Reading is not easy

Jaipur, Jan 23: So how do you read your book? Now, that may seem like a silly question, but not to the authors for whom reading is as serious an exercise as writing.

“Reading is not an innocent act,” Booker-winning Nigerian poet and novelist Ben Okri said at Jaipur Litfest. “It is one of the most complicated exercises and one of the most magical things that we do.”

Okri, therefore, wants readers to “finish the book” and not “be finished with the book” because “writing is not about coming to the end of the story, but about continuing narratives underneath the story itself. Coming to the end of the book is not coming to the end of the book.”

Sounds complicated? Well, that is exactly why he recommends that there should be courses at the higher education levels to educate people on the art of reading, in the same manner as there are courses on writing.

How many times do you read a book? Once? Ah, Okri would not call that reading. “The first reading is not actually reading. It is like cleaning your glass or polishing up your eye.”

Explaining, he adds: “That’s because you don’t know the implication of what you are reading. It is only when you get to the end of it you realise the implication of what you were reading. I equate reading with life. While we are living, we really don’t appreciate the experiences we are going through. We think we understand the moment we are living through. But you look back on that moment 20 years later, it takes on a completely different perspective.”

And, don’t think it’s just Okri who thinks so. Hear it from Oprah Winfrey who charmed thousands of her fans at the literary bonanza. After reading Beloved by her favourite author Toni Morrison, she was so moved that she called up the fire department of the author’s city and asked to be connected with her because she could not get through directly. “I said ‘Ms Morrison, I just finished reading your book Beloved, and I have to tell you that it took me some time because I was going over the pages (again and again). Did anyone tell you that they had to read the sentences and go over it again, and go over it again.’  And she said, ‘well, my dear, that’s called reading’.”

This story was first published in the Financial World on January 24, 2012, Page 16.

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