Art of Reading

I guess one of the “wisest” things that I have done in my life is to buy a proper book cabinet

(My latest collection of books – the one in green cost RM8.50 each whilst the Mammoth Book is RM19.90 – a far cry from Dan Brown’s latest thriller costing RM40)

I like reading (my wife have started to pick up reading, with a pace of 1-2 pages per day but reading a book still sounds “Greek” to my son) and over the years, I have been collecting books but without a proper shelf or cabinet, the books were simply lying all over the place. Some of the good books simply got lost (perhaps misplaced and got thrown away), some borrowed by friends and family members and ended up being theirs (I need to make plans to steal borrow them back) whilst others ended getting torn and in a bad state of maintenance

So, when I moved into my own house, one of the things I promised myself to buy is a proper book cabinet – the one we usually find in libraries – to store all those books. So, after getting the more essential furniture and had saved enough, we went out and bought one – it was not cheap but the salesman assured us that the bookshelf would be tough enough to hold thick, heavy law books. and therefore will last long.  And over the years, I have managed to stock up enough books and magazines and my son’s kiddies books into the bookshelf and it has started to overflow. The good thing is, since the books are in a proper bookshelf, the condition of the books have been better too but I am running out of space, so some books have been found lying around. It was definitely a time for another, bigger bookshelf in the house (need to start finding the money and space for that).

With a proper bookshelf in place, I managed to retrieve some of the books lying all over the place including some in old boxes, tucked away in the storeroom (some classic books are lost forever). And just when I arranging those books, I realized that I have not really read those books cover to cover. No doubt, I have touched those books and read selected part of the books (the one that interest me or those pages with pictures) but I soon got bored and put those books away in old boxes. And I realized now that there were quite a number of books that I have not read cover to cover. So I made another promise to myself – arrange all those books into the bookshelf and start reading them cover to cover. And that is what I did exactly and over the years, I have done reading all those books that I gave a slip in the past (some with second reading) – such as this one.

(As thick as a Bible but far complicated – Leo Tolstoy‘s War And Peace may need me to find the right quiet time to start on it but still at RM8.50, it was a killer bargain)

Lately a new problem has started to crop up – I am running out of books to read. I do get my stock of Reader’s Digests and Discovery Magazine on a monthly basis but frequently it is often laden with advertisements rather than with a real, powerful reading material. It was time to go to the local book store to stock on some new books. But the problem is the books in Malaysia is not exactly cheap – a normal novel will cost RM35 and more – cheap if buying one book after a long, long time but too expensive if you are going to buy 3 – 5 books on a frequent basis. But there was a way out – a cheaper alternative called Penguin Classics – it has all those classic books like Moby Dick, Treasure Island, Oliver Twist, etc – regardless of the title and thickness of the book for only RM8.50!

I still recall reading those classics a long time ago when I was still young but the books that I read back in those days was rather watered down – simple English and a lot of illustrations. But reading back the classics again but this time in its “raw” classical and unfiltered poetic language, it makes those classics more complicated and interesting. It sounds like we are on an undiscovered island and we are on a journey to find new treasures. It gives me the chill to think that I may be reading in the author’s original language and sentences. Something I am looking forward with my latest edition to the bookshelf – Leo Tolstoy’s epic War and Peace.

Now, with fresh stock of books in the bookshelf, it was time for a quiet reading and open up the imagination landscape…

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8 thoughts on “Art of Reading

  1. Read, read, read …

    ‘IQRA’ , an Arabic word meaning ‘read’, is the first word the angel Jibril taught Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) and that is also the first word of Surah Al-Alaq that Allah (God) sent him from heaven. This shows how important reading is. The Al-Quran’s contents that Muslims all over the world read today starts with the Surah Al-Fatiha (The Opening) followed by Surah Al-Baqarah (The Cow) and ends with the Surah An-Nas (Mankind). Surah Al-Baqarah, containing 286 verses, is the longest surah and Surah Al-Kausar (Abundance) with 3 verses, is the shortest. The holy Al-Quran contains words and ayat (verses) from Allah the Almighty and it has more than 6,300 verses spread over 114 surahs. The exact number of verses in the Al-Quran will never be known as scholars continue the debate with each other about some long words and verses that are counted as one while others say they are two, and so on. Wallahu’alam.

    Reading is a basic tool in the living of a good life. Mortimer J. Adler
    We shouldn’t teach great books; we should teach a love of reading. B. F. Skinner

    In this article, I write about reading as an activity and the many types of reading materials, from text books to novels to newspapers and magazines and everything in-between, written in English, for all levels and types of readers, either for studying or for research purposes or reading just for leisure and I also look at the various styles and the various stages of this activity.

    At entry level, when you are still a baby or a small child starting to learning how to read, either of your parents, normally your mother, will first teach you letters of the alphabets and then, you would progress to small easy words which are soon followed by your mother teaching you simple sentences. Then, your mother will you read bed-time stories when putting you to sleep. This is a good habit and this would be the first time you are exposed to reading. At the meantime, whilst growing from babies to toddlers and then to small kids, you would normally already be exposed to TV and movies (which also would have some influence on them) and you would already be able to understand many words, your vocabulary begins to expand. You would probably by now be enrolled in a nursery and then kindergarten and a couple of years later, into Year One, at a primary or an elementary school nearby. The way your mother reads to you would, in some way or other, influence you to pick up the habit and she would also influence the style of reading you would adopt when you start to read by yourself. When you are still a baby and upon reaching the age of three or four, your mother would read to entertain you; put you into a different world as the story dictates and depart to you information in the form of stories and this would inevitably make you fall sound asleep. As you grow older, you’d be reading books yourself that are suitable for your age as determined by your parent, without any need for assistance anymore.

    At elementary level, you are required to read to learn and gain knowledge and this goes on from nursery to kindergarten and then to primary or elementary school. In primary or elementary school, often, your teacher would ask the whole class to read aloud and together during reading lessons. The class would then be divided into teams, initially big teams of about ten to twelve pupils each, and later, small teams of about three to four people each. Finally, if you are good and perhaps better than all your classmates, you would be picked up by your teacher to read aloud, alone, in front of the whole class. They you go on to secondary school where learning gets more difficult and more serious and you then would proceed to pre-university and university and so on and when you are at this stage, you are considered to have reached the advance level of readers. At all the stages mentioned, reading require you, as a baby, child, pupil or student, to understand and remember what you read so as to be able for you to recall the information that you have stored in your ‘memory’ in order to be able to answer questions in our examination oriented education system, right from kindergarten to university.

    Some people read loudly, normally amongst the younger readers, demonstrating an expressed effort in vocalising but doing them at different volumes, and some would read silently, a method preferred by most students and general readers. There are also some who sub-vocalise. Whatever style you choose, or the ‘noise’ that you make whilst reading, it doesn’t matter at all. Reading speed however, varies between individuals at all levels. There are no ‘hard and fast’ rules for this.

    I read a lot, about many things, and I find that I am quite comfortable reading at a fairly slow speed, comparatively, word by word and page by page. This method however prevented me from achieving the quantity I need to cover, both in serious reading and in leisure reading and I always had to catch up with my reading, so, about twenty-five years ago, I enrolled in a speed reading course at Evelyn Woods Reading Dynamics school, to learn how to read at ‘high speed’. It did increase my speed substantially and the quantity I covered but at the great expense of better comprehension. This required me to read the same material again and again until I am happy with it. A few years ago, I bought audio books on popular novels which I thought would lessen the ‘burden’ of reading novels the ‘old’ way but I find the speed in them a little too slow for me. I have stopped buying them for myself but I still buy them as gifts for some of my friends during occasions like birthdays and anniversaries. Now, I am back to my ‘normal’ speed again, regardless whether I read for leisure or when I read the more serious stuff and I have stuck to the ‘quality’ reading method at a speed that I am comfortable with, and have discarded totally the ‘quantity’ reading method taught at my speed reading class.

    There are many ways to read a book; depending on your preference, the amount of time you have, night or day, where you are and whether you are reading for work, studying or research or for leisure. Normally, one would read a book from front to back beginning with the first page, but there’s nothing to stop you from reading a book from back to front, from the middle or from any other part of the book. You would still be reading the same story. You can even read them starting from a page you choose randomly. Try something different to get a surprise that you never expect.
    By now, you would have developed your own preferred method and reading at a speed that you are most comfortable with. Don’t worry about how other people read. Vary the speed according to the seriousness of the materials you are reading. Different materials require different level of concentration and to be read at different speeds. When reading materials for research, leisure, technology and fictional or non-fictional novels, magazines such as Newsweek, Reader’s Digest, Asiaweek, Fortune, Time, newspapers, journals, business papers, reports, etc., adjust your style and speed accordingly. Always have a good dictionary handy just in case you need to check the meanings of words that you may not understand. Beginners’ may start with the Macmillan First Dictionary, for example, and graduate slowly to dictionaries written for the higher levels by Oxford, Webster, Collins, etc. Now, I always use my favourite, the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary 7th edition (Hardcover) (OALD). Preferably buy British, not American. You may also use online dictionaries available on the internet, some are free such as Dictionary.com and for some others like Dictionary.com, Merriam-Webster Online, Online Dictionary – Free Collins Dictionaries Online, you may need to pay a fee before you are allowed access though some are free for you to use during the trial stage.

    Young children and beginners should start with easy reading materials such as those classic story books, e.g. 1001 Nights, Aesop Fables, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Peter Pan, Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland and books and books by Enid Blyton, and some selected comics too, and then slowly progress to books by William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, W. Somerset Vaughn, John Steinback, George Bernard Shaw, Joseph Heller, Harper Lee, Leo Tolstoy, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, etc. At this stage, you can start making your own collection of books and novels written by various authors and my own list would also include books by John Forsyth, Harold Robbins, Jacqueline Susann, Ian Fleming, Barbara Cartland, J. K. Rowling, J. R. R. Tolkien, John Grisham, Jeffrey Archer, T. Lobsang Rampa, Michael Crichton, Michael Cordy, Nancy Milford, Thomas L. Friedman, Dan Brown, Cormac MCCarthy, Colm Toibin, etc. (A younger or older person (than me) would probably have a totally different list). I am also eagerly waiting for the book, ‘A Journey’ by Tony Blair, the former British Prime Minister. People say, non-fiction illuminates the world but fiction goes beyond that. Read also books on poems, poetry, plays, autobiographies and biographies on famous people (I enjoyed reading the autobiographies of Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton, and the biography of Charles Sumner, Tunku Abdul Rahman, Tun Abdul Razak and Tun Dr. Ismail (amongst others), history, geography, science, animals, birds, flora and fauna, computers and IT, sports, famous people, etc. to expand your horizon as well as your knowledge.
    Read also books found on the weekly best sellers list and book reviews found in newspapers, and go for books in the movie tie-in lists, such as Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert and Stutter Island by Dennis Lehane, whenever you want to watch movies adapted from books (read them first before you watch the movies) to make your collection up-to-date and the spread, more interesting and more impressive.
    Malaysians and Singaporeans spend a lot of time waiting for something all the time: waiting for buses, taxis, trains, MRTs, LRTs, mono-rails, air-craft, friends, dates, etc. Waiting at the passport office, ticketing counters, JPJ, town councils, land office, registration office, EPF/CPF offices, banks, police stations, etc. are also common daily activities of our people. However, many, particularly the Malays, just like to stare into the air doing nothing whilst waiting. Why can’t they read something? People in most countries in Europe, UK, USA, Japan, Australia New Zealand, etc. always read or do something during the lag times mentioned above. They read even when travelling in tubes, buses, aircraft and trains whilst waiting to reach their destinations, for example, and even bus conductors, I have seen, read when there’s no work to do in their buses. The very least these people would do is to play crossword puzzles or soduku.
    I find it just unfathomable seeing people, especially the Malays, staring into the air, for hours sometimes, when waiting for something.
    Finally, purchasing books is now very easy and very convenient as there are many large and good bookshops that carry numerous titles and you can also order books online from Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble and many more. Check them out in the internet yourself.
    Books, nowadays, are not cheap and in order for one to gain access to books, one can join a public library or a book club or form your own small reading group with your neighbours and friends where you can buy books in bulk at cheaper wholesale prices. Also, take part in the many reading sessions held regularly organised by most local councils, schools, colleges and universities and at the many large bookshops in most towns throughout the country. This way, besides gaining knowledge, you can also make new friends.

    Happy reading!

    Notes:
    Please see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reading (process) for more on this subject.
    Quotations on reading:
    http://thinkexist.com/quotations/reading/
    http://www.richmond.k12.va.us/readamillion/readingquotes.htm
    http://www.literacyla.org/quotes.htm

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