The art of reading

"... the art of reading is slowly dying, that it's an intimate ritual, that a book is a mirror that offers us only what we already carry inside us, that when we read, we do it with all our heart and mind and great readers are becoming more scarce by the day."

~ Carlos Ruiz Zafon, from Shadow of the Wind

I read this quote on someone elses blog and it fascinated me.

I think that he captures what reading means to me perfectly when he states "that when we read, we do it with all our heart and mind". I think that what he is trying to say is that we immerse our mind and our emotions in the books that we read - and that is something that I identify with (mostly anyway, lets face it, I am not too invested in Dan Brown or John Grisham, no matter how much I may be enjoying it). I cry when I am moved by a book, I put it down when I feel that it is becoming too tense. I think about the characters while I am reading, and even while I am not. I often lose my sense of time and place when I read, becoming wholly engrossed in the world created by the author.
I think that I read with all of my heart and mind.

I also love the way Ruiz Zafon refers to reading an "intimate ritual". That phrase is so suggestive and sensual that I would not have connected it with reading at all.

It made me wonder though - is reading a ritual for me? I looked up ritual in the dictionary and found that most definitions or ritual have some reference to religious practices. The broadest definition said "any practice or pattern of behavior regularly performed in a set manner." In light of this, I couldn't honestly say that reading was a ritual. Although I read regularly, it is not in any set manner.  I do mainly read on the train to and from work - but I don't have to. Sometimes I prefer just to stare out the window and allow my thoughts to wander. I don't hold my book in any particular way, or turn my pages in any particular way. I just pull out a book and read whenever it suits me.

What about intimate? Intimate suggests private, closely personal, deep. I certainly lose myself in books and that is a very personal experience in the sense that you disappear within yourself completely and enter into a new world or reality, albeit briefly. But is that an intimate act in accordance with the definition? I think not. Reading isn't quite private enough to be considered intimate, at least for. When I think of intimacy I think of telling my friends my inner most thoughts, or lying naked with my partner in bed. Not reading. The act of reading itself can be a personal experience, but I like to share my reading with others. I talk about the books that I have read, debate their strengths and weakness and discuss what books I would like to read in the future. Those are all part of what reading means to me - and it takes away some of the intimacy of the actual act.

And yet... I can't help but love the phrase "intimate ritual". It makes reading sound so soft and pleasurable. Although in a practical sense I don't think that it accurately describes what reading is to me - it does capture that pleasurable feeling I experience when I read.

Is a book a mirror that only offers us what we already carry inside us? This really fascinates and puzzles me at the same time. I am not really sure was Ruiz Zafon means by this. Is he trying to say that those books we identify with most reflect our own experiences and beliefs? Is he trying to say that we will only get from a book what we can put into it? I have heard a lot of people say similar things about books and have always been equally puzzled by it. Perhaps it is because it doesn't reflect my experience of reading - there are so many different books on so many different issues that I have been moved by, I wouldn't know where to begin any attempt to analyse how they might all reflect what is inside of me.

What does all of this amount to?

Is the art of reading slowly dying? Are great readers becoming more scarce? Can reading even be considered an art? I can't answer these questions - I am not sure that anyone can - but I would love to know what other people think.  

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters; a ghost story

Sarah Water's The Little Stranger is a modern day ghost story, and a great read for those of you who like a good ghost story.

The Little Stranger is a modern day ghost story set in post WWII at Hundreds Hall, an old English mansion that has fallen into disrepair. It is owned and inhabited by the Ayres family, a mother and her daughter and son. Doctor Faraday, the local doctor, becomes involved with the family when he is called out to see one of the Hall's servants when she falls in. Gradually though, strange happenings begin to occur around the house that slowly send the family spiralling out of control.

The story is told through the eyes of Doctor Faraday, who plays the role of the non-believer that is essential in every ghost story. He is a rational man with a scientific mind, who tries throughout the novel to make rational sense of the strange ghostly occurrences at Hundreds Hall.

Initially, we are made to think that Doctor Faraday is an objective observer but it slowly becomes clear that perhaps he is not as objective as we might think. We begin to get a sense the Doctor Faraday has a growing obsession with Hundreds Hall; he thinks about it all the time and makes every effort to ingratiate himself with the family as often as he can. I couldn't help but wonder whether he had designs on the property and how this effected his ability to analyse what was occurring within the house.

Waters did an an excellent job of combining a spooky ghost story with social commentary. The darkness of the ghost story fit in very well with the dark and sombre mood of England post WWII.

Hundreds Hall imposes itself upon the story so well that it almost becomes a character in its own right. The large rambling mansion is falling into disrepair because its owners are unable to afford the upkeep. The garden is taking over the house, the steps are crumbling to pieces and inside the wall paper is peeling from the walls. In a way, Hundreds Hall is used a metaphor for the country itself.

Much like James' The Turn of the Screw, the reader is left wondering at the end about what, if any, the ghostly present was. I know this allows for additional mystery - but I would have preferred a more conclusive outcome after investing so much time in the story. Waters makes a bold attempt to create a spooky atmosphere with the mystery - but it fell a little short of the mark for me. I often felt that the story was moving just a little too slowly, and was a little too focussed on Doctor Faraday and not enough on the ghostly elements of the story. Although I enjoyed it, it definitely wasn't in the same league as the Turn of the Screw for fear and tension.


What kind of read is this?
It is an easy read, but the book is rather thick and it takes longer to read than you might expect.

Do I recommend this book?
I recommend it to people who enjoy ghost stories but it won't be the best ghost story that they read.

Do I recommend that you buy this book?
No, borrow it.

Star Rating

5 / 8

Good and worth reading if you have the opportunity, but there's no need to prioritise it.

Are you a fan of ghost stories? I would love to know what you think of this book if you have read it or any of Sarah Waters other books?

Holidaying on the other side of the country

I am currently holidaying in sunny Perth, WA, Australia and so posting will be limited. Be back for Christmas and have a few posts scheduled for while I am away. Hope everyone is getting some great reading done!