Don’t feel inferior if you did not finish a book

by Cygne SauvageImage result

I have lost count of the number of times I have attempted to concentrate on and finish Infinite Jest, the voluminous opus of one of my adored writers, David Foster Wallace, known simply by his initials in the journalistic milieu. The several failures to make it to the last page of this more than a thousand work of fiction by one considered a genius in contemporary American literature drives me to a scheme of devoting two hours of pre-bedtime moments to reading a chapter. But to no avail. The earmarked schedule is mostly consumed by having to refresh back to where I left off owing to the profound writing style of the author, and most likely due to my inadequate grasp of DFW’s literary realm. The book has been listed as one of the best novels by Time magazine.

Finishing a lengthy novel is a big challenge… and achievement. The myriad twists and turns in the story may not always be pleasing to the reader.  Likewise, long-winded works often go beyond the plot’s crescendo half-way to the conclusion that the narrative ends up dragging and seemingly interminable. There are several celebrated novels left unfinished by my bedside, each carrying a bookmark where I stopped perusing, with the promise of going back to these pages someday. But until now, I have not returned to Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace which aside from its convoluted theme is peppered with hundreds of difficult  to memorize names of characters.  Nor have I visited again the pages of The Luminaries, Booker Prize winning work of Eleanor Catton, which I bookmarked at Chapter 4. Had it not been a requirement in my college literature subject I would have not been able to endure till the last page of Charles Dicken’s Great Expectations which is deemed as the British author’s obra maestra.  Perhaps I had it at a time when I have already consumed two Dicken’s tales of a young orphaned boy’s travails in the dark side of London: David Copperfield and Oliver Twist.

On the other hand, I ardently devoured Donna Tart’s The Gold Finch in just three days, more or less.  I never put down Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead and became an avid Howard Roark fan. There was no struggle as well in perusing Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind, with Scarlet O’hara leaving a dent in my outlook in life, not Rhet Butler, of course.  I have finished three of the longest novels of James Clavel’s Asian sagas one after the other: Shogun, Noble House and Gaijin. And many more.

Methinks finishing a book, regardless of the many accolades it has earned in reviews or the multi-awards accorded to it, is a function of  one’s mindset and receptiveness during perusal time. Hence, don’t feel inferior if you have not completed an edition, whether fiction or non-fiction, and dub yourself as not erudite enough. This happens even to the most fanatic bibliophile.

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Finally, the epic is translated in a language I can understand

by Cygne Sauvage

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But only the first book of the 12-volume epic set in 13th-century China.  I am referring to the obra maestra of the author Jin Yong, the pen name of  Louis Cha Leung-yung, the most widely read  writer in Chinese-speaking demography.  His works has been popularly serialized in the 1950s, and it took more than 5 decades before the magnificent tales hatched by this imaginative genius, now 94,  will cross to the locales of non-speaking Chinese.  Described to be on a parallel universe with the likes of Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings,  the saga weaves the intricate life of its hero Guo Jing against the backdrop of the ongoing  Jin–Song Wars.  His father is killed by the invading Jin army and his pregnant mother flees to Mongolia where the novel’s protagonist is reared by the nomadic warriors under the rule of Genghis Khan.  A Hero Born is the title of the first of the series.

Prior to the publication of the English translated volume Jin Yong’s magnum opus has been adapted into a popular TV series in 2008, and in 2017, using the title “The Legends of the Condor Heroes.” However, there are criticisms as to the accuracy of this interpretation since the condor is not indigenous to China. They say the more appropriate equivalent term in the Western language is “The Story of the Eagle-Shooting Hero.” Whatever.

 

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Several studies reveal that reading is therapeutic

by Cygne Sauvage

Through a chance encounter with a former college classmate I get an invitation to a group reading. Well, I am not entirely unfamiliar with this preoccupation but in my country this is a rare occurrence as the population, generally, has greater penchant for  drinking sessions or dinner parties than involving in a serious activity as analyzing a work of fiction.  My colleague, though, updates my outdated information. That is, there are now more of this type of social gathering being held because of what has been discovered and being promoted online as the therapeutic effects of reading a book.

Actually, the healing aftermath of consuming a novel is not a recent concept to me. I have come across this in several articles, one published in the The New Yorker almost three years ago written by Ceridwen Dovey titled “Can Reading Make You Happier?”

Bibliotherapy is the technical term for the process of prescribing reading materials to alleviate a person’s physical or emotional pain, and has been in existence for already more than a century.  Practitioners, like regular medical professionals, establish literary clinics and dispatch reading materials with therapeutic worth.  It is just like taking in a medicinal drug, or a calming potion. Some say it is an effective alternative to a nicotine patch for those who would want to kick their smoking addiction.

Reading fiction definitely imposes some changes in the reader’s psyche. Compelling stories have the power to bury one’s own life into the novel itself and secure a relief, no matter how temporary, from the present anguish or sentiment.  Thus, bibliotherapy comes in various forms, addressing diverse maladies whether arising from one’s physique or cerebral condition.   For example, literature courses are being conducted for prison inmates, each individual being recommended with a classic that delves on his/her committed transgression.  Likewise, senior citizens showing signs of dementia are encouraged to participate in book reading circles where participants are required to relate a summary of the book they have just consumed, honing their memory tools.

It is widely believed that the practice of bibliotherapy originated from the ancient Greeks who regard libraries as “healing places for the soul.”  Moreover, Sigmund Freud having used literary reading during psychoanalysis sessions has been written about.

A 2011 study published in the Annual Review of Psychology discusses the effects of reading about an experience in the stimulation of the same neurological regions of the brain as when the experience is real, based on analysis of fMRI brain scans of participants.  “We draw on the same brain networks when we’re reading stories and when we’re trying to guess at another person’s feelings,” the research findings claim.

So even if you don’t agree that reading fiction has that fabulous repercussion on one’s well-being, it can’t be denied that it has maneuvered our minds into a state of enchanting pleasure, which brings the same health benefits and inner calm as deep relaxation during meditation.

 

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Encouraging impoverished children to love reading

by Cygne Sauvage

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There have been myriad published how-tos with regard to encouraging children to read. I scan an online article just recently enumerating a step-by-step method for parents to follow, and the entire procedure consists of no simple tasks such as constructing a visible record of achievement like a chart or graph that marks the number of books a child has read to give him/her a sense of accomplishment. Unfortunately, the prescriptions apply largely to children from families with the means to provide the attention as well as the access to reading materials.

What about children from impoverished areas?  Many will find it absurd to even bring up the idea considering that poverty brings with it a lot of serious problems requiring much needed attention such as putting food on the table.  On the other hand, education has been proven to be an effective means of escaping penury. A child who is motivated to read and enjoys this activity is more likely to have positive attitude towards attending school.

Charitable organizations with worldwide presence do amazing work to promote children’s literacy and bring books to kids all over the world.  Unfortunately, these institutions’ resources are constrained to match the massive requirements.  The basic needs have to be addressed first for how can children suffering from starvation and infectious diseases appreciate stories about princesses or the adventures of the protagonists in the novels of Charles Dickens? Hence, more important than the availability of book materials is the nutritional supplement to nourish the minds. Thus, feeding programs and learning sessions have to go hand in hand.

Perhaps the best way is to start within our small localities targeting the nearest impoverished community.  No matter how posh our locale may be, there is always the nearest packet of poverty lurking nearby. Regardless of how small scale a project is, this can have tremendous impact.

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I admit I have always enjoyed graphic novels

by Cygne Sauvage

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A great part of my childhood, during summer vacations and weekends, is spent in the shabby shack behind our house where I read the previously-owned magazines my grandmother uses for her trade. Among these are the Walt Disney comics, the first of the graphic novels I encounter upon being literate.  I avidly follow Huey, Louie and Dewey, the nephews of the famous Donald Duck, in their Junior Woodchucks adventures. Regular perusal of these magazines, which are all in English, hones my proficiency in this language and enables me earn good grades in school. In my land of birth, this foreign tongue is predominantly the medium of instruction, from grade school to tertiary level, particularly those institutions of learning catering to affluent families.  But don’t misunderstand that I am a scion of a rich clan. I attend public schools, definitely not for moneyed people, but since I seem to have an edge over my classmates in language skill I am always relegated to honors classes where all subjects are taught in English.

During my youth, only US-produced reading materials grace the magazine stands though not in competition with local publications because they have different market audience. The latter serves as daily entertainment stuff, along with radio dramas, of those from low middle income. Though forbidden by our parents and schools to access the local graphic novels because of their concentration on adult romances and nonsense fantasies, I manage to read a lot of them courtesy of a neighbor who is fanatic to this genre.  True, stories lack depth in imagination as most are just culled from Western stories of mermaids and superheroes while romances are mere translations of Mills and Boons.  Sadly,  their styles never progress, that over the years they are eclipsed by the influx of non-US based comic books which proliferate the bookstores and magazine stands starting in the 1980s.   Thus, I have come to be aware of  Tintin, Lucky Luke and Asterix long after Superman, Batman and Uncle Scrooge.

My addiction to Archie and his gang happen during my college days through the kindness of my well-rounded classmates.   Thus,  an issue has always been among the “basic” goods I purchase every payday since graduation, starting a collection I deem precious.

At the turn of the millennium,  globalization and the world wide web give my country’s denizens access to a bounty of translated Japanese mangas and animes which replace the craze over Marvel and DC publications.  Walt Disney soon disappear from the cartoon magazine section of book stores, perhaps affected by the ban of the conservative groups critical of its having no sense of family, that is, there are no parental characters, only uncles and aunts. Hence, the X and Y generations are not aware of them.

I am truly amazed at the diversity of the Japanese graphic novels, tackling on almost every subject matter under the sun: history, romance, action, mystery, food, etc. I admit that daily surfing online is not complete without a visit to the site of my current reading which is Shokugeki no Soma.

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“Research suggests that reading on paper still boasts unique advantages”

by Cygne Sauvage20150428_012753

One of the ubiquitous items in the school paraphernalia of a daughter of my friend is a tablet which must always be on hand as her teacher sends instructions and reading materials through this device.  Well, sounds ordinary in this digital age, but hey, the girl is just in her third grade.  Isn’t it too early for her to be exposed to reading texts via technological gadgets and skip the experience of leafing through papers, or learning through in-person interactions, engaging in real time discussions with classmates?

Myriad learning institutions would disagree with my antiquated attitude.  They contend that children must be early acquainted with progress in the tools for learning.  The influx of computers, smart phones and tablets is unstoppable.  Technology is so dynamic that a year’s time would render passe’ methods in information transfer as well as instructions.

But wait, an article from the Scientific American have a load to say with regard to the certain disadvantages of reading via screens.

“Evidence from laboratory experiments, polls and consumer reports indicates that modern screens and e-readers fail to adequately recreate certain tactile experiences of reading on paper that many people miss and, more importantly, prevent people from navigating long texts in an intuitive and satisfying way. In turn, such navigational difficulties may subtly inhibit reading comprehension. Compared with paper, screens may also drain more of our mental resources while we are reading and make it a little harder to remember what we read when we are done. A parallel line of research focuses on people’s attitudes toward different kinds of media. Whether they realize it or not, many people approach computers and tablets with a state of mind less conducive to learning than the one they bring to paper.”

Continue reading here:  https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/reading-paper-screens/

 

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Changing parameters of greatness

by Cygne Sauvage

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Today the world salutes half of its population,  those whom nature held responsible for the growth and nurture of human embryos inside their anatomy,  enduring physical and emotional anguish to deliver and rear new life forms.  Those from whose enchanting hands developed great individuals who contributed to the advancement in the quality of life and made living as comfortable as possible.

However, a measure of a woman’s greatness is not limited to the capability of her reproductive system or her desire to procreate.  It should not be overlooked that women who chose a different path from starting a family, including those who freed themselves and transcended their given gender, can achieve eminence.

Unfortunately, high profile women in politics, in business or in the fashion world, bestowed with myriad accolades, similar to their male counterparts, have not escaped the changing parameters of greatness. Yesterday’s paladins could be today’s villains or tomorrow’s martyrs.

Thus, it is quite difficult to honour women or men for the grandiosity of their achievement.  A saviour in one country could be deemed as a traitor in another geographical horizon.

Therefore, I decide to hover around the discussion of women on those who emanated from the imaginative artistry of mankind, zeroing in on their strength of character, not on their “heroic” deeds.  There have been several of them whose stories have been told through generations and I can only mention those I have met through my reading passion.

Notable is Elizabeth Bennet created by Jane Austen in Pride and Prejudice.  She lived in a world that just wasn’t fair for women.  They can’t inherit a property and their only chance for survival is to marry. Yet, Liza Bennet was not cowed by this tradition and expectations that she rejected several marriage proposals including that from her would-be-husband Mr. Darcy. Rebecca Sharp  from William Makepeace Thackeray’s Vanity Fair is a strong-willed, cunning, moneyless, young woman who was determined and succeeded to make her way in society.

In Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, although told through the history of the Buendia family focusing on the descendants of José ArcadioBuendía, his wifeÚrsulaIguarán is actually the anchor of the clan. She lives to be well over 100 years old, supervises the Buendía household through six of the seven generations spanned in the novel. A very strong character, she often is triumphant where the men of her family foundered, and leads them to the outside world.

At the center of the novel Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell is Scarlett O’Hara, who is pictured as mean and belligerent yet maintained her stubborn optimism as the civil war devastated not only their economy but the moral fiber of the society.

And I must include here Hester Prynne from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter.  She’s been convicted of adultery and  forced to wear red letter A for the rest of her life. But, rather than leave or hide, she defiantly decides to challenge the hypocrisy of her Puritanical society. Combatant yet compassionate, Hester opposes  the prevalent oppression in her midst.

 

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