The Reading Hour

Whilst catching up on some podcasts recently I discovered that I had missed the inaugural annual reading hour. This event, promoted by the Australian Library and Information Association, called for Australians to spend one hour reading. One of the activities was to encourage parents to read to their children for at least 10 minutes a day over a week. There was also encouragement for anyone to make a date with a book. It  made me reflect on my reading habits and what reading means to me.

It is hard to think back to a time when I didn’t read, when the words were merely scribbles on a page, yet to be deciphered. I remember some early reading books such as Dick and Jane (anything that had my name in it assumed greater importance) and books of fairy tales. There were illustrated versions of the childhood classics, including Black Beauty and a book of Aboriginal legends. I delighted in odd compendiums of facts, like The Big Book of How and Why or something similar.

A lesson learnt early on was the incredible power of books to transport me to another time or place, to parts of the world both familiar and strange, to characters that seemed as real and complex as any that were in my daily life. The pleasure of being so caught up in a story that it slips into your mind whilst you’re doing other things, as you ponder on what might happen to this character, or how this seemingly impossible situation will resolve itself – these are some of the many joys that reading provides.

In the podcast, a few writers were interviewed to see what reading meant to them. For Chris Womersley reading takes place anywhere and it is difficult to imagine life without it. Sometimes life is understood more through literature than real life, and books play an important part in his internal narrative about what was going on in his life at a particular time. Kevin Kwan spoke of the pleasure that reading gives him – more pleasure than just about anything else, opening up a world of possibilities. For Kamila Shamsie, happiness is being in a hammock, reading. Reading means you never have to be alone, or that your life is limited to your own experiences. According to Shamsie, it enables you to develop empathy and imagination.

It is often claimed by many writers that to write, one must read. Reading widely is encouraged, not just in the genre that you write in or your particular field of expertise. Reading widely offers insights and approaches that can complement various styles, and I’ve heard interviews where some authors deliberately read non-fiction whilst writing fiction, for example.

I like to read a couple of books at any given time, and over the years this has evolved into a mixture of books, ebooks and audiobooks. I’ve just finished reading The Dunbar Case by Peter Corris as an ebook from the library after listening to The Liars’ Gospel by Naomi Alderman for my book group. Next on the book group list is The Death of Ivan Ilyich & Other Stories by Leo Tolstoy, an author I haven’t read in decades since I toted War and Peace around at the end of my teens. Recently I finished reading The Museum of Words by Georgia Blain, which was beautiful and devastating. I’m also reading Where Song Began by Tim Low. A friend has given me a couple of books on meditation and I’m also keen to read a couple of Australian crime thrillers that have been in my reading pile after reading some enthusiastic reviews lately.

What does your reading life look like?

[Photo: detail from my favourite reading chair]

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More Wonderful Words

I love how words have the capacity to surprise. They don’t always mean what they sound like, if that makes any kind of sense, but sometimes they do. Here are some that I have collected recently by reading books, articles and blog posts.

Syllogism – spotted in A Writer’s Notebook by W S Maugham. “The areca trees outlined against the night were slim and elegant. They had the gaunt beauty of a syllogism.” Syllogism is an argument with two premises and a conclusion. I can’t recall coming across this word before and I wish I had the artistry to use a word such as this in a context as outlined above.

Nocturne – this brings to mind exquisite piano pieces, especially music appropriate for playing in the evening. It can also be used for compositions with a dreamy or pensive nature.

Promulgate – I like the formal sound of this word. It is used to describe a proclamation or public declaration.

Oleaginous – this sounds like its meaning; having the nature of quality of oils.

Dreich – another word that, once defined, sounds like its meaning. Bleak, miserable, cheerless and dreary. I came across it in a blog post by La Tour Abolie and had to add it to my vocabulary.

Diapason – deep, melodic outpouring of sound. A chorus of frogs on dusk, cicadas at the height of summer, the dawn chorus, sheer musicality.

Drube (also droob) – the smallest portion of anything, a coin with little or no value.

Ailurophile – I spotted this on the jacket of The Uncyclopedia by Gideon Haigh, a rather eccentric collection of knowledge and lists. This includes, amongst many other curiosities, a list of Australian towns and suburbs named for ships. Esperance (WA), Lucinda (Qld) and Victor Harbor (SA) are a sample. As for an ailurophile, that would be a cat lover.

Have you come across any words lately that have expanded your mind?

[Photo: local leaves]

Words, wonderful words

I was delighted to come across a blog post by author Katharine Tree recently which features wordplay. There is a link to the post here, and it lists a number of words that have been encountered, written down and then explored. This made me happy inside as I love discovering new words. Not all of them can – or need be – incorporated into my vocabulary, but I find comfort in understanding what they mean.

So I have rifled through my writing notebooks and have a few that I’d like to share.

Senescence: growing old, ageing. This is not what I thought it would be at all.

Cephalic: of or in the head.

Epigrammatic: (of) a short poem with a witty ending; a pointed saying.

Gloaming: twilight, dusk. This isn’t an unusual word, but it is one that I have come across several times lately. It is atmospheric and brings to my mind a certain slant of light. 

Paean: a song of praise or triumph.

Quixotic: extravagantly and romantically chivalrous; visionary.

Quaquaversal: pointing in every direction – with thanks to Autumn to bringing this word into my orbit.

Have you come across any arresting words lately?

[Photo: detail of gate entrance at the Hydro Majestic Hotel, Medlow Bath]

Writing Influencers

Recently I was entranced by a photo in an exhibition. The close up shot of a delicate leaf had a cloudy quality. My mind rifled through words to describe it, and ‘opaque’ jagged me out of the trance. It was a word that I had once used in a short piece that was critiqued by my first foray into a writing group.

One of the mainstays of the group was a retired teacher who had a sharp eye for errors and indulgent word use. It was beneficial to my continuing education as a writer to be exposed to that level of exactitude. But what caught in my mind was the challenge I received about using the word opaque in a piece. The work had been prepared as part of a monthly activity of writing up to 300 words on a theme. This could be prose, poetry, fictional or memoir. I had checked the definition of the word before I presented the piece and maintained that my word use was correct and as I intended. It was, after all, my work.

In the same group was a writer of many years who operated with a different level of intensity. She was encouraging and had visions of developing the group so it appealed to more people, with workshops and guest speakers and the like. I found her to be supportive and she read one of my early attempts at a short story, taking the time to do a line-by-line critique and talk me through various suggestions to strengthen the piece. When I later submitted a short story and received a prize in a competition, my mind flew straight to her as I felt that her encouragement and support had given me the confidence in my writing work.

There have been several people who I would consider to be influencers on my writing. They are not all writers – nor do they have to be – and sometimes it is as simple as someone providing encouragement or insight at the time that you need it.

Who has been influential in your creative output?

[Photo: prison entrance at Norfolk Island]

 

Imagine

This is such a powerful word. It immediately conjures up a collection of images, of worlds both real and invented. It can take me to another time or place, and makes me think of a life with less limitations. That place in your head where simply anything is possible.

Imagine doesn’t have to be a fanciful word. It can hold elements of what is possible, even if what is possible is yet to be realised into actual existence. Creativity. Uninhibited possibilities. The abandonment of realism. Reality: who needs it? Imagination offers resourcefulness and inventiveness, the opportunity to delude, to believe, to create, to fantasise and to think.

It also brings to mind early writings and creativity. When does it start, this compulsion to imagine other worlds into existence, to create something out of nothing? Perhaps it is the short creative writing exercises in primary school, those stretches of time when it was just a ballpoint pen, a lined exercise book and a prompt. I had early forays with elaborate tales involving tennis balls and hamburgers. These were separate stories and although the detail is lost to me now, the story where I was somehow metamorphosed into a tennis ball is still vivid to my younger brother, who surprises me with snatches of it occasionally.

There is also the pure joy of losing yourself in someone else’s imagined world as a child, from tales such as Blinky Bill and The Magic Pudding to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. There are so many places to explore, vivid destinations with memorable characters and some life lessons along the way.

Words have always mattered to me. They have weight and substance when required. I used to tote around a rather large pocket dictionary as a child, and have a collection clustered about me now for dipping into and exploring words and their varied uses. Words are the gateway to my imagination, and for that I am eternally grateful.

What are your early memories of creations from your imagination?

[Photo taken at Mona Vale on the northern beaches of Sydney]