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Posts Tagged ‘commentary’

I was off work last week with an ear infection and as I lay on the sofa feeling sorry for myself and unable to hear the TV, I read a few books. And as I automatically reached for a PG Wodehouse I started thinking about what I read when I’m ill! There are certain books on my shelves that I would classify as ‘illness favourites’. These include; Harry Potter, Agatha Christie and PG Wodehouse. They’re all excellent books for any time but I particularly like them when I’m ill as they’re so easy to read and don’t take a lot of thinking about. It doesn’t matter if I fall asleep mid-sentence or can only read a page at a time, you don’t need to keep track of intricate details or decipher long-winded descriptive paragraphs or try and work out the sub-text, it’s all there on the page.

I love books that make you think and question things but when you’re ill all you want to do is curl up with something comforting, the literary equivalent of hot chocolate! That’s what Agatha Christie etc are to me – my comfort read. They’re familiar old friends that I can dip into without thinking, I don’t have to concentrate too much, I can just relax and enjoy them.

I’ve been reading Ulysses over the past month or so and I’m getting through it, I’ve got less than 150 pages to go, but when I realised I was ill I felt quite relieved that I could ignore Ulysses for a while and pick up something a lot less taxing. The last thing I want to read when I’m ill is something heavy, depressing or intellectually challenging!

So I say thank goodness for all those writers who’ve created proper comfort reads! Illness would be horrible without them.

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One of the blogs I enjoy reading is called Bookish NYC and every week she writes a post called ‘seen on the subway’, where she comments on a few people she’s spotted, what they look like, what they’re wearing and what they’re reading.  It’s interesting to see how often a person’s age or appearance really is not indicative of what they’re likely to read.

I did think about writing a similar post describing people I’ve spotted on the London underground, but that idea fell apart rather quickly when I realised that I spend too much time with my nose in a book to pay attention to the people around me!  However, the other day I spotted a woman, mid-thirties, smart clothes, subtle make-up, she looked like she was on her way to work and she was sitting reading a book.  But, and here’s the thing, I couldn’t tell what she was reading because she was holding a letter from an electricity company around the cover of the book!

The letter was out of the envelope, unfolded and held sideways to cover the front and back of the book, it was definitely positioned purposely to hide the book cover!  How odd is that?  I’ve read quite a bit of trash in my time, but I’ve never felt the need to hide it.  Of course this started me wondering about what she was reading.  Could it be porn, erotica, or a children’s book?  Perhaps it was a terrorist manual on bomb making!

From what I could see it looked like a small hardback book with text, not pictures.  What would be so embarrassing that you would want to hide it?  And if you felt the need to hide what you were reading why would you bring it on the underground anyway?

The whole thing seems a bit strange to me.  I think that if you’ve chosen to read a book, no matter what genre, you should be free to read it without embarrassment; it’s your choice, no one else has to read it and certainly no one else should care what you’re reading.  So I really can’t get my head round why this woman would hide her book.  It’s got me stumped – any thoughts?

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Am I cultured?

Are we book snobs? Prejudiced against certain books?  Think they’re not literary or good enough to class as a serious read?  Do we class certain books or genres as non-cultural reading?

A friend of mine recently commented, on seeing the list of books I’d read in the last year, that she’d read hardly any of them and felt very uncultured.  My automatic reaction was to correct her, just because she hadn’t read certain books didn’t make her uncultured.  Plus can we call someone cultured if all they do is read books?  What do we mean by cultured?

I called this blog ‘culture and cake’ but I’m really only focusing on books rather than any other form of culture.  Surely to be truly cultured a person must experience a variety of literature, music, theatre, cinema, foods, people and places.  It’s easier to have an opinion on a variety of topics if you’ve had a variety of experiences.  People often have something to say about a book or a film and can provide an opinion but that doesn’t make you cultured, just opinionated.  Just because you’ve read Chaucer or Proust doesn’t mean you’re more cultured than the person who’s read Harry Potter or spends 8 hours in front of the telly every day.  It’s just a different side of culture.  If everyone read the same books and listened to the same music the world would be a very boring place.  What would we have to debate about?  The great thing about cultural diversity is just that – culture is diverse and everyone’s opinion is worth something.  Just like everyone’s choice of reading material is worth something.  I may not be a fan of Salman Rushdie novels, that doesn’t make me uncultured.

I don’t believe we should pressure people into reading certain books.  Embrace the variety and make your own choices.  There are days when I love reading Harry Potter and days when I can’t get enough of George Orwell, doesn’t make one day better or more cultural than the other, just different.  And that’s great.

There may be an argument that reading literary prize winners provides people with an introduction to a variety of styles of writing and language and therefore can enhance a person’s own language skills.  But that’s more about a broad vocabulary and grammatical skills than culture.  I’m sure people reading this blog will find plenty of grammatical errors to comment on, and I believe I’m pretty well read, so obviously reading doesn’t guarantee a perfect level of grammar!

But I also regularly read up on current affairs, visit the theatre, watch films, travel, and listen to an eclectic enough range of music!  So am I cultured?  Perhaps to an extent but there’s still a few million books to read and plays to watch, so I don’t think it’s even nearly time for me to stop experiencing new things just yet!   And thank goodness for that; wouldn’t it be awful to think there was nothing left to experience, that you were as cultured as you could get?  My friend may think she’s uncultured but she’s most definitely not, she has children, goes on holiday, reads, listens to the radio and has many experiences I don’t.  So I reckon we’ve just had different contacts with culture and that makes catching up and chatting even more fun as we get to share what we’ve done and learnt with each other.  So choose a cultural experience of your own and get stuck in.

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