Wednesday, 6 October 2010


not the town in Berkshire (this time) but the activity of consuming words with the brain.  Norm links to an article by a James Collins in the New York Times who says he does not remember the books he reads, and wonders if he should be concerned about that.  A Prominent Neurologist says he shouldn't, that the data from the books he cannot remember are still there somewhere in his brain, and that he is a different person as a result.  Or something.  I am not clever enough to understand all this Scientific Stuff.  When I was a child my mother called me a "bookworm" because I read a lot.  But it wasn't true.  I did read a lot, but I understood very little of what I read, and for me until at least my teens, and possibly much older, it was the physical activity of reading I enjoyed - I quite often found the text boring, especially if it was hard to understand, either because it was intended for readers older than me or just because I wasn't clever enough to understand it.  I liked the autonomy reading gave me.  It was something you did that no-one else could do for you, that you could do either on your own or when other people were around, and no-one could watch you doing it and say you were doing it wrong.  You didn't get marks for it at school after the age of about eight either.  When I got good reports at primary school my parents said the teacher was stupid and hadn't understood that I Wasn't Clever and Couldn't Do Maths.  When I got bad ones, which I did quite often later on, my parents said they Always Knew.  You will gather from this that I am Not The Clever One in my family.  The picture above (hat-tip Martha) shows me in my 20s doing what I typically did then. Anyway, a few months ago my daughter posted quite a lot of old family pictures on her Facebook page, and in almost all of them I am reading a book.  Some of the ones without me in them have a book on a table, which I know I was reading on the day the picture was taken.  But I cannot remember those books, although I know I read them.  So since I looked at that album of photos I have been keeping a reading notebook.  It is one of these:
Moleskine.  I use them all the time  My reading one is a red hard-cover plain page one my son gave me for Christmas (my family have now worked out that a notebook, Moleskine for preference but any will do, is a present which will always make me happy) and I write down, not so much what I think of what I am reading, but what is happening in it, what the writer is doing or trying to do, and I quote from it, with page numbers.  Sometimes I post reviews of books I have read, as regular readers of this blog will know.  If I didn't have to go to work I would do a lot more of this.  If I don't have my reading notebook with me I write on my iPad, whose Notes app is rather handy (my iPad is always with me)

and then post straight from there.  I wish I had done all this (the paper notebook part anyway) when I was younger.  At home my reading and writing place is the corner of the kitchen, and sometimes I go in there and look at my notebooks and a sigh of pure happiness escapes me.  Anyway.  Where was I?  Ah yes, the process of reading.  There has been a revolution - we can read on e-books now - but the process of reading stays the same as it has always been.  I will post another time about e-reading: I am an early adopter of technology and have had a Sony book reader for quite a long time now, it looks like this (below left).  I don't read much on the iPad because our non-globalised   
markets mean I have to have - I do read French but there is almost nothing in English there, so not much I want.  I read newspapers on the iPad, especially The Times (I am now behind the Murdoch Paywall of Death), which is excellent.  W.H. Smith inform me that I can no longer purchase e-reading from them, as they now insist on a UK billing address for purchases.  Dingbats.  The Frankfurt Book Fair is currently in progress, and despite the saccharine reporting and thinly disguised product pitches that pass for coverage of that event, it seems that the publishing world is imploding.  Nobody knows how much to charge for e-books, given that most of the cost of a book is in the printing and distribution.  A clue:  a lot less than now.  None of the publishers, despite their hype, knows what to think.  Ha ha ha.  So they are all trying to kill each other.  Ha ha ha.  When I first got my book reader something over two years ago I changed my attitude to the paper books I possess.  I got rid of some, and will get rid of more, probably, but I know which writers I love and will always read, and hope there will be more (the subject of a later post I expect) and have them mostly in hardback, and before I die will have them all in hardback I hope and believe.  Paperback books may die off as a result.  Good (probably).  My first idea for e-book reading: wouldn't it be nice to be able to download a poem for about 50p?

More to come.  


Augustus Carp said...

MAy I refer you to "A History of Reading" by Alberto Manguel? Again, it is nothing to do with the Berkshire town, but it analyses the practice with a number of fascinating insights and anecdotes. IIRC, it was St Jerome who was somewhat distrusted by his fellow monks because (shock, horror!) he read without moving his lips or making a sound.

jane said...

thanks Gus, will check it out - hope it's available as an e-book!

Technogran said...

Jane, its funny but until I read your post, I didn't realise that despite the fact that I have always been a reader since childhood, there aren't really many of my reads that I can remember. All the James Bonds (before they were made into films) all the Agatha Christie novels. but that's about it. Strange isn't it?

Anonymous said...

I love reading but the fact I can't remember what previous reads were about has always niggled. I feel a lot better knowing that this is a common problem!

I very much like your idea Jane of writing quotes and notes for posterity. Before now I've merely recorded the title and author, in sequence by year. I've done this since I was about 12. I think I'll make time to flesh out the detail

Anonymous said...

I can remember a lot _ Jane Eyre at 7, Wuthering Heights at 8, lots of Dickens between 8 and 13 - some odd forays into things like Hereward the Wake at around 12.
In my teens, quite a bit of contemporary stuff - I remember that Edna O'Brien got quite an outing with me , also Mary Mcarthy ( The Group/) and then Jean Paul Sartre big time - ie The Roads to Freedom and Simone de Beauvoir - no, not The Second Sex, The Mandarins.Childhood reading also took in Noel Streatfield, lots of Enid Blyton, George Macdonald, AA Milne, E Nesbit etc.
I am attachjed to the feel of books and the smell of them in a way that I would never be with anything electronic. Present Booker shortlist is a shame and a disgrace and Andrew Motion should be shot down in flames. Each one I read is worse than the last - and the last , the Peter Carey, I begin tomorrow. I am thinking of writing a letter of complaint to The Times or some other 'organ' about the quality of the list. It is all about publishers in wars with other publishers and the 'in crowd' of writers - - they may be in but lots are crap. Several years ago, Doris Lessing ( that wonderful writer) decided to test teh 'celebrity' thing out by submitting a novel for publication, The Diary of Jane Summers' under a false name. It did not rise from the darker corners of the slush pile. Doris Lessing enjoyed exposing this. Someone should try the experiment again.
Incidentally, I understand that a film is being made of the pretty good Lionel Shriver book 'We have to talk about Kevin'. Yes, it is good and I enjoyd it at the time and recommended it to to others. But there was always something too 'familiar' about it. I now know what it was. It was Doris Lessing's earlier and, yes, far, far greater novel, The Fifth Child'. Do read if you have not.

Augustus Carp said...

CS Lewis used to perform an interesting party trick in his rooms in Magdalen College Oxford in the 1950s. He would ask one of his students to pick a book, any book, off the shelves, open it at random and start reading from the top of the page. Lewis would then give a summary (accurate, but not word-perfect) of the rest of the page. What kind of memory does one need to be able to read, process and retain information like that?

Jonny said...

@Augustus Carp - I endorse your recommendation of Manguel. Really good book.
re: your second comment, I have a memory like that (although it is also a bit of a trick, in that after a sentence or two you know the author and subject matter, and do a Craig Brown summary of the rest).
I find I can't remember what I've written, but can remember whatever I've read, even if the provenance is sometimes a bit dodgy. This is why I don't have a notebook, Moleskine or otherwise.
I am a big fan of indexes and indexers, and wish my brain had one.

Anonymous said...

Germaine Greer/Rosie Boycott/ some science fiction man and some academic were reviewing the Booker shortlist yesterday on Friday Night Reveiw.

All were ridiculous and sycophantic and had no critical eye at all, except Greer.
Until I heard this, I was actually beginning to think that I was going mad in totally loathing the entire list ( almost) and regarding it as sub-standard crap.

Its sometiems easy to forget what a sharp analytical mind Germaine Greer has - and what an excellent and serious critic she is of English literature.

She has written some up and down stuff herself in her time, but let nobody decry the brilliance of both The Female Eunuch or her later book on the menopause.

Anyway, she went through the garbage in forensic style and we agereed about everything - even in choosing the best book of the lot. It is The Strange Room by Damon Galgut - the only one that actually holds together and has any artistic reach --- and the only one that is trying to do something.

Glad she liked it too. Neither of us expect it to win.
Also wonderful to her her snort with derision at the Andrew Motion view that Peter Carey is the same in ability and excellence as Dickens. As Germaine said, with a quite inelegant snort 'I think that is setting the bar way too high' - and yes it is. Eliot talks about these sort of writers in Prufrock.

Anonymous said...

The Finkler Question has won the Booker. Quite the worst book on the worst list ever.