On reading

I am at this phase where working anywhere else other than my own home office proves to be more productive. It happens sometimes — this onset of cabin fever. I just was done sitting cross-legged on the floor while working from the coffee table and managed to construct a WIP 5-page document on my thesis structure that I had been procrastinating to work on for two weeks. I am close to done for the day, and already had my laptop and documents packed so that I could go work from a cafe tomorrow morning.

I just saw this tweet today and I am terribly terrified now. I enjoy reading immensely, both fiction and nonfiction. I even enjoy reading the many journal articles I require myself to read for my research. Growing up as an only child in a lower middle class in a town (now a city) 200 miles away from Kuala Lumpur, I didn’t have many opportunities and privileges granted to me as many city kids do — like a student exchange programme, or a ballet class, or a music class. My family and friends were largely monolingual, and as I gawked at the telly set at all the foreign cities I wished I could visit one day — longing to experience life outside of this small town — I turned to reading. There is something liberating in losing ourselves in books — to find ourselves enlightened, enraptured, and emerging out of another world transformed — without ever leaving your seat.

Maria Popova wrote in her highly celebrated blog Brainpickings on what great thinkers think of reading:

Galileo saw reading as a way of attaining superhuman powers. Half a millennium later, his modern counterpart Carl Sagan extolled books as “proof that humans are capable of working magic.” For Kafka, they were “the axe for the frozen sea within us.”For the poet Mary Ruefle, “someone reading a book is a sign of order in the world.”“A book is a heart that beats in the chest of another,” Rebecca Solnit wrote in her lyrical meditation on why we read and write.

Some additional anecdotes on why we read :

For Kafka, reading was “the axe for the frozen sea within us”; for James Baldwin, a way to change our destiny“Reading is the work of the alert mind, is demanding, and under ideal conditions produces finally a sort of ecstasy,” E.B. White wrote in contemplating the future of reading in 1951. “A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic,”Carl Sagan asserted in his iconic Cosmos series, admiring the “funny dark squiggles” that have the uncanny power to transport us, across time and space, into the mind of another.

Books are proof that humans are capable of working magic. Credit: Brainpickings

Sagan made us think further of why books:

What an astonishing thing a book is. It’s a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you’re inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.

If there is one life’s small joy that should not be taken away from me, it is reading. Please do not let me ever get disconnected from the joy of reading.

(P/s: Somewhat unrelated, but David Tennant has a podcast (!) and he’s interviewing his Broadchurch partner, Olivia Colman (!!) and her dog, Lord Waggyson (!!!). What a treasure!)

Comment 1

  1. Pingback: Nothing too lowbrow – Two Kinds of Intelligence

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