WHY I READ

A lot of benefits have been proposed and verified as proponents for the value of reading. From improvement of empathy to increase of intelligence and everything in between. I agree with all of them but my personal reason for reading is the therapeutic effect it has on me.

I have long struggled with cyclic variations of mood and affect for all my life; depression, anxiety, mania and even downright psychosis. Reading takes it all away. When I open a book and smell the pages (I know it sounds weird) I immediately divorce myself from reality. From the very moment I read the first sentence my imagination takes the pilot seat. I shut the world outside and immerse myself in the beautiful realm of possibilities and probabilities. I do not care whether it is fiction or not, I just enclose myself into a conclave which is far much wider than the confines of time and space.

As I read D.H Lawrence I find myself in the slums of England. As I read James Joyce I find myself in Ireland. As I read Dambudzo Marechera I find myself in the Rhodesian ghetto. Gunter Gruss takes me to Germany. Homer transports me to Greece. Stephen Hawkings gives me a ride on the shoulders of time itself. Wole Soyinka rents me a room in war-torn Nigeria. Henry Gray gives me a tour of the human body. Napoleon Hill teaches me all there is to know about success. Sun Tsu takes me through a crash course of military training. All these authors and more give me access to the deepest pits of their minds. At the end of it I come out renewed and redeemed. Reading to me is like charging a cellphone, it keeps me alive.

It is very hard to initiate and sustain physical human contact. Friends and mentors are always infallible. Relationships of any form take time to mature and take too much effort to leave room for self-introspection. Why should I invest years of my life gleaning life lessons from a few individuals when I can get the same wisdom and knowledge in a few hours? Books are my friends, mentors, teachers, therapists, medication and soul-mates. If I do not read I will die. It is that simple.

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BOOK REVIEW: AROUND THE WORLD IN EIGHTY DAYS – JULES VERNE

Published in 1873 this classic remains relevant. It is a well-researched and somewhat inspiring account of the daring attempt of navigating around the world in no more than 80 days; a feat which was regarded as impossible at the time. This was in fulfillment of a wager Phileas Fogg had committed to with five members of the Reform Club with whom he regularly played a card game called whist.

The man was rightly regarded as a reclusive, enigmatic, eccentric and exacting English gentleman whose fortune no one could account for. He set out on the perilous voyage in the company of his servant, Passepartout, who also happened to be a Frenchman just like the author. The contrast in the characters of the master and the servant betrays the prevailing juxtaposition of the English and the French temperaments. In those days the English were regarded as level-headed, cultured, intelligent, civilized and authoritative people as opposed to the French who were seen as impulsive, emotionally-labile and loud-mouthed. This of course was just another progeny of the English propaganda expounded to pacify their imperialistic conquests.

I read the book with the assistance of a 19th century world map and was thoroughly impressed with the geographical accuracy of Verne’s story. I was also convinced that all means of travel used in the story were indeed available at the time of writing. The voyage was largely partaken with the aid of ships and trains. A fascinating twist was the use of an elephant in ferrying the travelers across a size-able portion of India.

No good story is devoid of an adversary and this came in the form of a detective by the convenient name of Mr Fix who wanted to ‘fix’ Fogg by arresting him for the robbery of the Bank of England. This accusation was of course untrue but it added an interesting suspense in the story. It is almost impossible for the reader not to loathe Mr Fix for his narrow-mindedness which I think is still prevalent in modern detectives as depicted in television and contemporary literature. It is also impossible for one not to be irritated by the stupidity of Passerpartout who at each turn cost his master dearly with his childish shenanigans.

My only criticism of the book is the implausibily of Phileas Fogg’s lack of emotional versatility. It is almost as if the man was a robot!! He was completely devoid of any emotion and his interests were so restricted that I felt at some point Verne was going to shock me with a wild revelation that Fogg was in actual fact a relative of Frankenstein’s monster. Of course Verne redeemed himself by concluding the book with an unlikely romance.

This book is a must-read for all true lovers of literature. FIVE STARS.

BOOK REVIEW: A FAREWELL TO ARMS – ERNEST HEMINGWAY

This is the first book I have read written by Hemingway. I decided to start with this particular piece because it is widely regarded as the one that  put this Nobel Prize winner on the literary map.

Published in 1929 the novel is about an American ‘Tenente’ (tenente being the Italian equivalent of Lieutenant) who endures and absconds the first World War. The title of the book serves as an artistic dual depiction of a soldier’s loss; arms of a woman and fire-arms. The plot is very simple but not so predictable; a soldier falls in love with a woman, loses faith in the war he is fighting and deserts the army to be with his lover.

The literary style is also simple; short sentences, limited vocabulary, short paragraphs and first-person narration. In fact it is Hemingway’s literary style that set him apart from his contemporaries especially James Joyce. Hemingway belonged to the ‘Beat Generation’ who adopted the simplistic prose which was at that time a new genre of literature. James Joyce on the other hand adopted the steam-of-consciousness style which was also revolutionary. It is safe to say most of today’s novelists make use of Hemingway’s literary style.

I could not help but notice the striking resemblance of the book’s protagonist with the author himself. Both served in the Italian army as ambulance drivers, both had an intimate relationship with alcohol and so forth. I have since learnt that this was in fact a conscious pattern which the author followed throughout his career.

I have only one problem with the book; the romance was downright childish. I found the romantic aspect of the book as a nonsensical distraction. The dialogue between the lieutenant and his lover, Catherine, was devoid of any depth or versatility. It sounded like this; ‘I love you’ and ‘I love you too’ – over and over and over again and nothing more. In my opinion the book would have been a much better read without the romantic aspect.

In conclusion I would say this is a book written by a respected author which can only pique the interest of those who know more about the author than his work. In other words if this book was to be published today it would just pass under the radar. However if one were to read the book with the preconceived perception of its significance in the history of literature then they would understand why Hemingway is the legend that he is.

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