I have been tweeting for a while about my need to slow down my mind because I felt scattered over the last year or so.
It was my fault mainly because I struggled to keep up with doing all the things I felt I needed to do.
I also had FOMO if I wasn’t on the ball with all my reading online.
In some way, I felt that if I wasn’t keeping up with trends in my field of learning and development, I’d fail to identify any new ideas that I could use. At the same time, however, these messages were repeated by many others I was following, so there wasn’t any new thinking anyway. I felt as if I was going around in circles and wasting my time on the same topics constantly rehashed.
I also noticed that people in my social media feeds described themselves as social media marketers and entrepreneurs and their messages weren’t resonating with me.
I had to change my behaviour because I felt I had to reclaim my time and most of all, my peace of mind.
Last year, I decided that the way I could do this was to slow my reading – and to do it by reading more fiction.
Growing Up With Books
Ever since childhood, I loved to read. I can’t begin to tell you how many books I’ve read or the houses I’ve lived in that had floor to ceiling bookshelves and books in nearly every room of the house – yes, even the toilet. I’m lucky to have grown up in a house where my parents valued reading and actively encouraged us to buy books over other toys. Magazines, comic books, novels, encyclopedias, newspapers, novels, you name it – everything was encouraged
I was an avid fiction reader of fiction for many years but I think high school and university battered it out of me because they made it such hard work. This trend continued into my working years where I left fiction aside because I felt that I was wasting my time on it as it wasn’t giving me any direct value.
With the advent of the internet, my attention became less and less to the point that if the novel didn’t have a storyline that sucked me into with the first few pages, I tossed it aside.
It didn’t take long before it dawned on me that I was consuming non-fiction books like I was consuming online content. Scant overviews, speed reading, picking up main threads and rehashing someone else’s ideas. The more I read one more book on people telling me what to do, the more I started to zone out. It was becoming boring.
Something had to give.
At the same time, my husband was reading many novels and sharing various passages out loud to me. We were having conversations about the stories that he was immersing myself and I started to think that it was time for me to get back into fiction reading.
He reinspired my love of fiction reading.
Opening the Doorway to a New World of Thinking
Fiction meant that I could focus on the story and the characters. I focused on classics and modern classics. I reread my High School novels with a different set of eyes. I could delve into the lives of the characters and observe what they go through. I could walk in their shoes and make meaning from what I was reading. I had to make the effort myself to derive meaning from it and reflect on the key themes of the book.
I’ll never forget the feeling after I had finished reading J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. I cried. I don’t know why that book made such an impact on me. I went straight back to the beginning to reread it – I didn’t want it the book to end. I carried it around in my bag with me for some weeks after that dipping in and out of it.
I felt that I had met, have been, was and still am Holden Caulfield.
Fiction is powerful.
I also joined a book club through my local library run by our friendly librarian who selects books that I would never have otherwise choose for myself. Again, I wanted to be exposed to new writing and feel as if I have had an active role in reading.
I know that sounds weird – reading is a passive past time – however, I wanted to be moved by the themes, messages, stories and characters in some way and then discuss these with others who may have had an alternative perspective.
Most of all, I just wanted to think for myself again.
Throughout the whole time, I had been following other people who share their love of books such as Elizabeth (@InAGuddle) who blogs about the books she reads and Richard Martin (@indalogenesis) – who always provides me with excellent book recommendations – as well as various librarians on Twitter who shared their books. I scribbled everyone’s recommendations on scraps of paper and notebooks that I took with me searching for them online or in libraries.
To keep myself accountable, I set myself up with the Good Reads Reading Challenge. I have been doing this challenge for the last few years.
You set up a goal of how many books you want to read that year. In the first year, I failed miserably. I couldn’t make twenty. Over the last few years, with a concerted effort to dedicate time to reading every day, I achieved my goal. This year, my aim is to read 70 books.
However, it’s not about the numbers.
What I Learned
What this has taught me is that I have some way to go about what I read.
This year, I read a graphic novel for the first time in MANY YEARS. It was Unflattening by Nick Sousanis and it made me realise that it was another form of slow reading.
I have only read two comic books in the last few years. They have been the series of Horrible Histories (which I love) and the Greek comics of Arkas in a way to get me to read more of the Greek language (and have a laugh).
However, reading Unflattening made me realise that I should also have been reading this genre of books. As I was reading it, my brain was forced not to skim over the text and make my own visual representations in my mind but look at what the artist had interpreted these to be.
You couldn’t help BUT read each cell slowly and to take in the words AND the pictures. In all cases, the pictures were far richer than the words – they portrayed more than the text. They were mesmerising because the drawing made you think about what you read in a different way.
I was in awe of the sketches and drawings. My eye would roam the page, from left to right, up and down. It would stop, take in the drawing. Then it would read again, flow down the page, stop and consider the line work and its creativity and then it would be off again, left, right, up and down.
It was such a weird feeling to be reading like this but it wasn’t “reading” – it was “taking it in and getting lost within it”. (I can’t describe it in any other way).
Can I Do This?
I caught myself thinking that if I was to read a sentence in text format, how could I represent it visually?
For example, in his book Nick writes, “Both binding agent and action, imagination allows us to span gaps in perception” and the drawing he has with this sentence is of two hands held together by twine with a figure walking across it like a tight rope.
How did he come up with this visual of the twine, the hands, the tight rope? Do you see what I’m getting at?
For me, it was so easy to just READ the sentence and make my own meaning from it but from an artist’s perspective, Nick created that visual imagery for us.
He’s gone into a whole different and deeper level of thinking – and that’s what I’ve been missing – maybe many other people too…
Now of course, I’m not an artist. However reading this book made me want to pick up a black texta marker and start drawing but I know that when I do, I’m always disappointed. The scribble on the page doesn’t convey the depth of what I want to express. The same thing happens when I’m writing.
The same thing happened as I was writing this blog post…
How can some people express things so eloquently with just a few carefully chosen words or some black lines and it has so much depth that it evokes emotion?
In some crazy way, I think that’s what I’ve been missing – the slowness of things. I’m lucky to have rediscovered my love of fiction but now I have a new genre to explore with graphic novels. Oh, I can make a start too because we have heaps of them here at home all belonging to my husband. I think it’s time I started delving into his collection.
Photo by Alice Hampson on Unsplash
Images were taken from Nick Sousanis: Unflattening, Harvard University Press 2015