Sunday, 31 August 2014

A Great Read

I just finished a great book and it made me wonder, why don’t I read more? Here’s some recommendations and thoughts about this peaceful pastime.

I don’t make much time for reading books. I’ll make a bit of space for an interesting online article. Occasionally, I’ll pick up a broadsheet but even then, by the time I’m half way through an article, I’m already in scanning mode. It’s rare I ever make it to the end. I tell myself I don’t have the time (despite the fact that accumulatively I could have read several books or newspapers cover to cover in the time I spend scouring the net for bite-size snippets).

I used to read all the time, devouring book after book. I was a huge fan of the Discworld novels, the Red Dwarf series and even the John Grishham legal thrillers, that is until I realised it was essentially the same story over and over again.

On holiday I’d finish a book in a day, which was a strange experience, rather like staying awake all night. I even tried writing one a couple of times, usually getting as far as “page 1” before getting distracted by a messy sock drawer and then filing a tax return.

Even though I don’t read anything like I used to, I still have a romantic attachment to books. I love the tactile experience of reading, of turning pages, I tried reading a book on my iPad once. It was OK but there’s something timeless about turning a piece of paper, moving your eyes, rather than the page to read on. Once, while reading on the iPad I licked my finger to turn the page. Sign of the times. 

I want to see a bookshelf full of books, not an empty shelf with a lone Kindle.

I just spent a week in an old manor house where they have a library with floor to ceiling book shelves and it is one of the most beautiful rooms I’ve ever been in. The foreboding dark wood furniture with its ornate design both terrifies and intrigues me.

The battered leather couches are practically begging you to snuggle up on them with some old tome and start thumbing through its yellowing pages. I’d need a pipe and some slippers, of course, to do the room true justice.

I love seeing a collection of books, paper spines, different colours and sizes all nestled up against each other, brimming with stories, knowledge, jokes, pictures, life.

I stopped reading novels when I started acting. In drama school, they drum into you that as a budding actor, you should have a thirst for reading plays and literature on theatre. I took this as a challenge and decided I would attempt to read ever play ever written.

Clearly this was unsustainable financially but also my boredom threshold couldn’t handle it. As great as plays are, they’re kinda of boring to read. It’s like staring at a blue print for 3 hours as opposed to going to the actual house.

I used to love recipe books too and how the same page would get crumpled and oil-splattered as you returned faithfully to its instructions time and time again. I’d love just leafing through the pictures, seeing these delicious meals all waiting, potentially, for me to take them from the page to the stove.

I’m partial to the odd novelty book too. The type that seems to adorn ever display stand in Waterstone's come Christmas time. Books that tell you what to do if you’re chased by a bear or the origins of popular phrases or detailed cartoons of inventive ways a rabbit might, if it were predisposed toward suicide, take its own life. They’re the kind of book that sits around, ignored until a rainy afternoon when they silently whisper across the living room “Hey, you. Hey. Wanna know where the word POSH comes from? I know. Read me and I’ll tell you”

Over time, my book shelves became a collection of self-help, work manuals, black history, theatre plays and reference books. I guess the books you collect can become a reflection of who you are.  

Books have a power of their own and can change lives. I remember reading, Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway and realising that it is possible to do just that. The Power of Now gave me an insight into what a human being is really constituted of and how it shows up in my daily experience.

Of late, I’ve also started enjoying some great comedy autobiographies, among them Richard Pryor’s Pryor Convictions And Other Life Sentences which plots this great performer’s remarkable history and Frank Skinner’s first which is one of the funniest and most-touching books I think I’ve ever read. There was one section where he describes a particular event so brilliantly, I had to stop reading just to reflect on his utter genius.

I worked with Frank and took the book that I’d borrowed from a friend and got him to sign it. A small grimace flickered momentarily across his face but, as he’s a lovely bloke, he graciously autographed it to “James” even adding a quip about James’ beloved Liverpool. It was only after that I thought, perhaps he was a little peeved that I’d borrowed the book and hadn’t actually purchased a copy! Well, here I am doing the next best thing, strongly recommending it. Another great comedian’s autobiography is Michael McIntyre’s. Love him or loath him, the one thing you can’t deny after reading his book is that he put in the hours to get where he is.

I spent a lot of time reading up on African-American history. Something many people black people experience is a hunger for our history however it can be a self-righteousness minefield as it’s very easy (understandably) to get angry and militant. Certainly after finishing Alex Hailey’s stunning biography of Malcolm X, I felt exactly that. But after a while that subsides but I still wanted to know more and now have a healthy range of books on African American history. Weirdly, African history and African British history doesn’t interest me as much and so my books on Nigeria remain largely unread.

I find it very difficult to go into a book shop and not buy something. At the moment, I’m really into Malcolm Gladwell, the New York Times columnist and author of The Tipping Point which I read recently.

It’s a great read and another strong recommendation. It’s a detailed study on what causes epidemics. He looks at a number of social phenomena in his inquiry into how change “tips” and what are the criteria required to make this happen. He is evidently a very smart guy who’s able to assimilate a wide range of research into this fascinating study. From Sesame Street to smoking, he unpicks social phenomena to see what mechanics are in play to make them so popular and demonstrate why they “tipped”.

I’ve recommended The Tipping Point to so many people because not only is it fascinating but it’s genuinely changed the way I look at our world. Every change has a tipping point when you think about it and it’s a really useful concept, particularly, for those working in marketing and sales.

One day, if I try really hard and move all distractions to just outside of arm’s length, I hope to write my own book. I hope that by the time I get to that, people will still be buying physical copies rather than simply downloading them (though that would be lovely too. Beggars can’t be choosers and all that).


Until then, happy reading however you do it. 

2 comments:

  1. You cannot beat holding a real book in your hands and I totally agree that a bookshelf full of books is a wonderful thing. The best book I have read recently is S by J J Abrahams (yes him from Lost) I cant describe it adequately but it is unlike ANYTHING I have ever read before and I would recommend it to anybody who likes to read.

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