light chuckle."
"I started to read Ulysses by James Joyce right after finishing A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. I decided to put it off after a chapter or two, partly because it’s a difficult book to grasp, very mentally demanding, and I read other books simultaneously that kept yanking my attention at the time for being easier reads. I promised to get back to Ulysses but somehow keep postponing it still. I knew it’s a difficult book before I even purchased it because A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is where Joyce earlier experimented with the stream of consciousness method, but I wanted to read it because, well, I enjoy the challenge."
"It can be hard to fathom if you’re not focused enough, with a wandering mind, because the work does not follow a traditional path most writers lead. It would not have punctuation marks in certain stretches, and Joyce would jump from a trail of thought to another in a flick of his pen, throwing you off if you’re not as attentive as he’d wanted you to be. He wants you to read beyond the texts and enter his mind, and that’s why it's rich with internal monologue, so you can feel your way into this tricky stream. It’s a very controversial work of art that way, and it is loved and loathed for the same reason."
Finishing a good book makes me feel like dropped off in a street corner while the party moves on to a good place for a picnic without you. But you’re just glad you’ve spent some time together for a while and now know them for life
"I suppose when I start to read a book I keep wondering if the work is good enough to convince me. This can be factored in through various ways and aspects. So the first few pages are crucial, otherwise I chuck it. First, I make sure my reading comprehension is at par with the writer’s style and objectives and hope I am not put out by the way a book is being expressed. Is it fluid enough? Is the author writing down the proper analogy to clarify a point? And there’s vocabulary used and all that jazz. All are very important."
"My books come in regularly, but they’re cheap. Many of my collections are secondhand and out-of-print. So I have someone who looks for the books I want and mails them over to me. Other than that, I like to visit book sales, shops that sell used books for less than half the price."
"I have a collection of about 300 to 500 books, electronic books included, a chunk of unread. Unfortunately, some were borrowed and unreturned. So I’m never lending my books anymore."
"Top 5 favourite books of all time? This is difficult. These are just the books that first come to mind: War and Peace, The Old Man and the Sea, Crime and Punishment, One Hundred Years of Solitude, The Grapes of Wrath."
"I definitely prefer paper books. No question about it. Although I do have electronic copies, too, for when I travel. I’m a hoarder. The top 3 books on my TBR list are The Plague by Albert Camus, Glory by Vladimir Nabokov, The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford."
OF WRITERS AND LITERATURE
"Ernest Hemingway was no chicken when he said that he won’t get inside the ring with Leo Tolstoy. How could anyone compete with the man who wrote War and Peace, and Anna Karenina? Unless, “Papa” said, he went nuts or got so much better. Tolstoy’s the writer’s writer. But it’s sad how both authors couldn’t handle their talents, so much so that it ruined them. I love Hemingway’s tight-lipped way of expressing things. It sounds so reserved and manly. It enjoins the readers not just to read but to actively participate in the thinking process."
"But I also love his contemporary John Steinbeck, although his style was more elaborate, and he wrote about laborers, unions, and Western Classics versus Hemingway’s war stories, travel, and bullfighting. Contrary to Hemingway’s pompous attitude, Steinbeck was a humble guy and openly said that he admired Hemingway’s work."
"When I opened a boxing foundation years back I had all sorts of posters on the wall which included a photograph of Hemingway bare chested and posing with boxing gloves on. He was a boxing aficionado. I did it as a passive test to anyone who trained there, if they knew their boxing and their literature well enough, if they ever noticed that his photograph actually didn’t fit in with the fighters’ pictures on the wall."
"I read Living, Loving, & Learning by Leo Buscaglia when I was in college, and I loved it. But my notions on self-help books have changed over the years as I’ve grown older. If I re-read that book again today I don’t think it’ll rank way up there for me personally. I’m not trying to demean it. I guess I just got over that book section pretty quickly, of the thought that I could spontaneously jump off the edge of a building and grow wings before I hit the concrete, so to speak."
I guess I just got over that book section pretty quickly, of the thought that I could spontaneously jump off the edge of a building and grow wings before I hit the concrete, so to speak.
"I read Dune by Frank Herbert, and Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis, and I haven’t followed up on them. Maybe because I have so many books I can’t wait to read, so many interests, and reading a whole series would make me feel like I’m precluded from other readings. But that’s just me. If a story is worth documenting in five books then readers ought to be five times happier."
"Siddhartha by Herman Hesse is composed of only 100+ pages and yet it has stirred a spiritual awareness in me in such a way that I have never experienced all my life. It is written so simply that it could not miss its mark, as Siddhartha embarks on a lonely quest towards illumination, realizing along the process that time itself is immaterial, as with wealth and other worldly desires, while eventually deciding to live by the river that speaks to him."
"Some books you won’t appreciate at a certain age due to lack of maturity or experience. So take it slow, start with the basics and enjoy it. How about starting with Aesop’s Fables? Just keep it up."
"If people were to read more, I can imagine a more considerate society, a departure from the harsh adjudicators we’ve painfully become; a learned society that’s more patient, aware of its own limitations and, therefore, more forgiving in its effort to do better for the commonweal while upholding our ideals."
"You must read War & Peace, Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, Crime & Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevski. Take care of your eyes so you can read for as long as you live. You might hear some people say that you could get too carried away by a book but I think that’s just bollocks. Go ahead. Read, read, read."
Mark is a writer for @happyartsph - check it out here.
Deeply moved by the bestselling book (that started off as a blog), Humans of New York Stories, I am making space for little stories from real people to spur me into thinking about and doing constructive things. We all have stories to tell, and they do carry a lot of weight. May the words and insights from these Little Stories translate into some form of hope, courage, and change above all else. ~Ray