I just did something extremely cringe-worthy: I went back and read some unfinished blog posts that are still saved under “drafts”, as well as some posts from 2006 that I’ve long ago made “private”. 2006!!! It’s so scary to think how fast five years have flown, and how much yet little of me has changed. Ahh. I dare not dwell on it.
It’s late and my mind is boggled, but before I let myself ramble off in tangents – there are two main points to this blog post. Firstly, I’d have to say that as far as birthday presents go, the boy’s done pretty well for himself . He’s given me a huge stack of books, The Fountainhead being the first that I decided to tackle. Reading Ayn Rand’s novel has not only preoccupied me enough to leave him alone to study for exams, but it also made me cry, laugh, and re-read paragraphs pensively on many, many occasions. It’s such an amazing book that I almost put off finishing it, instead mucking around with the last hundred pages the other night, and finally allowing myself to finish it and sleep at 6am. Which resulted in me being terribly late for a meeting with the head of jazz, but that’s a different story. I had a discussion with the boy about the book yesterday, but I don’t think I’ve quite tidied up my thoughts enough to blog about it. Actually, I don’t know if I will ever collect my thoughts enough to write a coherent post about it, but all I can say is just read it!
Secondly, people don’t read enough these days. Or should I say, people my age don’t read enough these days. I was tweet-chatting to Rob the other night and finally decided to blog about this. It seems that most people who complain about “kids these days not reading” are older adults, so it was interesting to really step back and think about how I feel in regards to this topic – as I’m supposedly part of this “generation of non-readers”.
I’ve loved reading for as long as I can remember. When I was still very young and lived in Taipei, I remember my family’s in-car entertainment would be “can Amanda read all the signs?” – because, as you know, the streets in Asia are overwhelmed with signs, of stores, ads, you name it. Later on I progressed to proper books in Chinese, and when we moved here when I was six, I learnt English mostly by being virtually the only Asian kid at my primary school, and by – you guessed it – reading. Never mind not understanding all the words in a book at the time, the actual reading itself, absorbing ideas, characters, gaining entertainment from reading was the biggest thing for me. And then when the Harry Potter phenomenon exploded all over the world, I used the series as my escape from reality. I always had a niggling feeling though, that many of my peers didn’t enjoy reading. But I never thought twice about it since even the kids who “hated reading” seemed to all have read Harry Potter as well… until…
…One day, someone in my class snapped at me, “don’t tell me what happens, I’m waiting for the movie”. That’s the day I really did a double take and thought, what?! you’d rather wait a couple of years for a bad film interpretation of the best children’s series of our generation, rather than read it?! I was shocked. But sadly, at the same time, not that surprised at all. It was a kind of disillusion, almost. And whilst I will note that the technology age has impacted a lot on the declining number of youth that read, I’m not going to sit here and blame television, the internet or various other sources of entertainment that have replaced books. Instead, I’m more concerned with what those things cannot replace. Too many people are too preoccupied with plots. And getting fast, instant results. That’s why TV is so addictive – you get fed a half-hour storyline with a cliffhanger, as opposed to spending perhaps two hours reading to gain the same amount of “plot development”. That’s why many people have seen movies based on books, but have no interest in touching the book whatsoever. Some people have told me that it’s “more convenient”, or “saves time” in terms of digesting the “classics” in the form of movies rather than books – but none of these people will have truly experienced what made that book a “classic” in the first place.
Personally, I know I get too tied up in the analysis of the writing itself – choice of diction, dialogue, how the plot is structured, how characters are portrayed and the contrasts between them in terms of writing styles employed, on and on… That sounds like a total exaggeration but I kid you not – I involuntarily do all this subconsciously, peeling things to pieces and re-reading phrases or entire paragraphs just to re-absorb the text in a new light (all my favourite English teachers should be proud!) – but I’m not saying that other people should or could do this, I just think that they should read so that their brains are offered a chance to even do so. I’m not slagging films or anything (I love them!), but I truly think that books are irreplaceable and I repeat – people get too caught up with the plot, and wanting to “find out what happens”. Although many books are judged by how much of a “page turner” they are, I think that with the best books out there, less emphasis is on “what happens next”, rather, “how it happens” and “why it happens” is far more important – and that’s what non-readers are missing out on. They’re missing out on the gaps between time spent reading, where their brains absorbs what they have just read, and allows mind space for their own judgements, analysis and ideas to be formed. Don’t forget now, books and imagination are hugely connected, so youths who don’t read are often missing out on chances to explore their creative boundaries.
I’m sure most people have experienced (perhaps, once again with the recurring Harry Potter example) an occasion where they’ve seen a film based on a book and have either had their imagined settings or character appearances completely recreated onscreen, or have completely disagreed with the visual depiction they’re offered. And therein lies the beauty of reading – you’re not confined to any visual elements and are free to interpret the setting and descriptions in any way you wish. That’s where your imagination gets a workout! I remember when I read Twilight out of curiosity (the entire series, no less, I am thoroughly ashamed to say!!! – instead of studying for my 6th form AS exams), and I had pictured Edward as… well let’s just say that I don’t think Robert Pattinson does my mental version of Edward any justice whatsoever. But in stark comparison, I’d have to say Harry Potter (once again) was very well cast, and was a case of where I thought the core cast members were precisely as I had pictured them when I first read the books.
Also, when I say that people should read more, I’m not being a literature elitist here and trying to shove “classics” or anything down anyone’s throats. I just think that, yes, some books are more worthy of your time than others, but people aren’t reading enough for me to even begin to comment on what they do read. I vastly enjoy the odd crime/thriller/action novel, but I also like to feed my mind with other books in which the plot is only the undercurrent to character development. I think a lot of people don’t realise how valuable these things are – how reading books with complex characters with different backgrounds and motives actually gets osmosed into daily life and how you view or analyse the actions of those around you. Ever wondered what the life of a struggling artist is like? Go read about it. Ever thought thank god I’m not the kid picked on at school? Go read about some poor kid. Ever wonder what might drive the ulterior motives of conniving people? Go read about it. There is so much eye-opening to be done through shelves and shelves of black ink, more so than people even realise. Reading isn’t just about “what’s going to happen next?” or “does the good guy win?” – it truly is about how it happens – and the conclusions we’ve drawn along the way, as well as perhaps some philosophies that deeper books may offer us.
I know I’d said I wasn’t going to rave about it, but I can’t ignore using it as an example: The Fountainhead for me felt really personal, on so many levels that I can’t even begin to describe coherently. But the underlying theme here is the fact that, through her highly contrasting cast of characters, Ayn Rand’s writing has put into words for me, so many conclusions, judgements and philosophies that I’d already drawn up throughout my life, but had never attempted to vocalise and summarise. The different “types” of people that I’ve spent hours of my life trying to decipher, to understand, to overcome difficulties with; how I feel towards them, and they towards me, why I love or hate the way I do… my illiterate scrawls in notebooks and hours spent theorising with my therapist – all these tangents of life compacted into a beautifully crafted novel.
To view this whole “young people don’t read enough these days” issue in a different light, I have to say that too many people struggle with English Lit at high school. Asides from tutoring my sister to pass AS English Lit in half a year (so that she could qualify early for a college scholarship in America), I’ve also helped out various people throughout high school, plus I now tutor a kid on a weekly basis. And I’m disturbed by the main causes of why I think they needed help in the first place: how the teachers are teaching (or not teaching); and how these kids never read except when they are forced to do so for class. Therefore, they don’t know how to read “effectively”, how to process what they’re reading, how to analyse and absorb things, what they’re looking for – which results in their inability to scratch beyond superficial meanings, let alone concoct an in-depth analytical essay in an hour-exam! What these people have in common is the fact that they don’t read by choice as a pleasurable pastime: when they’re faced with trying to get through behemoths such as Jane Eyre or Cat’s Eye for school, they simply struggle through the books, and are reading “up to Chapter X” by certain deadlines merely because they have to! I’ve discovered that an astonishing amount of people don’t even know basic things like what a semicolon or em dash is – I had to write up sentence examples and point them out in a book to my student who is 17!
I could go on and on about this, but I’d better not and get to bed instead. I will, however, freely admit that I’ve been guilty of neglecting books in recent years, but I feel that at least I make up for it when I have some time – such as now. So that, ladies and gentlemen, is how I feel about this issue, at age 20. Maybe when I’m older I’ll look back and be one of those old grumpy adults still bitching about the same thing. Ha.