“Those of us who have been true readers all our life seldom fully realise the enormous extension of our being which we owe to authors” – C.S. Lewis
Inspiration for today’s post came from a conversation I heard when catching up with BBC Radio 2’s GMS programme when Ruth Scott was a guest on the show.
Ruth said, “Before we were married, my husband and I were asked what book would best represent us before we met our partners – and I replied, ‘Enid Blyton’s Famous Five’, whilst Chris’s answer was ‘Charles Dickens’ Bleak House’. Ruth couldn’t come up with an appropriate book to represent their lives today, but I asked myself: which would be my book?
My book would have to be Paulo Coelho’s ‘The Alchemist’. One of the first spiritual books I read, the magical story of Santiago’s travels teaches so much about the wisdom of listening to our instincts, learning to read the signs which are there before us, and above all following our dreams and truly believing that we will ultimately achieve and arrive at our goals.
I had never encountered a book which seemed to speak to me as this one did, and it really had a life-changing effect on me at the time I read it, and beyond.
The world of literature is a wonderful place to take us out of ourselves in whatever direction we choose. It teaches, inspires, amuses, provokes thought, uplifts, encourages, relaxes, opens up new avenues of exploration, and in equal measure can disturb, perturb, or enlighten.
Reading is learning, but that is not to say it is the only way to learn. It is a huge part of our life education and how we read is important in contributing to how we deal with what life throws at us. If we read with sorrow or anger, we will feel pain and negativity.
I accept it is a blinkered viewpoint, but I choose not to read fiction that is gruesome or distressing as I dislike the imprint on my mind that is left by the imagery. However, it is not the case that I only read light and fluffy fiction – but I balance my reading between, say, a good thriller or family saga, with a factual account – perhaps an autobiography. I go to the library regularly to feed my reading appetite and my choice is usually led by what I feel will tick the boxes of a good read; it is one’s personal and individual choice which is a great part of the delight of reading. Some books leave far more impression than others and this is true of factual writing as well as fiction.
More esoteric reading such as Paulo Coelho’s ‘Manual of the Warrior of Light’ is a great way to start the day and may provide a platform for contemplation and meditation. Even a brief ten minutes spent in this way at some point in the day is helpful in processing all the ‘stuff’ with which we are constantly bombarded.
If we can find books to read that offer hope, humour, love, empathy and wisdom, then we will expand our knowledge with very little effort, and enrich our lives in a dimension that endures.
The pleasure that comes from being totally lost in an interesting story is immense. Whether our choice is poetry or prose, literary fiction or historical fact, adventure, thriller, romance…. there will always be a book waiting for us to enjoy.
There’s an exercise I do from time to time that I think of as an emotional barometer. It is very simple … in my diary I write three words to describe how I am feeling that day… if I were doing the exercise today I would write ‘calm, relaxed, grounded’. A week or so later I repeat the exercise without looking at the previous words, which I will most likely have forgotten. Then I look back and compare the words. It is surprising how often the same words crop up (in my case, I frequently write ‘blessed’) and it is a heartening exercise to carry out. I always try to record positive words rather than negative …if the words were continually negative I think I would look for some help to turn that round to a more optimistic viewpoint. In itself, reading an uplifting account has the capability to change mood and outlook. Even individual short quotations have the ability to inspire a sense of optimism.
It therefore seems appropriate for me to end with a quote from another of my favourite authors, the late Maya Angelou:
“If I could give you one thought, it would be to lift someone up. Lift a stranger up–lift her up. I would ask you, mother and father, brother and sister, lovers, mother and daughter, father and son, lift someone. The very idea of lifting someone up will lift you, as well.”