Tag Archives: Literature

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?

On my (Failed) Plans to Rule and/or Own the World

29 Sep

“Be a first rate version of yourself, not a second rate version of someone else” ~ Judy Garland

We all know what it means to not be ourselves, or in other words, to pretend to be someone else.  We usually discover this in school, when, in an attempt to make friends or to become popular, we pretend to like certain bands, or we start dressing in a certain way, or we voice ideas that we know will get us kudos points.

This phenomenon starts in school, but for many it can last way into adulthood. Some of us remodel our personality for a job, a circle of friends or for a partner. In most cases, this is to feel secure and accepted, to be approved of and loved. We pick up many signs on what is a ‘good’ person, an ‘intelligent’ person, a ‘worthy’ person, a ‘successful’ person and so on, from society and from our immediate circle of communication, such as friends and family. Many of us feel obliged to live up to these expectations, to show the world that we are the perfect example of that perfect person.

During my university years, I saw myself in a way that many London students are taught to see themselves: confident, well-groomed, intelligent, popular and successful. My decisions, starting from where I would drink coffee to where I would go clubbing, would be based on this self-image that I’d constructed. If my conscious could have picked out an image to explain who I was aiming to be, it would have looked something like this:

models

I wanted to be a supermodel with a successful business career, with cool and rich friends, a million talents, an address book full of useful contacts, and regular holidays where I would either tan on a yacht or build orphanages on a lost island. I wanted incarnate everything that magazines made look so easy. I wanted to live up to this image of the ‘perfect’ woman, according to the metropolitan capital’s society.

This ‘perfect’ woman, however, was far from the perfect version of my true self. I started realising this three years ago, when, spending a year away from London in a small Southern city, I began to see life differently. I met people who were natural and who lived honestly and simply. I met people who found it surprising to see me in make-up, rather than shocking to see me without it. I met people whose dreams were to have a family and live in a house in the countryside, rather than to rule and/or own the world, as was not uncommon to hear from people my age in London.

This eye-opening experience led me to take several spiritual psychotherapy courses upon my return to London. In these courses, I discovered my inner child, I learnt that what I think I want out of life or relationships is only what my conscious wants, and most importantly, I learnt to connect to my subconscious. From this, I discovered that my true self actually looks something like this:

Quite a difference, eh?

It took a while for me to understand and accept the true self that my subconscious was showing me. I took small steps to embrace my true self (I will talk about this in detail in a future post), often coming up against fear of the unknown, fear of ‘letting down my defenses’ and fear of being different. A year and half later, I am living away from London in a quiet town in France. In the eight months that I have spent here, I have never reminisced about this other young woman that I once was or aimed to be. On the contrary, I have felt a sense of peace and freedom to not try and live up to an image, to not try and meet someone’s expectations, and to not be constantly thinking about whether I am good enough, intelligent enough or beautiful enough.

I recently read a passage in D.H. Lawrence’s Women in Love that struck a chord with me. I believe it conveys perfectly what I used to feel, and, had I remained aiming to be this other self, I would have achieved the ‘perfection’ that I was seeking, but in my heart, just like in Hermione’s, there would have been a void for where my real self should have been.

“Hermione knew herself to be well-dressed; she knew herself to be the social equal, if not far the superior, of anyone she was likely to meet in Willey Green. She knew she was accepted in the world of culture and of intellect. She was a KULTURTRAGER, a medium for the culture of ideas. With all that was highest, whether in society or in thought or in public action, or even in art, she was at one, she moved among the foremost, at home with them. No one could put her down, no one could make mock of her, because she stood among the first, and those that were against her were below her, either in rank, or in wealth, or in high association of thought and progress and understanding. So, she was invulnerable. All her life, she had sought to make herself invulnerable, unassailable, beyond reach of the world’s judgment.

And yet her soul was tortured, exposed. Even walking up the path to the church, confident as she was that in every respect she stood beyond all vulgar judgment, knowing perfectly that her appearance was complete and perfect, according to the first standards, yet she suffered a torture, under her confidence and her pride, feeling herself exposed to wounds and to mockery and to despite. She always felt vulnerable, vulnerable, there was always a secret chink in her armour. She did not know herself what it was. It was a lack of robust self, she had no natural sufficiency, there was a terrible void, a lack, a deficiency of being within her.”

D.H. Lawrence, Women in Love

~

Are you living up to an image that is not reflecting your true self?

If you could show your current self in an image, what would it look like?
If you could show your real, subconscious self in an image, what would it look like?

What small steps can you take to embrace your true self?

Life’s Beautiful Surprises

4 Apr

Crane Lifting Moon

We often hear that the greatest opportunities and our life’s most important moments come from being “in the right place at the right time”. This can also be called ‘sheer accident’ or, as I like to call it, ‘destined coincidence’. With no prior planning or intention, we meet someone, see something or participate in an event that overthrows our life. This comes as an unexpected coincidence, yet it is so perfect for us at that precise moment, that it puts us into a sort of ecstasy. We are overwhelmed with happiness at the beautiful surprise that life threw our way. We cannot believe that none of this was planned; as if we were getting the present we most wanted from an absolute stranger.

Yesterday, I happened to be “in the right place at the right time”. Through a series of coincidences and intuition hints, I found myself meeting one of the bestselling British writers of current times. Not something I was expecting on a quiet afternoon in a foreign country! I was part of a small group to attend the writer’s talk at a literary festival in town. The writer, down-to-earth and honest, talked about his new novel, and, at the end of the event, was more than happy to chat in his mother tongue to the only Brit out of the group (me!). Our brief exchange created the possibility of this author hosting an event at the London bookshop in which I used to work (and to which I am still greatly attached). And all I had planned that day was a walk in town!

This meeting with the talented modern writer completely disoriented me. I was ecstatic not only from having had the opportunity to meet this author, but to have met him so unexpectedly, in such a perfect coincidence. And this got me thinking: are perfect moments like this only possible as coincidences? Or are they perfect precisely because they are coincidences? I doubt that I would have been ecstatic had I planned my meeting with the author months in advance; in the same way as knowing what you will be given for your birthday takes away the joy and surprise of receiving the present. It is precisely the surprise of such a perfectly destined coincidence that made the moment so special.

I wanted to say thank you for this wonderful gift. But who was I to thank? Who do we thank for a destined coincidence? Who do we thank for a perfect moment? Who do we thank for life’s beautiful surprises? And how is it that we should show our gratitude?

If You Love It, Teach It!

16 Mar

“The best teachers teach from the heart, not from the book.”  ~ Author Unknown

The best teacher that I have ever had stood out from all the dozens of others by one simple thing: love. This teacher loved what she taught, she loved teaching and she loved her pupils. Every time I was in her class, I felt as if that hour with her was sacred. She treated every pupil as her own child, and taught us in a way that showed us that we were just as important to her as she was to us. She truly wanted to share her knowledge with us, and to make us discover the happiness that she herself experienced through this subject. Through her honesty, openness, attention and care she did more than teach – she inspired.

In current times, it is rare to find a teacher with all of the above qualities. I have come across teachers who taught simply to make money, or because they couldn’t find another job; I have known teachers who were unqualified and unmotivated, and those who simply did not care about their students. Jacques Barzun rightly said that “teaching is not a lost art, but the regard for it is a lost tradition”. The current focus on passing exams and getting the best grades has transformed learning from a process of discovery to a process of repetition, regurgitation and memorisation. Teachers are no longer valued as our guides to self-discovery, and they are no longer respected as professionals with a wealth of knowledge.

There is never a shortage of eager students looking for the perfect teacher (all of us would love to learn one thing or another), but unfortunately, there is a shortage of eager teachers looking for the perfect student. Why is that? Because we have come to believe that being a teacher means having a qualification or a post to confirm our abilities. In fact, there is a teacher in all of us: we all have something that we love and that we would love to pass on to others. Last week-end, I taught yoga to a friend. We did a ‘proper’ class, with postures, sequences and techniques, and both of us came away happy. I am not a yoga master, nor am I trained as a yoga teacher, but yoga is something that I love, and something that I would love to pass on to others, and therefore it was a great pleasure for me to spend an evening teaching it to someone who was curious and willing to learn.

We all know how much joy it brings us to share our passion with others, and I believe that one of the best ways to do this is by teaching. Whether you love literature, singing, playing on the piano, gardening, knitting, swimming, writing, playing chess…there is someone who would love to learn from you. Whether in a formal or informal class, paid or free, with friends or strangers, regularly or irregularly, to a group or to an individual, sharing what you love is a gift. Don’t let your talents and your passions go to waste – pass them on!

If you love it, teach it!

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!