Category Archives: reading

Books as decorative items

by Cygne Sauvage

Books must be read and not just to be looked at. Using them as mere embellishments for enhancement of a home’s panoramic sense should not be the main objective for acquiring and arranging them in an ornamental array, like the sacrilege committed by the US White House’s occupant. British newspaper The Guardian points out the inanity of the incumbent First Lady’s concept of the holiday season’s decorative tree. “Well, they’re all green. That was enough for them to be selected as part of the Christmas tree of books that currently stands in the White House library…They were chosen ‘based on their varieties of green colour tones.’” Thus, the tome’s display list carries a nonsensical, incoherent theme: Esquire’s World of Golf, Robert Daley’s thriller Tainted Evidence, Simon Stow’s political analysis American Mourning, Dianne E Gray’s coming-of-age story Holding Up the Earth and James Hall’s odyssey into the spirit world of Africa, Sangoma? A reading chair is installed in the tree’s proximity, but who would dare to pull a volume and let the rest collapse on the floor, ruining the so-called spirit of the season? Perhaps, not even the Chief Executive would do such a “horrible” act.

Speaks volumes … the White House library Christmas book tree.

Books must be made accessible for reading.  A home’s library is supposed to be the place where one can comfortably sit and experience freedom of thought, or flight, the book sending the reader to its destined setting. Using books only for a spectacle of show, sans  perusing their pages is intellectual hypocrisy, not erudition.

 

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Peripatetic Spirit

by Cygne Sauvage

traveler2I was barely out of my secondary school when I “visited” Nepal, a country I‘ve been briefly made aware of by my world history subject.  The so-called sojourn was on my mind courtesy of the compelling book The Mountain is Young by Han Suyin.  From China’s celebrated author’s work of fiction, I learned much about the culture, the people as well as the locale’ Kathmandu, the capital town and where the story unfolded.  The novel carried me to the depths of the Himalayas and put me in a trance, swooning over the magical place as well as the main protagonist Unni Mennon, an engineer. Had it not been for Suyin’s prolific pen I would not have been able to reconnoitre the landscape of Chomolungma, the highest peak in the world which foreign intruders named as Mount Everest.

Though an actual physical presence is the best option, we have to accept limitations to travelling. Even the most peripatetic, jet-setting zillionaire equipped with modern aeronautical gadgets could not possibly penetrate every desirable nook and cranny of the globe. On the other hand, budget challenged globe trotters can only save as much for certain choice places to explore and unwind.  Perhaps this is the reason for having a bucket list of places to behold.

I navigated the dark waters of Venice canals through the investigative exploits of Donna Leon’s fictional hero Commissario Guido Brunetti.  Meanwhile, though the plots are not so alluring, what I found enjoyable in Dan Brown’s novels are the vivid descriptions cum extensive historical background of the terrestrial sites his protagonist Robert Langdon has been dragged into by the cases he has on hand to solve. In fact, in his book Inferno, the author seems to have veered too much from the main gist of the novel with his absorbing characterization of Istanbul.  All the other works of Dan Brown that I have taken time to read feature major geographical briefing: The Da Vinci Code, and The Lost Symbol.

Compared to a film whose advantage is presenting a panoramic visual of the place, a book’s edge is that it offers tons of information which the vista in the movie does not offer. A viewer definitely will fancy the pristine waters of Bermuda or Cayman Islands in James Bond flicks, but the detailed chronicles of the lush greenery of British countryside, such as in Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day, or the bustling Curacao in John Le Carre’s  The Night Manager cast more potent impact on a peruser’s psyche, as well as add greater improvement on one’s erudition.

I traversed the chaotic roads to Cambodia via the novel The Sympathizer, during the height of the Vietnam war, a sight that has been erased by modernization. Being transported back to places long lost in time is another plus point to reading a book.

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A Horse Walks Into a Bar: Winner of the 2017 Man Booker International Prize

by Cygne Sauvage

Since last year, the Man Booker International Prize has been awarded to a single book. Prior to this, it was a biennial prize bestowed to a collection of work either originally in English or translated to this language.

So, this is now included in my reading list, that is, if ever I will find a copy in any of the remaining mediocre bookstores present only in the metropolis. I have attempted to order books online, but this feat presented a bigger headache for me. Anyway, I have vowed not to spend precious moments on whining about the inefficiencies of the systems in my land of birth. Instead, I promised to devote my time to promoting the sustenance of the intellect and the education of those who still have the willingness to embrace novel wisdom, regardless of age.

I  collect winners of the Man Booker International and Man Booker Prize as well as other awards given to works of fiction for the reason that I regard the citations as benchmark for a book’s quality. I discovered that this is not so, although I claim my judgment to be just my own.  Man Booker prize winners that I have read, so far,  and did not disappoint are The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood, Amsterdam by Ian McEwan and  The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson. I started the Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst last Christmastime hibernation, a regular escape mechanism from the materialism of the season, but I put it down after Chapter 4.  Since then, I haven’t had the inspiration yet to pick it up.  I had been longing to read The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy, but I am still searching for my copy from the irresponsible borrower.

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Reading as a dangerous feat

by Cygne Sauvage

During the 18th and 19th centuries reading a book, particularly in bed, was considered not only a dangerous feat but a depravity.  In the context of that time when tools for illumination comprised of burning candles, a voracious reader who could not control the urge to finish a novel and thus would bring it to the bedroom  was deemed to be courting death.  Many, generally the elite and the erudite for they were the ones who could afford and have the enthusiasm as well as access to volumes of reading materials,  met their ends in the privacy of their sleeping quarters, a circumstance that turned trendy in those periods of time when reading a story was considered a communal activity.  Because of the prevalence of this deemed undesirable practice it had come to be equated by the religious authority to an immoral act and defiance of the Supreme Being.  A lighted piece of tallow when abandoned as the absorbed reader  unconsciously fell asleep could turn an entire house, in fact a whole estate, aflame with the tragic consequence of loss of lives. Thus, aficionados of the written works were then warned to shed off the vicious vice and were directed to spend, instead, the darkness in prayer.

Discussed in the article in The Atlantic: “ Writings from the 18th and 19th centuries frequently dramatize the potentially horrifying consequences of reading in bed. Hannah Robertson’s 1791 memoir, Tale of Truth as well as of Sorrow, offers one example. It is a dramatic story of downward mobility, hinging on the unfortunate bedtime activities of a Norwegian visitor, who falls asleep with a book. Even the famous and the dead could be censured for engaging in the practice. In 1778, a posthumous biography chastised the late Samuel Johnson for his bad bedside reading habits, characterizing the British writer as an insolent child. A biography of Jonathan Swift alleged that the satirist and cleric nearly burned down the Castle of Dublin—and tried to conceal the incident with a bribe.”  Continue reading here: https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2017/05/reading-in-bed/527388/

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Painting by Marc Romyjos

More than two centuries later, books have evolved from printed form to digitized version, compressed in gadgets along with gazillion data. The electronic gizmo has become the indispensable companion of its owner who brings it not only in the private bedroom but anywhere including the lavatory, dining table and even in the steering wheel. Reading has become everybody’s favorite pastime, taking in facts as fiction and worse fake news as truth. The difference between reality and fantasy has become so blurred, ruining lives and relationships from the microcosm of the society to the grander schemes of political leadership and world’s corporate bigwigs.  Massive disinformation has made life more perilous.

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Hurray for real books

by Cygne Sauvage

STORK

As a book lover, I appreciate not only the content but the aesthetic design of the cover, the lovely array of colors that result from aligning them in shelves. Our family’s library, in fact, is the only vibrant section in the decrepit structure we call home. Not that the books are neatly compiled, something quite impossible in a household of geeks and bookworms who snatch an edition as often as they grab edible materials from the refrigerator, and don’t have the frame of mind to return it to its former place. So, the volumes seem to have evolved lives of their own, taking spaces that suit them, spinning off to a beautiful topsy-turvy setting.

According to this article in The Guardian “Real books have trumped ebooks. The digital revolution was expected to kill traditional publishing. But print books are ever more beautifully designed and lovingly cherished.”

Continue reading here: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/may/14/how-real-books-trumped-ebooks-publishing-revival

 

 

 

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Should books smell like café latte?

by Cygne Sauvage

At the start of summer vacation for public schools in the country where I am based, I was pressured to accede to a family friend’s request to accommodate her daughter as a student trainee.  The 17-year old lass is on her way to the final year of senior high school in the succeeding term.  Her mother boasted that her third female offspring is knowledgeable in computer where she spends most of her time.

Interviewing the student-trainee  reveals her  deficiency in communicating both in verbal and written form.  When asked what book she has read during the last year, apart from what they were required in their homework,  she proudly responded that she is into The Diary of the Wimpy Kid. I told her that that’s way below her education level, and unashamedly she said that she enjoyed it because of the simple words and the pictures, an easy read.   When I queried what books they were required to read in school, she groped for an answer, and then suddenly remembered that their readings were those posted by their teachers on their tablets, which every student is required to own one.

This millennial girl could be the typical student, not the exception. Despite the advancement in communications technology, these young peoples’ capability to correspond or exchange ideas has been hampered by the pre-designed repartees facilitated by electronics and social media. In everything, from how to respond in situations to expressing one’s feelings, a certain emoticon is ready to be pressed to match it. Words are lost, real emotions uncaptured, remains repressed.

The gift of communications is honed by diligent reading. Social media has likewise summarized everything in pictures. Electronic books pose no attraction as they’re just a bunch of words.

There must be an effective way of motivating young people to read books. Libraries and bookstores must present alluring atmospheres that would draw them like ants to a drop of honey. Should we make books smell like café latte’ since millennials crowd coffee houses? Incidentally, an article in Popular Science says that “old books actually smell like chocolate and coffee.” Read it here:  http://www.popsci.com/old-book-smell#page-3

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Doesn’t she know that there are things called toys?

by Cygne Sauvage

“Doesn’t she know that there are things called toys?” is the vehement reaction of the little girl who received a set of books from me. These were well chosen reading materials, made sure of their appropriateness to her age and interest. Yet, at the age of six, reading a book has not caught up with her enthusiasm for the pre-installed computer games in her electronic gadget, latest doll crazes from the enterprising movie producers and collecting Peppa Pig in various poses and expressions.

This personal crusade to inculcate reading commenced upon observation of children within my family circle and those of my colleagues’ nibbling on their food with eyes set on the monitor of either their mobile phones or ipods. Doesn’t  Apple realize the inanity of its corporate brand which represents the fruit of knowledge? Well, we cannot put the blame on big business for having turned a big chunk of the world’s children population into zombies.

A child’s home environment casts the formative values. Partly responsible for my penchant for reading is an uncle who used to stay with us while attending college until the time he reviewed for his state exam.  A big bulk of his luggage are books and very seldom do I chance upon him not preoccupied with one of the volumes.  My mother, likewise, on rare occasions not burdened with housework spends her brief siesta with either a magazine or a book rather than with neighbors for an exchange of juicy gossips or with other housewives who delve into trivial pursuits.  My grandmother, whose trade involves collection of old magazines, entitled me to browse into them which are housed in a small warehouse-like hut.  Perusing these foreign publications of glossy, colorful pages never fails to leave me in awe and entice me further into the habit.  Thus, though the public financed school I attend that time cannot render quality books that would arouse enthusiasm in the students, my household provides me the atmosphere as well as the materials. I am so appreciative when my uncle hands  me down all his entire Perry Mason series, my initial encounter with detective stories. This is prior to my being able to afford discriminating with food for my thought.

Hence, those who are in this similar crusade as mine can only do so much as promote books through gift-giving on various occasions. I choose to target children, exposing them early to the genre for their impressionable minds.  But, it seems I have been beaten by Samsung and Steve Jobs.

 

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