Tag Archives: Education

Confessions of a Book Abuser

3 Mar

I can hear them mocking me as I walk past.

“She only bought me because I was pretty.”

“She bought me because I have a good reputation.”

“She picked me because I won a prize.”

“She took me because I was cheap.”

These are my books, taunting me daily with the truth.

“She hasn’t even read any of us!” exclaims one.

“No, she just likes to have us on show,” puts in another.

“Well, I don’t mind. I’m better off on her shelves than in a box in the attic,” confesses a third.

“Good for you! But I’m adored by millions across the world and she hasn’t even read my blurb yet!” bursts out a fourth.

I admit it – I completely mistreat my books. Firstly, I buy them, giving them the (false) hope that they now have a caring new owner. I put them on my shelves and for the first week or so I look at them lovingly, giving them the (once again, false) impression that I will soon be taking them to the park, to bed or on holiday with me. I then leave them gathering dust for months, or years, and finally, realising that they are taking up too much space, give them away. I’m surprised that I haven’t been reported to the police yet, despite all these years of book-abuse.

I realised recently that the possession of so many unread books goes completely against my (or should I say, Dominique Loreau’s) Art of the Essential theory: keep a material possession only if you need it or love it.

At the moment, I own books because they look good on my shelves. They decorate my apartment and fill up empty space. They also do what all material possessions do – or, what we want our material possessions to do – they reflect some sort of trait in the owner. In the same way as people buy expensive watches to show to the world that they have a well-paid and important job, or a designer bag to show wealth, or an exclusive penthouse to show success, many people own large quantities of books to “prove” their intelligence.

Many of us put up hundreds of books on our shelves, in a visible place, to persuade ourselves and others that we are well-educated and well-cultured. After all, there’s not a more effective or quicker way of summarising our tastes, our beliefs and our persuasions than by a carefully-chosen book collection. Our visible book collections are a way of saying “I read and own (insert author/poet/philopher’s name), therefore I am (insert adjective)”.

In a lot of cases, a large book collection does not mean that its owner is a book-lover, but, on the contrary – a book-abuser. S/he uses books as mere tools to build up a reputation or a self-image, which is, in most cases, a false reflection of reality. For example, despite owning a few hundred books, I read little, and often feel that I have a very limited knowledge of literature.

In truth, knowledge and culture have nothing to do with the quantity of books we own and display. My grandparents, who have been avid readers their whole lives, only own about fifty books between them – they carry their favourite stories, ideas and quotes in their minds. What’s more, they keep the books that they do own in a closed cupboard; my grandma was shocked to hear that my own books stand in open shelves, where they “can gather dust and be damaged by sunlight”. To her, “books are for reading, not for displaying”.

I have decided that I shall not buy or borrow any books until I have read all those that are currently on my shelves. I shall keep a book only if I love it or need it for future reference, and I will use the library, not Amazon, whenever I am in need of inspiration and enlightenment. I shall use books for their original purpose – education, inspiration and entertainment – rather than the decorative purpose that they have been given.

My book-abusing days are over and my books shall gather dust no more!

 

***

Do you store unread or unnecessary books on your shelves?

Do you tend to keep books because they ‘look good’, even though they no longer serve you?

If you own very few books, what are you criteria for the ones you do choose to keep?

Read What You Enjoy

9 Feb

“My time is precious; I don’t want to waste it reading books that I don’t enjoy”, said one lady at a book group recently. There was a mixed response from the group: some nodded their heads, others exclaimed that once they’ve started reading a book, they have to finish it, even if they’re not enjoying it. I had always been taught to plough through books until their end, because we’d always learn something from them, even if we don’t enjoy them. However, looking back on my literary past, it seems like enjoyment plays a huge part in a successful learning process.

I have recently had to compile a list of my favourite thirty books of all time. Considering the fact that almost all of the books that I have read in the past four years were compulsory university reading, only one or two of them made it onto the list. I was in disbelief when I could hardly even remember what, apart from those two favourites, we had read over the course of my degree. I realised that I had spent four years reading things that I didn’t particularly enjoy, simply because they were considered educational, or classics, or ‘what every intelligent person should have read’.

There’s no doubt about it – those four years did bring me a lot of knowledge…but my knowledge came through sweat, persistence and obligation. Unfortunately, it did not come from curiosity, interest and, most importantly, enjoyment. I thought about the amazing books that I read in the months after my graduation: those books that make you stay up into the night; those that make you late because you can’t bear to put them down; those that you can’t wait to finish, but at the same time don’t want to end; those into whose world you wish you could be transported. I realised how different my university education would have been had I been reading things that I enjoyed. Studying would have been a pleasure, not a chore. Lectures would have been enlightening, rather than tiring. Essay-writing would have been inspiring, rather than depressing. Had I enjoyed what I was doing, I would have naturally put in all my effort to do it brilliantly. Had I enjoyed what I was doing, I would have appreciated and made the most of every single moment, rather than simply seeing it as a means to an end and pushing myself on with the thought that ‘it will be worth it in the end’.

Although I realise that I have gained a lot from my education, I strongly believe that I could have gained even more had I actually enjoyed the literature that we were made to read. True, had I not been ‘forced’, I would never have got through the classics on my own. But on the other hand, out of all the classics that I have studied, there are only a few that I truly enjoyed and would consider rereading. On the other hand, most of the books that I have read for pleasure are books that have had the most impact on me, whether philosophically, creatively or emotionally.

Today I abandoned a book that is considered a modern classic, because my complete impartiality to what I was reading wasn’t bringing anything positive into my life. No matter what we’re doing, we’re more likely to get something positive out of it if we’re enjoying ourselves. So let’s make a bit of time each day to read something that we enjoy!

The Extraordinary Ordinary

23 Jan

“If I died today, I’d be happy with the life I’ve had,” my friend said at the age of eighteen. “I’ve had everything I needed: a good education, a roof over my head and food in my belly”. Her words have stuck with me since. At that age I had never heard anyone be grateful for such ‘basic’ things; most of the young people around me measured their happiness in clothes, in popularity, in money, in parties, in status, in partners. In my school, students avoided being ‘average’ at all costs. Now, this trend is spreading like a disease across the continent.

In Western society, being ‘happy with what you’ve got’ is often interpreted negatively as ‘settling for less’. Leading a life of calm contentment and simple pleasure is considered as lack of ambition, laziness, cowardliness and generally being a bore. We have become obsessed with the idea of ‘a life worth living’, which has come to mean living fast, achieving lots, having wild adventures and ‘trying everything once’. With so many opportunities and options open to us, we have come to believe that the way to enrich our lives is to fill them up with as many things as possible. “Quantity, not quality” seems to be society’s current motto.

The American golfer Walter Hagen famously said: “You’re only here for a short visit. Don’t hurry, don’t worry. And be sure to smell the flowers along the way”. He recognised that we should make the most of life, but his vision of the way in which this can be done is very different to what we witness today. His quote evokes a life of slow and calm movement. The pleasure he portrays of ‘smelling flowers’ is one that represents the simple pleasures of life. Hagen is encouraging us to appreciate the everyday things, and in doing so to turn something ‘average’ into something amazing.

Those who have tried this know that it takes effort, patience and courage to love the smaller things in life. Yet the rewards are much greater. When we realise that even plain objects are beautiful, that even ordinary events are meaningful and that even (so called)  ‘unexpeptional’ people are precious, we learn that everything we experience is a gift. Nothing and no-one is average – everything and everyone is exceptional. When we see the miracle in everything around us, we begin to love everything around us. Calm contentment and simple pleasure become our saviours; they are what give us energy, hope and happiness.

Most of our life is made up of what we call ‘everyday’, ‘mundane’ or ‘routine’ things. Therefore, we may as well make friends with these constant companions. When we stop taking things for granted, we realise that the ordinary is actually quite extraordinary.

The Art of the Essential

13 Jan

“Are you rich?”
“I have everything. I no longer even have possessions.”
~ Malcolm de Chazal

A few months ago, I met a guy in Paris whose only possessions were the ones he could fit into his rucksack. Ever since reading L’Art de l’Essentiel (The Art of the Essential) by Dominique Loreau, I have been trying to achieve a similar sort of thing.

In her book, Loreau outlines the Feng Shui principles of space clearing that bring peace into our lives. Excess or unnecessary possessions can have a negative effect on our energy, slowing us down, making us depressed or lethargic, and eventually making our possessions become the owners of our lives.

Just before the new year, I managed to clear my shed of eleven years’ worth of junk. Clothes, books, films, music, jewellery, stationery, a bike (that I rode once, six years ago), roller blades, a tent (that I borrowed from someone five years ago), and other similar things. Friends came and took what they liked, and the rest went to charity. I followed Dominique Loreau’s basic principle: if you don’t need it or you don’t love it, let it go. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t experience any remarkable feelings of loss or regret when I parted with these things.

It was a different thing, however, when I started going through my university folders. Ninety-five percent of four years of work went into the recycling bin. Four years’ worth of lectures, homework, assignments, essays, notes, photocopies and research proved to no longer be of any worth to me. When I’d finished my first round of recycling I sat back in horror… “What was my education for if only months after finishing it, I am already throwing it away?!”. I remembered my endless battles with philosophy (one of my BA subjects) and how I thought about giving it up a few months into my first term at uni. But I didn’t, because I thought it would be ‘good for me’ in the long-run.

Sitting amongst all the philosophy papers that I was about to trash, I decided then and there never to do anything with the hope that it will be ‘good for’ or ‘useful to’ my future self. I realised that we can never guess what we will want or need in the future, so the best we can do is to make the most of the present – that way, our best possible future will unfold naturally. If we hold on to objects that we don’t use now, we ruin our present by being tied to things that have no relevance to the life we would actually like to lead. If we spend our time doing things we don’t enjoy, believing that they will be ‘useful’ for our future selves, we will end up losing opportunities to do the things we genuinely love.

Living with only the essential brings freedom and peace to our lives. We are defined by who we are and what we do, rather than by what we own. When we learn to effortlessly let go of material things, we find it easier to let go of situations, places and people.  Happiness does not lie in the things we own, but in the things we give.

 On the same topic: Art of the Essential Part IIArt of the Essential Part III