POP UP THINK TANK
“Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read.”
I had been sitting in a local medical centre waiting room for already an hour when I finally realized that the waiting would certainly be veryveryvery long ...sigh.
I grabbed the book I had hastily thrown in my handbag just before leaving home; a thin paperback book on Sacha Guitry, the French writer and actor. One of the hundred cheap and torn editions I have carried with me all way from France. I opened the book on its first page and instinctively inhaled its smell: a sweet bitter dusty odour that struck me; I more deeply breathed the old paper pages, eyes half closed and everything suddenly came back in a wave: the pink and blue collections of my childhood favourite book series, Alfred Hitchcock ‘s almost perfect crimes, commissioner Samuel Vimes running in Terry Pratchet’s world, Mr. Molière‘s misanthropic Alceste reflecting and despairing on humanity, Marcel Pagnol’s Cesar arguing with his son Marius and Giraudoux’ Cassandra struggling so hard to avoid the unavoidably Troy war... An improbable parade of motley characters, saluting each other, “ long time no see!”, all this small talk and smile... like filling up the whole room with deafening whisperings... and unveiling some unnatural social bonds.. Look there in the corner, the quite upright Fitzwilliam Darcy is deep in conversation with the idealistic and somewhat hot-headed proletarian Etienne Lantier ... There, a quite serene Jean D’ormesson since his humbling meeting with the Angel Gabriel (understandably so) and Raphael de Valentin are marvelling at the creepy wonders of the wild donkey’s skin. The elegant Araminte is listening with a very courteous smile to Dr Jekyll, lecturing on the very promising results of his last experience; John/Jack/Ernest Worthing and the wise Enchanter of Barjavel are animatedly debating on the importance of being... your true self.
But WHAM! I suddenly shook my head, coming back to my senses, strongly self-conscious again and pictured myself in my mind's eye: what was I looking like, hanging with two hands onto my book and smelling it with delight, eyes half closed, in this crowded room? A Freak? Freeze NOW, Laure, look stealthy around, on the right, on the left, sigh (mere relief) and exhale at last : nobody is paying the least attention to you! I was alone and gone away for 3 never-ending seconds of real reunion with lifelong friends. Who could rightly express the joy of smelling the perfume of beautiful words, the touch of papered tales and the delight of being shipped off to new horizons... Again and again and again. For the joy grows with the repetition. And our ability to apprehend and comprehend the complexity of life issues does grow with practice. Is this not what Oscar Wilde meant when he said “If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all.” ? Thus I have had this favourite yearly ritual for many years. I immerse myself into a few very special books every 12 month or so: the Provincial trilogy of Marcel Pagnol is one of them. The story takes place in the port district of Marseilles in the late 30s and portrays the joys and sadness of simple daily life. Simple but far from being simplistic. It deeply reconnects me to the most innocent part of humankind and by so doing it reconciles me with humankind itself. And every year I feel the urge to sail off again to Marseilles Port, sit with Pagnol’s characters on the terrasse of Cesar’s bar and revive in their midst. It is quite of a cleansing inner process, to get rid of parasitic thoughts or emotions that may darken my views on the world and ON PEOPLE.
And that’s exactly what Raymond Mar, a psychologist at York University in Canada, and Keith Oatley, a professor emeritus of cognitive psychology at the University of Toronto, reported in studies published in 2006 and 2009: individuals who often read fiction appear to be better able to understand other people, empathize with them and view the world from their perspective. Of course, they took into account the possibility that more empathetic individuals might choose to read more novels. In his 2010 study, Mar found also that the more stories young children have read to them, the better they are at modelling other people’s intentions.
Books activate the part of ourselves that links us to others.
Real books by the way, the paper kind, as it has been demonstrated that virtual Ebooks do not convey the same benefits to readers and do not always allow deep reading. And Victor Nell, in a study of the psychology of pleasure reading, found that reading gives deep readers time to enrich their reading with reflection, analysis, and their own memories and opinions. That immersion is supported by the brain which creates a mental representation, activating brain regions specialized in dealing with real life experiences.
Virtual= Real for the brain, as we all know.
Thus emotional situations and moral dilemmas in books are internally lived as real ones increasing our real-life capacity for empathy.
And I personally do need on a regular basis to increase my “real life capacity for empathy”. And so does the world, I would add. And what if books were an answer to our world in turmoil? “Start a book not a war!”, To paraphrase the hairy hippies from the mid 70s.
Now, Let’s imagine that you were in charge of selecting books you would consider as “the most valuable in terms of their significance for the modern world”, those that may change things or be deeply important for the humanity, which ones would you pick up and why?
Well, that’s the question more than 2,000 persons in GB were asked in November 2014. Tom Walker, editorial director at publishers The Folio Society, who commissioned the survey, noticed that there was ‘relatively little on economics despite the financial climate and only two overtly political fiction titles on the list’. Here’s the top 10:
1. The Bible
2. On The Origin Of Species
3. A Brief History Of Time
6. Principia Mathematica
7. To Kill A Mockingbird
8. The Qur’an
9. The Wealth Of Nations
10. The Double Helix
Now that’s interesting: It seems that people only selected classic science, religion and philosophy masterpieces.
But, how are the Bible, “the Relativity” of Einstein or “To kill a mockingbird”, a classic of the American literature, significant to OUR modern world? What do they bring, or maybe what do they awaken? On the dawn of this data intensive century, How and Why appear to remain the ultimate questions we finally wish to ask ourselves.
When politics, economics, social sciences ... do fail to help us truly feel connected to our time, could Reading really be the way to find the answers in ourselves? By centring, it may expand our views, reform our opinions and enlarge our understanding of life. Could it be a door to change? first ourselves, then the world.
Now, a question:
How long ago was your last READING ADVENTURE? What was it about? Do you remember the emotions it created? What is left?
So, here is my prescription : Run to the closest library/ Bookshop/living-room bookshelves ( or Auntie Jane's, it will be the occasion to check on her, I know, I know...but listen people, Saving The World has got a price ),
...and read the “Reader's Bill of Rights Daniel Pennac has established :
1. The right to not read
2. The right to skip pages
3. The right to not finish
4. The right to reread
5. The right to read anything
6. The right to escapism
7. The right to read anywhere
8. The right to browse
9. The right to read out loud
10. The right to not defend your tastes”
And turn off the tablet, the mobile or the television.... indeed "I find television very educating, says again Groucho MARX ; Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book."
Adelaide, June 9 2015
By Laure VINCENT-ALLARD