Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Reading: does solitary mean lonely?

Those of us who read regularly are apparently in the minority.

According to Melinda Harvey in the most recent Australian Literary Review our society is looking to learn facts from sound bites and live footage, "not the universal truths found in fiction. Things solitary, slow or private are ceasing to matter."

Is that why people prefer the more communal entertainments of film, television and theatre? Not only can we absorb the story quicker, we can experience it simultaneously with others and instantly deconstruct it over a good espresso.

Is it now only books - which allow you the luxury to experience a story and its truths at your own measured pace - where deeper reflection, contemplation and revelation can truly take hold?

"Solitary, slow, private." Those words struck a chord with me. That's what reading is, isn't it?

When we read the same books as others - even at the same time - the experience remains solitary. How we absorb and inhabit a story is a deeply personal experience.

Does that make reading a lonely experience?

For the countless people around the world and throughout history who have escaped into books, the answer is definitely no. Yes, we may sit alone for hours with our nose buried in a book, but we are never alone. We have a narrator to keep us company, characters to mesmerise us, words to take us to another reality (or bring us closer to our own).

I heard a great quote recently (and apologies to its author but I didn't write down their name at the time): "We write books for the same reason builders build houses: for people to live in them."

As a reader, that resonates deeply with me. As a writer, it gives me another level to which to aspire.


the ink-stained toe-poker said...

Yes reading is solitary, it's peaceful, quiet and good for you. Reading is for the brain what exercise is for the body. But lonely? Who could be lonely when the words melt into pictures and you're there among the throng, in a different place, a different life, a new room, city, country or planet.

These days you can get a ride off the internet or sit spellbound in front of the affrontery and repugnance that passes for TV. It's all at yer fingertips - the click of a button. They give us everything we need to know and a lot more we don't.

Everything around us seems to sell us, tell us we'd look better with shinier hair, the dearest clothes, the safest car, the best home security entertainment, the fastest gadgets and who we should be interested in. It's a nonsense. A load a pish.

A good book is the only place left where time can stand still for a bit, unless of course it's about time travel. A good book, not some trendy bar, is the only place to be.

We already know words are one of our most effective means of communication and that if they continue to lose their meaning to hyperbole and sound bite we're done for, so why do we continue to let it happen?

sorry, bit of a rant there. I read a great deal more than I write, so I say all of this as a reader.

Paula Weston said...

Preach it brother!

I wholeheartedly agree.

Never shy away from a literary rant on this blog my friend.

Gustav said...

First of all, a tip of the hat to the ink-stained toe-poker. Your rant rings true to me. It is refreshing to know I am not alone in my disdain for the dummying down of humanity with what is purportedly entertainment.

What if everyone in the world threw out their TV? Imagine it! People would actually have to think for themselves again, they would have to live their own lives and not subsist off actors' lives on a boob tube.

Now to you dear Paula. Reading carefully, with focus, is not a solitary endeavour. It is almost an out of body experience which takes you into new worlds where you can read people's minds, feel their pains and joys, and roar with their laughter.

Finally, I feel like I have done a bit of time travel in your blog to find the "photo of the back of your head" which you allude to in your recent post in June 2008. So this is you....

May I say you have a beautiful head, a unique way of holding a book, and an inspiring foot.

Will the readers of your blog ever see your face, your eyes, or your smile?

As a reader I do wish to see what you look like, yet, in a way, you are more mysterious and intriguing to me without a complete picture. I will always wonder what color your eyes are or what your smile looks like. Its the unknown that captivates us.

I have learned much from your blog, thank you Paula.

Paula Weston said...

Thanks Gustav - you made me laugh out loud! (And, on closer inspection of the photo, I think that foot may not even be clean!)

One day I may put the rest of my head on my blog, but be assured there will be a reason, and it will need to be in context with whatever that particular post is about. Perhaps if I get a publishing contract for one of my current (or future) writing projects, I may put up a photo of me beaming from ear to ear!

Thank you for your wonderfully kind words. I enjoy exchanging ideas and comments with you.

Gustav said...

Dear Paula

I return to this particular post every once in a while and think about who is Paula Weston?

Perhaps Ayn Rand's novel Fountainhead has a similar question put to its readers "Who is Howard Roark?".

I know you are a writer and have read your profile and web page but I still wonder who is Paula Weston?

Would you ever be interested in sharing a cup of tea or just a good email conversation?

You may have many reasons why you would prefer not to and I respect all of them and will always be a fan of your blog.

But if you are interested in just a good conversation said me an email one day down the track- its on my profile at Nine Worlds.

And thanks for your blog - it rocks.