Friday, March 16, 2018

2018 - A Year of Slower Reading

They say that chewing slowly is better for your digestion. I'm beginning to understand that it's better for my literary diet as well. Last week I reviewed Arnold Bennet's How to Live on 24 Hours a Day. His basic premise was that self-improvement will bring fulfillment to your life, but it was one of his side points about reading that really struck me.

I know people who take to reading as men take to drink. They fly through the shires of literature on a motor-car, their sole object being motion. They will tell you how many books they have read in a year. [But] unless you give at least forty-five minutes to careful, fatiguing reflection upon what you are reading, your ninety minutes of night are chiefly wasted. This means that your pace will be slow. Never mind. Forget the goal; think only of the surrounding country; and after a period, perhaps when you least expect it, you will suddenly find yourself in a lovely town on a hill.

As I read this, I knew he was talking about me. But this is not who I was when I started blogging nine years ago. Then I was reading a book a week. Although I am a fast reader, I read substantial books that required a certain amount of pondering. Books available to me in Brazil were limited and I carefully chose the ones that I would carry with me in my suitcase. Conscientious choices resulted in pleasurable encounters with many of the western world's best authors.

A couple of years later the Kindle came out and suddenly I had a surplus of options. Then I started joining reading challenges to help chip away at my unending TBR lists. Last year my library began offering a gazillion digital options for book downloads. I no longer read one book a week. I read 3 to 4. This year I added 30 minutes a day of audio books every morning. And yet I've noticed the law of diminishing returns: more books, less pleasure. This frenzy has not brought the literary contentment that I used to sense on a regular basis.

As I was reading Bennett's book, I kept saying to myself, "Next year I'm going to read less books, read more slowly, and revisit old favorites." Then it suddenly occurred to me that I don't have to wait till next year. My tentative reading plans for the year (100 books at Goodreads) are a guideline, not a mandate. I can stop the frenetic reading NOW. Whew!

 But, I worried, what if that means I won't have as many books to blog about? So be it. On second thought, I don't think that will be an issue. I'll read less junk and have more time to devote to books that are worth my time (and hence, yours). So I'm off to a slower pace and looking forward to savoring rather than wolfing down my books. I'll let you know how it goes.


Friday, March 9, 2018

How to Live on Twenty-Four Hours a Day by Arnold Bennett

This small, unassuming little book hit me right between the eyes. Interestingly, it wasn't the main premise that affected me, but one of its secondary points. In How to Live on Twenty-Four Hours a Day, Bennett argues that most of us are just existing and should start using our time more wisely for self-development.  It was written in 1910 and aimed at men who worked 8 hour days and then wasted the rest of their time "recovering" by doing nothing strenuous. He challenged them to separate 90 minutes three nights a week for cultivating their minds. These 7 and half hours would be life-changing according to Bennett. They will quicken the whole life of the week, add zest to it, and increase the interest which you feel in even the most banal occupations. He goes on to emphasize the importance of developing your powers of concentration, the necessity of starting small so as to avoid failure, and the value of frequent self-examination.

Some of his assertions are reasonable: Begin small. I'm all for the petty success. A glorious failure leads to nothing; a petty success may lead to a success that is not petty. Some are laughable: Without the power to concentrate - that is to say, without the power to dictate to the brain its task and to ensure obedience - true life is impossible. Mind control is the first element of full existence.

I read quite a few books about self-development last year and each one had its "secret" for how to live a full life, but self-development for its own sake is a shallow goal. I agree with life coach, Edie Wadsworth, that we keep our hearts, minds and bodies in shape for the greater purpose of serving God and serving others. I have nothing against improving your mind, but I see improving the heart as a much bigger priority.

My take-aways from the book had more to do with Bennett's view of time as a miraculous gift, and his assertion that if we read to improve our characters, we must do it slowly. (That was my epiphany, which I'll describe in detail in my next post.)

While I don't fully agree with his basic premise - that self-development is the key to a fulfilled life, I loved his sly humor and pithy quotes: The most important preliminary to the task of arranging one's life so that one may live fully and comfortably within one's daily budget of 24 hours is the calm realization of the extreme difficulty of the task, of the sacrifices and the endless effort which it demands... If you will not be content with a small effort, then do not begin. Lie down again and resume the uneasy doze which you call existence. This bracing of the will before doing anything worth doing is the chief thing that differentiates me from the cat by the fire.

This short book is well read by Mark Smith at Librivox.


Friday, March 2, 2018

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Not since Emma, have I read a story that begins with such an unlikable heroine. But I knew there was hope, and pressed on. Ten year old Mary Lennox has been orphaned by a cholera epidemic and sent to live with an unknown uncle. The truth is that she was an orphan long before the disease took her parents because her socialite mother had ignored her for most of her life. Neglected by her family and spoiled by her servants, she has become surly and selfish. At her uncle's house she meets a sickly, self-centered young boy and the novel describes their redemption. The discovery of a locked-up garden plays an integral part in their transformation; as the garden comes back to life, so do they.

The Secret Garden is a delightful story with lovely descriptions of nature. As a read-aloud, it would be a perfect way to introduce younger children to the glories of springtime with phrases such as this: They drew the chair under the plum tree, which was snow-white with blossoms and musical with bees. It also has a charming array of characters from the crotchety gardener, Ben Weatherstaff, to the no-nonsense servant Martha Sowersby to her wise and loving mother, Susan.

Magic is mentioned throughout the story. Mary believes in it because she's seen snake charmers in India. Dickon is considered magical because he knows all about nurturing plants and animals. Sometimes the magic is the lavish grace of spring. Sometimes it's a mother's love. Sometimes it's will power. Sometimes it's the power of positive thinking. This dizzying array of explanations for anything that appears to be supernatural was okay with me until Chapter 23 when Colin loudly declares that he can do anything because "the magic is in me," which seemed a little too New-Age-y. BUT the author redeemed herself by having the children respond to the "magic" in the only way they can think of - by singing the doxology. Again, as a read-aloud, this book would offer a great opportunity to talk with your children about how God is behind all of these miraculous events: springtime, love, healing, etc.

My enjoyment of this book was greatly enhanced by the version I downloaded from because the author pronounced the Yorkshire accents beautifully.

(Barbara at Stray Thoughts discusses the magic theme more thoroughly in her post here.)