Top 32 Books I’ve Read Since Turning 30 (The Obligatory Birthday Post)

This essay was written by Brandon Monk.

Today’s my 32nd Birthday. I feel obligated to make a birthday list post. My philosophy is not to persuade people to read specific works as long as they are reading. So, this is not a prescriptive list. Maybe something will interest you. If so, great. If not, continue to read at “whim.” Meaning, read whatever the hell you feel like at the time. You’re in control of your reading future.

Some are old and some are new, but here’s the list without further ado (thanks Grammar Girl for the tip on ado v. adieu). Please note that these books are linked via the referral system through Amazon.com which means this site will be given, literally, pennies, if you purchase using these links.

Top 32 Books I’ve read since turning 30 in no particular order because that would be way too hard:

1. IQ84, Murakami.

2. The Corrections, Franzen

3. Infinite Jest, Wallace

4. The Iliad, Homer

5. The Odyssey, Homer

6. The Pale King, Wallace

7. Songlines, Chatwain

8. Imagine, Lehrer

9. Jesus’ Son, Johnson

10. The Wasp Factory, Banks

11. Moon Palace, Auster

12. Frank Lloyd Wright: An Autobiography

13. Lincoln’s Melancholy, Shenk

14. The War of Art, Pressfield

15. The Trial (Re-read), Kafka

16. Hero with A Thousand Faces, Campbell

17. Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl

18. Einstein, Issacson

19. Steve Jobs, Issacson

20. The Moviegoer, Percy

21. The Marriage Plot, Eugenides

22. The Art of Fielding, Harbach

23. How to Be Alone, Franzen

24. The Road, McCarthy

25. Sketches from a Hunter’s Album, Turgenev

26. Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman, Feynman

27. A Moveable Feast, Hemingway

28. How to Read a Book, Adler and Van Doren

29. The Swerve, Greenblatt

30. A Reader on Reading, Manguel

31. Start Something that Matters, Mycoskie

32. War and Peace, Tolstoy

Despite the fact that my birthday is on Friday the 13th I have never read much horror writing. I did particularly like one book that might be loosely classified as horror, Hikikomori by Lawrence Pearce. Consider this your bonus recommendation because my birthday falls on Friday the 13th.

Do you have a favorite this year or last?

Photo by Paul Jarvis.

Growing into It: Converting Non-Readers, by an Ex-Non-Reader

This is an essay by Joseph Dante.

Most people who know even a little bit about me could probably tell you this: I love fiction in all its forms and I love writers. I’m always in the middle of a novel, always reading stories and poetry online, always recommending new things for people to read. So it almost always comes as a surprise when I mention how, as a child, I actually wasn’t the most voracious reader. I wasn’t one of those feral children who grew up in a library and were raised by books, or who stayed up late at night reading with a flashlight under the covers, only to fall asleep drooling on the pages.  In fact, I wasn’t even remotely compelled to pick up books outside of the classroom at all.

But I was always writing. When I was in elementary school, I kept several of those cheap black-and-white composition notebooks, I gave myself long, obnoxious pseudonyms on the covers, and I would jot down all the worlds and people that got stuck inside my head. I was more than dreamy-eyed, more than oblivious to people around me at that age. I really don’t know how I managed to stay focused in school and get good grades.

I had other solitary hobbies that probably made me seem a bit odd to other children my age, and looking back on it, I still find it a little surprising how I managed to hold on to any friends at all. One hobby that I remember most distinctly is that, for a while, I was obsessed with collecting marionettes from all over the world. Dad made me a makeshift puppet stage out of an old refrigerator box he was going to toss out, and Mom cut out a hole in the front as a flap and installed window curtains that I could open and close. I would write the plays and put on shows for my family (charging them admission, of course). I remember making books out of construction paper too, complete with my own crude illustrations. I remember giving one to my mom as a get-well present instead of just making her a card. So even though I wasn’t an avid reader at the time, I was always finding a way to tell my own story.

Even though my parents had always encouraged my education and creativity, I still come from a small family of very dedicated non-readers. Reading was just never an activity anyone did outside of school or work. There were never books anywhere in the house aside from photo albums or your standard set of encyclopedias. So, as it turned out, reading was a habit I had to grow into instead.

It wasn’t until I was a teenager that I started to pick up books of my own accord. One of my high school English teachers always used to tell us how you can’t be a good writer without being a good reader, and it wasn’t until I started listening to this advice that I began to take literature more seriously. It’s always nice to have encouragement from your loved ones, but I think it took a less biased outside authority for me to really recognize my own writing skills and how reading could sharpen them. I started taking advanced English classes and creative writing, and suddenly, both reading and writing became more than just leisure activities to escape my boredom. I won a few contests and prize money for my stories, and I later went on to study English in college.

Since then, I’ve tried my hardest to get other people to read more too—whether it’s my own writing or other newly discovered writers I love to gush about.

Here’s how I’ve gotten a few of my non-reader family members to read:

1.       My teenage sister: She really doesn’t like reading books at all and it’s difficult for me to foist anything on her. However, she does love to draw and paint and is a very visual person, so I’ve managed to get her to read quite a few graphic novels I’ve fallen in love with. She also loves the Harry Potterfranchise—despite being such a dedicated non-reader—so she recently promised me she would read the series over the summer if I read along with her.

2.       Mom: Sometimes, I can very reluctantly get my mom to read things, but not often. She seems to like slice-of-life dramas that she is able to relate to in some subtle way and typically enjoys feel-good movies. A few things I’ve managed to get her to read, as an example: Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt, The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom, and The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan.

3.       Nana: She’s in her eighties now, but she really loves watching things on TV that explore other cultures and time periods. Because of this, I figured she’d be more into works of historical fiction, and I was right. She especially loved The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini and watched the film adaptation with me. I sometimes buy her Gothic romances by Victoria Holt at a local used bookstore too.

4.       Grandpa: He’s older than Nana, and he has a seemingly endless supply of war stories to tell. He has more of a scientific mind and doesn’t really seem to appreciate fiction all that much, but I gave him the book The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien anyway. He ended up thanking me profusely and told me he was really moved by it.

In terms of the conversion process, here are a few things I would keep in mind when trying to approach people who refuse to read:

1.       Try to focus on things that are relevant to their own interests, not yours. For example, if your little nephew likes Star Wars, maybe you can point him towards other science fiction series that may appeal to young adults. There are also plenty of fantastic comics and graphic novels being written—both online and off.

2.       If you can’t narrow them down by any specific interests, focus on their demographic. Teenagers will probably enjoy coming of age stories because they’re a lot more relevant. Adults who are more occasional readers seem to be more interested in memoirs, biographies, travelogues, and nonfiction. Keep in mind their own personal life experiences (especially what they might be going through at the time) if you can’t really break them down by genre.

3.       Don’t be too aggressive. The process of becoming a more avid, critical reader never happens over night—it’s very gradual. If they seem particularly resistant towards your efforts to foist books on them at every opportunity, try to let up and approach it a different way. Maybe they enjoy some other kind of art: photography, film, music, cooking, theatre, etc. Try to generate more discussion around these topics instead. Often, you’d be surprised by how art and media can cross over and inspire others. There are plenty of films that are adapted from novels, of course, and plenty of cultural activities that circle back to storytelling.

4.       If all else fails, try to encourage them to find more creative outlets. Everyone has an imagination and anyone can be newly inspired at any time in their life. If you’re a parent, take this into careful consideration. I’ve always been grateful for my family’s continuous support despite having to put with my strange hobbies and fictional personas. Try to work on projects together that they seem to be interested in. Let it be a mutual effort (hopefully without bribing). Helping to nurture an imagination with one esoteric hobby can always lead to accidental interest in something bigger—who really knows? Maybe you’ll see it coming from a mile away, or maybe it will be just as unexpected as the leap from a boy’s strange curiosity with marionettes to a man’s lifelong love for literature.

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Joseph Dante is a writer from South Florida. He has a blog where he talks about writing, books, and the internet, and is currently a slush reader and intern at Hobart Pulp. You can follow him on Twitter @storyforburning.

Photo:  Some rights reserved by Vimages.

Feedback From a Writer and My Response

I love hearing from readers. I don’t know if you would call this a virtual classroom where I’m a teacher begging for a question or a virtual room of adult colleagues sorting through reading, learning, and writing as a group. I think the latter is probably the better analogy and what I had in mind initially, but I’m still feeling my way through the concept and probably always will be. Either way, though, when I hear from a reader I take it seriously. I try to respond to everyone. I don’t think I’ve missed anyone yet. If I have, please send me an email. Even the spammers get politely slam dunked.

Thank You for Your Feedback!

So, the first goal of this post is to thank everyone that has ever left a comment, sent me an email, responded to my call for guest posts or my offer to read a book. Please keep helping me work through these ideas. This is a beautiful collaboration with some really smart people. If my post is bullshit I expect I will be called out on it! That’s good for everyone involved. Hell, send me a guest post with a differing point of view and I’ll post it, too.

My Response to a Piece of Constructive Criticism

Second, I just wanted to respond to a particular piece of constructive criticism I got recently. The email was short and to the point, it read: “I need more on writing. I know why I read.” Now, my initial reaction was to think, that’s pretty fair criticism. We do spend more time talking about reading here than anything. Maybe the emphasis will evolve slightly over time, but I don’t think it’s going to change dramatically. When I picked the name of the site I didn’t put “read” first because of any alphabetical priority. I put “read” first because, to me, that’s where it all begins. Even writing. Fair warning to everyone out there thinking the same way as the critic.

As I thought about it a little longer, though, I started to second guess my initial reaction. Is it fair to say the information here is not of any use to a writer? That’s basically the complaint, right?

The way I see it is you can’t write unless you read. You shouldn’t write unless you understand why people want to read. You have absolutely no business writing if you’re not interested in how a reader thinks.

Now, maybe, I’m missing the point and the comment was really meant to insinuate what we talk about is far too elementary to be of any benefit to this particular reader. That’s certainly a possibility. In that case, I’m happy to accept the criticism, go on down the road, and come to terms with the fact I’m not writing for that particular individual who is already far better read than I am. I can deal with it. Lord knows there are plenty that fall into that category.

Here’s My Concern

What worries me is the comment seems to be insinuating there is no connection between talking about reading and talking about writing. I see the two as inseparably intertwined. How do you edit your writing if you don’t read it and even try to read it from a different perspective than it was written from? How do you sell books if you don’t persuade people to read? Wouldn’t it be important to understand why other people read, even if it’s not the reason you do?

Let me be clear, though. I’m not trying to convince this particular critic they’re wrong. More power to them for reading and having an opinion. I love opinions. I did, however, want to throw this out there for others thinking along the same lines. Consider it food for thought. That’s also why I’m responding as a blog post instead of just as an email.

For a writer, maybe engaging in some discussion on the benefits of reading with other people isn’t a bad thing at all, even if they are already convinced to read and know damn well why they do it. Maybe there is some benefit for a writer in a site that talks mainly about the art of reading. Maybe I’m completely off base, too. I don’t have all the answers, but I do like talking about this stuff with proponents of all positions. I think its an important debate to have.

Please keep sending me feedback of all kinds! Do it anonymously if you want to. Leave comments, send me emails, I’m on twitter @readlearnwrite. I love hearing from you, even if you think I’m wrong.

Photo: Some rights reserved by Audin

5 Poems to Read for National Poetry Month (and Why)

This is an essay by Chris Ciolli.

Even though poetry is generally shorter than the average feature article in a newspaper or magazine, some readers continue to avoid the genre as “boring” or “difficult to understand.” While poetry can certainly present readers with a challenge, it is a challenge worth rising to. Why? Because when properly digested, poetry is as nourishing to the mind as farm-fresh produce is to the body. It’s a great way to put on someone else’s skin for a few minutes and gain a new perspective. Besides, once you give in to the sounds, imagery and abandon of it, reading poetry can be just as satisfying as reading a new novel by your favorite author, not to mention much faster. Here are a few (five) poems to start out readers that are new or recently returning to the genre:

1.       “Where the Sidewalk Ends” by Shel Silverstein

“/And there the grass grows soft and white/”

Shel Silverstein is widely known as a poet that made poetry accessible, i.e. fun for children and their parents. His poem “Where the Sidewalk Ends,” from the book of the same title encourages us to escape to a different place, beyond our humdrum daily existence, where a sun burning “crimson bright” (4) and a cool “peppermint wind” (6) await us. While Silverstein is supposedly writing for children here, it is adults that he is urging to recognize children’s wisdom. Children know the joys and passion of imagined places, far from a sometimes dark and depressing adult world.  Also a songwriter, (the great mind behind Johnny Cash’s “A Boy Named Sue”), Silverstein keeps the poem perky and musical with the repetition of the word “and” at the beginning of lines throughout the poem, and a mixture of exact rhymes “white,”(3) “bright,”(4) “flight” (5) and approximate rhymes “ends,”(1) “begins,” (2) “wind,” (6). Easy to understand, and uplifting, “Where the Sidewalk Ends” is classic Silverstein, children’s literature for kids of all ages.

Read the complete poem here.

2.       Directive, by Robert Frost

“/The road there, if you’ll let a guide direct you/ Who only has at heart your getting lost/” (8-9)

Published when the widely read American poet was in his 70s, “Directive is not nearly as popular as other classics like Frost’s “Fire and Ice” or “The Road Not Taken.” Describing a walk through the woods past the site of a former town, Frost guides us to a few conclusions that he, now an old man, has reached—we may never find clarity or completeness in the course of our lives and that we may lose ourselves to find ourselves. Using bittersweet images like “shattered dishes” (42) and  “the children’s house of make-believe” (41) Frost conveys the sadness of fleeting youth and what once was and is no more. Employing poetic devices such as approximate rhyme, and repetition, to convey a complex and somewhat cryptic message, the four-time Pulitzer Prize winner doesn’t disappoint.  Readers will find that plowing through any initial confusion to the feeling behind the words is well worth a glimpse (however brief) into the later years of a great writer’s life.

Read “Directive” at the Academy of American Poets’ Site.

3.       “The Starry Night” by Anne Sexton

“/…one black-haired tree slips/ up like a drowned woman into the hot sky./” (2-3)

Known for her highly personal, confessional poetry often dealing with controversial topics, Anne Sexton battled depression and mental illness throughout her adult life. Her poem “The Starry Night” opens with a quote from Vincent Van Gogh, then launches into a vivid re-imagining of the Van Gogh painting of the same name and finally describes Sexton’s desire to lose herself in the painting itself. A loose rhyme structure, the incantation-like repetition of “Oh starry starry night! This is how/ I want to die. /” (5-6, 11-12) and strong imagery like “the night boils with eleven stars” (4) and “the moon bulges in its orange irons” pull readers into the world of Van Gogh’s swirling brushstrokes as seen through the eyes of this Pulitzer-prize winning poet.

Read “The Starry Night” at the Poetry Foundation here.

4.       Howl (Part I) by Allen Ginsberg

“I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, /” (1)

Part I of “Howl” is easily Allen Ginsberg’s most famous poem. While the sheer size of it can be intimidating–it extends multiple pages with lines that fill up the width of the page– the poem is an entertaining read that relates the often wild and definitely-not-PG stories and experiences of the Beat poet’s friends and contemporaries (Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs, among others). Dedicated to and principally driven by Ginsberg’s sympathy for Carl Solomon, an institutionalized mental patient, the poem reflects upon the destruction of the “great minds” (1) of the era, their exploits and misadventures, with unsettling imagery “cowered in unshaven rooms in underwear”(8). Part I is written as a single run-on sentence and uses the repetition of sounds and words in a rhythm that Ginsberg himself explained as built on bop music. A short of call-to-arms or anthem for the Beat generation, “Howl” was originally a performance piece, and is notable as the first poem where Ginsberg’s signature long-line style based on the length of one breath emerged.

Read Part I and II here  or listen to Ginsberg himself read Part I on Youtube.

5.       “What Work Is” by Philip Levine

“ –if you’re/ old enough to read this you know what/ work is, although you may not do it./”(3-5)

The current U.S. Poet Laureate, Philip Levine grew up in industrial Detroit, and worked in the car manufacturing industry at only 14 years of age, before eventually becoming a published poet and university professor.  In many of his poems, Levine speaks of working class realities, and “What Work Is” is no different. Using a casually conversational tone, and simple, everyday vocabulary “/Forget you. This is about waiting./”(6) as well as the repetition of words and sounds, the poem’s narrator talks about waiting in line to apply for work, and the reality that most people work to survive, but that work is not the end-all and be-all of our existence as human beings. Published during the early 1990s recession, this poem is easily applied to the current economic situation for many Americans and puts the reader in the shoes of an out-of-work laborer for a few moments to begin to understand what it might feel like to wait in line for hours for even the slightest possibility of work, and the sheer determination that moves people to keep trying.

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A writer and translator by trade, Chris Ciolli spends her spare minutes reading, traveling and playing with art supplies. Okay, so sometimes she sleeps, eats and slurps coffee, too. Learn more about her at ChrisCiolli.com, read about her travels at Midwesternerabroad.com, or follow her on twitter @ChrisCiolli.

Photo by Paul Jarvis.

Why Read: Perspective

This is an essay by Brandon Monk.

We have discussed reading for pleasure and for education. The third reason to read is for perspective. By this I mean read to understand the state of one’s ideas. Read to adjust the way you look at the world. Read to understand how two people, places, things, or ideas interact.

What is perspective?

Perspective is concerned with three things: (1) your own thoughts; (2) how you view another’s thoughts; (3) how you view the way two or more sets of ideas interact.

At its heart, perspective is how the world appears. Your background, experience, knowledge, and wisdom influence perspective.

How do reading and perspective intersect?

Reading is available as an exercise to gain knowledge, test your perspective, reexamine it for necessary revisions, and deploy a new perspective to solve problems or simply get more enjoyment out of life.

Reading also informs how you view another person’s perspective. Is their perspective based on knowledge or ignorance? Can you help them to improve their perspective or are they reluctant to change?

These are all problems reading can solve.

Change is brought about in people the same way Nature brings about change to the earth’s surface. Sometimes with torrential floods and sometimes with two drops of mist. But, either way, the change begins with a small action, just one rain drop. Books are there to help you in that way. It’s important to remember, though, that change isn’t as important as the process involved in bringing it about. These are all tiny shifts in attitude and behavior that we can make by reading.

All of mankind has some good in them. You can easily lose sight of that in the day to day grind you’re engaged in. Go to work, pay the bills, feed your kids. These are the priorities and when things don’t go our way we tend to look for people to blame or we tend to lose faith in ourselves, maybe even our faith in humanity. To annihilate that good by failing to believe it exists is to refuse to find the time to see that exists. Books can realign us to the good being done across the world, to the good in people’s hearts, and to the steady improvements in the human race. If you’re not being reminded of that at home, find a book to remind you.

I encourage you to recognize connections between events in your life. The more you can either collect or create by imagination the more data you will have to rely on in answering the ultimate questions in life. Reading is a method of collecting data and exercising the imagination. You appreciate your ability to draw the connection, you appreciate the connected things or ideas, you appreciate others that have seen the connection. It’s a simple victory, but these simple victories add up and let us know we’re alive. These things make us more alive.

Our Reading and Writing Serves as an Aid to our Memories

When you pick up a book and start to read, if it’s a good one, you will find yourself engrossed in the story. Finding out what happens next becomes a desire you come one step closer to realizing every time you turn the page. Humans’ interest in stories is natural. It’s universal. We want stories to be told or read to us as soon as we are old enough to understand them and the desire lasts until death. There are few phrases more powerful than, “tell me a story.”

Some stories have been around for thousands, if not millions of years. They have been refined over time and are now written down to make them more accessible, but many of the great stories began with the oral tradition. They were passed around at the campfire. They were told in battle encampments to make sure warriors fought when they were supposed to fight. These stories were told to rulers so that they would understand the power they hold and how to wield it.

Stories are not just for entertainment, they are the very vessels we use to make sure the things we think are important are being passed to the next generation. If we’re not reading, then we’re not going to be in a position to do our part to make sure the stories that need to be told are being told. You can do your part by writing a story worth passing on, but that’s hard to do if you don’t know how your story fits in with those that’ve come before it. But, you can also read good stories and share the best ones with your friends and talk about those stories and host a book club where you encourage more people to read the stories you find in important. In that way, you’re doing something to make sure the ancient messages that should be passed on are being passed on and that the new messages that may need a signal boost are getting that from you.

Our lives unfold as stories. One event happens after another and sometimes we can even recognize a connection between two events. This is a hard thing to do when long expanses of time occur between events, though. If you’ve written something about your experiences you might be better able to draw the connection. This is what novels do for us. They condense the events into a form that we can spend a few hours on. That makes the connections easier to spot. The best novels deal with connections and relations to things we’ve experienced in our own lives. They helps where we have yet to draw that connecting line on our own. Perceiving these connections and trying to understand them is instinctual. We do it without having to think about it. The book just makes it easier to do because we aren’t reliant on our faulty and incomplete memories.

Memories outrank things. Even memories are outranked by rationally assembling those memories into bigger ideas. In that way, sometimes, fiction is more like reality than the shotgun pattern of our memories. Novelists, in particular, fill the gaps with their imagination to create a whole life for us to look at and study in a format we can hold in two-hands. Novels are, in that way, case studies on life. We can see how a character might be changed by some series of events whereas in our own lives the changes are often so gradual we can’t recognize them in ourselves. Proust wrote about this.

But, the other thing we can do is write out our memories in the form of a book so that we can draw the connections between the events of our lives despite our imperfect memories. Do some of that, too, but read how others have collected their memories and combined it with their imagination to pass on a story that will be memorable. Study how authors make the connections they make so you can make the connections with your own memories, about your own life.

Stories Are Preparation for How Our Lives May Unfold

By reading and understanding an author’s plot we make our lives more meaningful. We start to see how the authors’ stories are related to the story of our own lives. With a little effort we might even start to see how the universal stories, the ones that have been alive for years, are still being lived out by us today. Everyone struggles with their place in the world. Everyone struggles to live a life of meaning. These are the same things books struggle with.

Our connections to those around us are emphasized because we recognize their stories must be similar to our own. Our connections to our ancestors are emphasized because we recognize the problems they faced are similar to those we still encounter. Understanding the impressive power of story we learn that we are not alone.

Characters are mirror images of our internal state.

The characters we encounter are reflections of ourselves. They show us what we would look like in the mirror if you stripped away flesh and bone. The characters we encounter are a reflection of our inner mental states.

You truly know so few people in life. We are hesitant to share our honest mental states. We are most hesitant to share these states with people we care about. Reading can fill this gap. From your reading experience you can understand that the characters’ stories are not unlike your own.

Look at reading as a tool to enhance your perspective. Use reading to learn how your mental states look in the mirror. Use reading to understand your personal search for understanding is unique, but not a lonely endeavor.

Never underestimate the power of the mind. Spending some time each day on your mental health is essential. Reading books is a way to do this without asking anything of anyone else and with very little expense.

Others have made the journey before you and lived to tell about it. They are labeled by their pursuits: authors, artists, philosophers, and musicians. Let story help align your perspective toward your pursuit. They have found a creative outlet to express their emotions and anxieties. Our goal is to find the same, but to do that you have to start by looking at yourself in the mirror.

Modern Man Needs Books

We deal with the immense power provided by technology and with our place in a rapidly advancing society. Part of being human today is admitting you are unsure where you belong, who you are, and what you’re expected to do. To engage in the process of coming to terms with these modern realities you must read. Our literature has changed from the epic external battles of Greek myth to the microcosmic study of our own minds and our place in our very small sphere of the world. That’s because we’re now fighting the biggest part of our day to day fight there.

In “How to Read Literature Like a Professor”, Thomas C. Foster explains, “every culture has its own body of myth that can explain things that other disciplines can not. This is some of the most meaningful literature to spend time on.” Much of today’s formal philosophical study is too engaged in semantical games to be the answer. Literature is now the way we learn to deal with our modern predicament. Let’s look at three examples.

Farming and Ranching Were Once the Ways We Exercised Dominion Over Plants and Animals

According to Henry David Thoreau ancient poetry and mythology suggest husbandry (the cultivation of plants and animals) used to be a sacred art. The methodical tilling of ground in preparation for planting combined with the use of animals for just the right purpose were worshiped. They were the object of ceremony and ritual. Husbandry was a way we exercised dominion over plants and animals.

Most of us no longer farm or ranch. Many that still do perform the task as corporations primarily motivated by creating excess to sell for wealth. Without an idea of where we fit in the “food chain” we lose touch with reality. This is a modern predicament. Think about this, though, in the case of a food shortage who do you want in charge of the food supply? Someone who has read “The Grapes of Wrath” or someone who thinks literature is a waste of their time. The human effect of decisions can not be discounted. I personally think it is undervalued today. Too much emphasis is placed on wealth accrual and too little is placed on personal growth and overall health. We need to understand how we fit in before we can understand what we’re doing wrong. Books can help.

Destructive Technology is Our Creation – We Must Read to Manage it Responsibly

Technology is one way we bring our imaginations into the physical world to meet a specific need or desire. We have expansive imaginations and have shown the ability to create what our minds can see. Sometimes, those imaginings are of destructive forces. Nuclear weapons and other “weapons of mass destruction” are more prevalent and feared now than ever.

We need a counterbalance to these forces. We need to spend as much time studying the beauty of our nature as we spend learning how to destroy. I would trust the man with his finger on the nuclear bomb more if he had read “Catch-22.”

Generation Y is now Generation C

Generation Y might be more aptly called Generation C where C stands for “connected” (arguably D would have been just as valid where D stands for “distracted”). We are defined by our connections. What if those connections are severed, though? What if those connections never form the way they should. What if the very nature of our connections leave us feeling more lonely and depressed than before?

The master of loneliness was David Foster Wallace. He captured its essence because he felt truly alone and depressed. Would you be able to connect to a truly lonely and depressed person better if you’ve read “The Pale King?” Would you be in a better position to understand the impact of even a digital connection if you saw it expressed in literature? I think so.

How Does This All Relate to Perspective?

The scientific evolutionary model tells us we are animals. Our minds tell us something different. We perceive ourselves as capable of adaptation, more intelligent, and more artistic than animals. If our perceptions are true we should act like it. We should exercise those skills which make us different. Creative thinking is our evolutionary niche.

Reading leads to understanding which leads to new perspective. New perspective might teach you how to live in a modern world where we no longer struggle to survive, but instead struggle with how to think and feel. New perspective can show you how to deal with powerful technology in a responsible way. New perspective can teach you how to connect in a world filled with constant interaction.

The next time you think to yourself, I am nothing, I have nothing to offer, or I am wasted space, turn to a book. Instead of feeling lost attempt to understand your place in the world. One beautiful and true sentence can bring you back. It can help you to know your place among plants, animals, and neighbors. Never underestimate the fact that you are part of something larger than yourself. And if you ever doubt it, then read until you’ve re-aligned yourself to that idea.

Start defining yourself through your reading experiences. If you do, you might just find a whole new way to live. You might find a whole new outlook on life through your perspective shift.

Photo:  Some rights reserved by Yogendra174.

Reading Motivational: Read What You Like, Sometimes

Don’t run from your tastes.

Don’t get scared away from reading because you refuse to, at least occasionally, indulge in something you really like to read. If you embark on the journey toward wisdom and set out to read the 100 best novels ever written or the 100 greatest works of literature you may never have a sense of your own reading identity.

I, hereby, give you permission and even encourage you to read something that other people consider less than sophisticated if you will enjoy doing it.

Reading is not the same as taking your vitamin or eating your broccoli.

Be careful about being the person that wants to have read something, instead of the person that wants to be reading something.

Be in the moment with your reading. Ambition is fine. Ambition is natural. Living in a state of constant anxiety, however, is unnatural.

You will never read everything. Stop worrying so much about what you haven’t read and focus on what you are reading.

Be present in your reading. You will find the experience more rewarding and relaxing. You will also find you get more joy and knowledge from the experience.

Book lists

Books lists are fun, in theory. Systematic reading a stack of suggestions based on their literary merit is fun, in theory. Use lists to discover interests.

In practice, though, the best way to read is where your mind and heart are at the time. That is where you want to be so your focus will consume less energy.

What’s your guilty reading pleasure or indulgence?

Photo: Some rights reserved by Viewoftheworld

Don’t Forget to Create

This is an essay by Brandon Monk.

Give yourself a chance to use what you learn.

Don’t be fooled, books can be consumed in excess.

Read to converse with the great minds and absorb what they can teach you, but do not forget that your ultimate responsibility is to create something, not just consume.

You can create in a conversation by bringing a particular idea to the discussion. You can write a blog post to share what you learned. You can tweet and share with your friends. Write a book. Draw. Paint. Give a speech. Share a particularly creative reading with a book club.

You have a responsibility to remind people how smart they are and empower them through creation.  You will be able to do that because you have rehearsed with your books.

Photo:  Some rights reserved by fotologic

Read? Why? I’ll just wait for the movie!

This is an essay by T. Lloyd Reilly.

“Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.”  ~Charles W. Eliot

Being an obsessive reader of words, it came to me that there is what appears to be a huge conspiracy in society today against the written word.  I have always wondered how this happened and why it occurred.  Here is what I have come up with.

Our educational system has failed society massively.  Our children are not motivated to learn as in years gone by.  At one time it was the goal to achieve graduation from high school. Today, those who worry the most about the graduation rate are those whose livelihood is jeopardized by having that rate decrease. I graduated, but it was late because I had to go to summer school to make up a math class.  My mother cried the day I told her I had to go to summer school and she was not going to get to see me graduate,  I had always resisted the subject that delayed my walking the stage, and might even have dropped out if it were not for the true reason I attended school…they let me read in school as much as I wanted and, as long as I took their stupid tests and did their stupid homework, they left me alone in my magical world of words.

My obsession with words began when I was between two and three years old.  My cousin had a collection of comic books which he would let me read in order to keep me quiet while he had babysit me at his house.  I recall looking at the pictures and liking them all right, but I mostly recall the feeling that the words gave me.  Suffice it to say that by the time I entered kindergarten I had taught myself the ABC’s and read “The Call of the Wild” by Jack London.  Not the Classic Comic version, but the full book in small print.

My reading was encouraged from the start but, sadly, children who arrive at a love of words similar to mine are in a disturbing minority.  This is society’s and the educational system’s fault.  Being a rational man,and ultimately becoming a Certified Special Education teacher as well as an English and Reading teacher for Middle school and High school students, I realize that belief in some diabolical plot against reading is a seemingly preposterous supposition.  Given the realities of what I was required to do in order to receive a paycheck while working as a practicing teacher it now seems to be a rational hypothesis.

Education in the modern day, as suggested earlier and especially in America, is a profit driven beast.  While you might hear all the wise and wonderful rhetoric from teary eyed folks about the magic of school, it has turned from being a place of wonders to a place of numbers.  School funding is directly tied to student performance on standardized tests and more and more schools are opting to teach the test in lieu of true education.  The focus is consistently on getting right answers and negating the learning potential of mistakes.  In their defense, it is not that educators wish it to be this way, but it is what they are forced into.  I was fortunate in that the school I worked at had a mandatory reading program that all students were required to take.

There is light at the end of the tunnel to be seen.  Progressive thinkers have begun to emerge that challenge the established mentality.  One of these is the Khan Academy. This is a free online educational program where students can find math tutorials.  There is talk of expanding into other areas and subjects.  This might be a great opportunity to get more people to read.

At the same time the use of technology might just be the fulcrum from which the problems in reading originated.  In the 1950’s it was discovered that subliminal messages were being placed on the screens in movie theaters aimed at increasing sales at the concession stands.  This created a huge fuss, but it was never killed.  Even today, popular films have hidden messages in them.  We have at least two generations that have grown up on television-as-the-babysitter.  A flip through the channels will support the ideal that subliminal manipulation is alive and well.

It goes to the human psyche and the internalization and externalization process.  When certain cable programming became universally available, the campaign shifted into hyper drive.  It takes a normal human being somewhere between 1.5 and 2 seconds to see an image and internalize it.   Internalization is where the mind goes to make value judgments on what it experiences and is integral to the right/wrong choices a person confronts every day.  These cable programs began showing images that lasted .5 seconds which only allowed the external influence to be triggered.  Consequently, the choices made are based simply on how attractive the image is, and how the obtaining of the items displayed in the images might be accomplished.  Value means naught in the face of a cool ride, or a hot girlfriend/boyfriend.  Naturally the products and services offered in these attempts at subliminal sabotage are directly tied to the conscious level of want instead of need.  Thoughts that are internalized allow for the discernment that is associated with value assessment.

The difficulty in breaking a generation built on this kind of influence from the softer, easier way of the “what’s in it for me” crew, to the more challenging “Is this right” acolytes is monumental.  Reading a book is time consuming that could best be spent at the latest game, or jam.  The lessons of such books as “The Count of Monte Cristo” are circumvented by the latest action film about gangsters seeking the revenge the street. The agonizing path to acceptance, love, and compassion that Edmond Dantès experiences over the course of his incarceration and subsequent escape and freedom cannot be taught anywhere but in the pages of that book.  Likewise using the lessons of the street as a method of teaching about vengeance is what we get from a generation who was never taught the beauty of books, and might explain why there are children carrying guns to school and murdering their classmates.

So what is the answer?  Use both.  Show people that revenge is not a path to redemption, but justice is.  Stop glorifying guys with nine millimeter guns, and get a person to meet someone who is protesting peace – nonviolently.  Discuss the story, and find the internal message.  Let kids see the film version of the Count of Mont Cristo or Call of the Wild, but also introduce them to Edmond Dantès, and Buck the sled dog within the pages.  Use both venues, and perhaps the next time there is a choice, the library will get a new member.

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T. Lloyd Reilly is a writer with over twenty five years of writing experience. He has lived what some would consider more than one lifetime and has acquired a wide range of knowledge and life experience which he wishes to share through generous application of the written word. For more information about him go to: http://about.me/tlloydreilly.

Photo: Some rights reserved by jronaldlee

20 Poetical Considerations in Honor of National Poetry Month #NaPoMo

April’s National Poetry Month (hashtag #NaPoMo on Twitter). That means I get to tell you everything I know about reading poetry. I only know 20 things, though, so don’t be overwhelmed.

1. Poetry is best read quickly and with total immersion. Also, read poems slowly. Is that a contradiction? Good. Ask Walt Whitman about contradictions. Read his Song of Myself from Leaves of Grass.

2. A good place to start to study how to read poetry is Mark Van Doren’s Introduction to Poetry. I hear it is out of print, though, so it may be harder to find. If anyone has a good reliable source, leave it in the comments! I won’t sell my copy.

3.  T.S. Eliot tells us one of the main functions of poetry is to give names, however, complexly metaphorical the names might be, to emotions that have abided for a long time unspoken in the heart. Can you see that as being true in the poems you read?

4. Be prepared to read poems multiple times. Good poems sustain many close readings without losing their impact.

5. Memorize poems! Read them so many times that you have them fully committed to memory. Don’t sit down and say, “I’m going to memorize this today.” Instead, just read them daily and gradually you will be one with the poem. Zen, right?

6. Read John Stuart Mill’s What is Poetry. I think it is available free from several places online.

7. Try to find and catalog poems for all situations. Find a poem for heartache, a poem for grief, a poem for love, a poem for inspiration, and so forth. That way you can look to them when you need them, for strength.

8. Why did Plato ban poetry in the ideal state? Think about that.

9. Look at the poem as a whole, sometimes, even though the parts are so beautiful.

10. Expect to see some intentional ambiguity. Poets love that trick! They use it to make you think.

11. Take the time to really dwell in any “aha!” moments that poems inspire. These can stick with you for life.

12. Read poetry out loud to hear how it sounds. It was written to be read in this way.

13. Read Ciardi’s How Does a Poem Mean?

14. Here are some fancy terms you can play with on your own time, if you want: (1) paraphrasable content (2) rational structure (3) image structure (4) metrical structure (5) sound structure (6) syntactical structure.

15. Here are some more: (7) pyrrhic (8) spondee (9) trochee.

16. Structure doesn’t mean rhyme and poetry doesn’t have to rhyme. Even if it doesn’t rhyme there may be some beautiful repetition of similar sounds to look out for.

17. More terms: (10) alliteration, (11) cacophony, (12) assonance? When you see these in a poem, ask what these things add to what a poem means? Do they emphasize anything?

18. How many sentences appear in a line? Are there any grammatical patterns repeated? How does that add to the meaning? The poet did this for a reason, why?

19. Poetry can be read in one sitting. For that reason, it’s not a bad place to start to exercise your reading muscles!

20. Goethe: “Every day one should at least hear one little song, read one good poem, see one fine painting and- if at all possible-speak a few sensible words.”

Good online resources for free poems:

a. Poem Hunter 

b. All Poetry

c. Bartleby.com

My favorite poem: T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland.

Here is a good poem to read, as an Introduction to Poetry.

What is your favorite poem? Share in the comments.

Any poetry reading tips of your own?

Photo by Paul Jarvis.

The “No Bullshit” Reader and Reading Rituals

The “Bullshit” Reader

One of the great things about writing for your own blog is that you get to research terms like “bullshit.” My research indicates the first person to use the term “bullshit” was T. S. Eliot. Between 1910 and 1916 he wrote a poem entitled “The Triumph of Bullshit.” The first stanza read:

Ladies, on whom my attentions have waited
If you consider my merits are small
Etiolated, alembicated,
Orotund, tasteless, fantastical,
Monotonous, crotchety, constipated,
Impotent galamatias
Affected, possibly imitated,
For Christ’s sake stick it up your ass.

There’s a scene starring Maya Rudolph in Up All Night where she has to read a book to prepare for an interview with a popular non-fiction author who has written about the economic collapse. As she sits down to read she spends time preparing her tea and getting comfortable in her chair. She adjusts her position several times and scoots around in her chair. I think she even has on a snuggie. She reads the front cover and the back cover. Just about the time she starts to read the first page she’s ready to quit and does. Her character is the epitome of the bullshit reader.

Bullshit equals nonsense. Bullshit is something you can just as well do without. Bullshit includes any wasted movement and energy which leads to excuses.

The “No-Bullshit” Reader

The no-bull shit reader, on the other hand, doesn’t care where he is or what he’s reading. He just wants to read. He can read just as easily on a crowded subway as his favorite easy chair. To read, he needs only a book and a few spare moments. The book, he always has. For that reason, he finds time.

The no-bullshit reader has no problem finding something to read next because he has to read to stay sane. It’s not a matter of finding the perfect time so much as it is finding any time. It’s not a matter of finding the perfect book, because most books will do.

The no-bullshit reader is an efficient reading machine. His back may hurt and his eyes may suffer because he never reads in the proper light, but he gets his reading done.

Reading Rituals

This issue, however, gets a bit more complicated when you consider reading rituals. Rituals are things you do the same way every time. In that way, they become habit. Sure, they are symbolic in nature, but they trigger certain thought patterns and they can reinforce certain behaviors.

One man’s ritual is another man’s bullshit. Reading rituals are a grey area.

I go through phases. I fall in love with my Kindle for a few months and then transition to real books the next few. I will read mostly in bed one week and in my chair the next. When the sun comes out in the spring, I try to read in the hammock when the mosquitos aren’t swarming.

If I do anything the same way every time, it’s having a notebook and pen to jot down a quote or thought that comes to my while I read. Sometimes, in a bind, I’ll substitute an email note from my smartphone, but I always feel a bit naked without my notebook and pen.

The test is whether the action helps you get your reading done. The ultimate goal is to read. Don’t engage in self-deception. If you aren’t getting your reading done, abandon anything that may be bullshit.

How do you draw the line between bullshit and ritual? Do you have any reading rituals?

Photo: Some rights reserved by dullhunk