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The signal value of reading

The signal value of reading

August 9, 2020
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For me, ”doing nothing” for the past month has, to a large extent, meant doing nothing but read. 20 books later, I got to talk about reading with Caspian the other day, speaking about the signal value of seeing someone read a book, rather than knowing they read (most commonly before falling asleep, I assume) but never actually seeing them with a book.

Both my parents read, read a lot, and read whenever there’s a possibility to read, not just before bedtime. And that’s been true for as long as I can remember. My grandparents also read, all of them. My aunts, my cousins, my siblings. We read. It’s simply something we do. (My mom says that once I learned how to read, I never stopped.)

But what Caspian said made me realize that today, when there are so many other ways of reading a book than to actually be holding a physical book –audiobooks, Kindle/ebooks–, I wonder at the signal value of it all. If I’m listening to a book (using my headphones that is), no one knows. I might as well be listening to music or a pod or whatever. And if I’m on my phone/iPad/computer reading an ebook, well… no one knows either. It looks the same as if I am scrolling SoMe, flicking thru the latest headlines in an online news site, or watching something on Netflix. If I’m on an actual Kindle, perhaps someone makes the link, knowing what a Kindle is and what it looks like, but I’m not sure everyone does. (That’s not true. I am sure not everyone knows what a Kindle is/looks like.)

Now, I love the physical book, because the kinesthetic value of it enriches my reading experience. I retain a physical sense of knowing if passages that stick out to me were in the beginning, middle or end of the book, on the right or left-hand page, if it was at the top, middle or bottom of the page, as well as being able to feel how much of the book remains. I love that. Am happy if people are reading books though, regardless of the medium.

But the signal value of it… that one has me puzzled. Perhaps I would not be reading as much as I do if I hadn’t seen my parent read all the time? Or if they had read in other ways than the very visible and easily spotted physical book?

What about you, who were your reading role models? And are you one?


#tankespjärn, for those who wish to discover. More. Other. New.
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Women Who Run With the Wolves (book 5 of 12)

June 13, 2020
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Women Who Run With the Wolves.
By Clarissa Pinkola Estés.

In a sense. That’s enough.
You should simply get a hold of this book and read it. Regardless if you’ve read it before or not. Read it.

”Creativity is a shapechanger.”

550 pages of gold. Pure gold.
I would estimate that less than 20% of those pages have escaped my pen, my marginalia is on most every page. And there’s probably at least 100 dog-ears as well, pointing to the absolute gems of the book. The pieces I simply cannot imagine not being able to easily find again.

”As we create, this wild and mysterious being is creating us in return, filling us with love. We are evoked in the way creatures are evoked by sun and water. we are made so alive that we in turn give life out; we burst, we bloom, we divide and multiply, we impregnate, incubate, impart, give forth.”

The quotes I’ve chosen are from the chapter named Clear Water: Nourishing the Creative Life, and this book will forever be intimately linked within me, with The Creative’s Workshop, which I started about the same time I picked up the book. Even more so the weekly Reading Retreats I’ve shared with a few of my fellow workshoppers, which is where I’ve gotten a lot of hours into this book.

”If you are scared, scared to fail, I say begin already, fail if you must, pick yourself up, start again. If you fail again, you fail. So what? Begin again. It is not the failure that holds us back but the reluctance to begin over again that causes us to stagnate. If you’re scared, so what? If you’re afraid something’s going to leap out and bite you, then for heaven’s sake, get it over with already. Let your fear leap out and bite you so you can get it over with and go on. You will get over it. The fear will pass. In this case, it is better if you meet it head-on, feel it, and get it over with, than to keep using it to avoid cleaning up the river.”

As this is one of the twelve English books I’ve chosen to do book reflections on upon finishing them, the simple fact that I’ve written not just one, but two blog posts referring to Women Who Run With the Wolves before the official blog post on it, says a lot.

The fact that I’ve brought it up in threads in The Creative’s Workshop more than ten times, adds even more weight.

And then there’s the realization that this is The Book I would bring with me to a deserted island if ever asked that somewhat cheesy question What book would you bring with you to a deserted island? I imagine I will be rereading it over and over again. Or simply use this book as my daily companion (replacing The Book of Awakening, perchance?), picking it up, flicking to a random page, and reading a stanza or two.

”A powerful way to renew or strengthen one’s intention or action that has become fatigued is to throw some ideas away, and focus.
Take three hairs out of your endeavor and throw them to the ground. There they become like a wake-up call. Throwing them down makes a psychic noise, a chime, a resonance in the woman’s spirit that causes activity to occur again. The sound of some of one’s many ideas falling away becomes like an announcement of a new era or a new opportunity.”

Now you’ve gotten even more, and yet, only from one chapter. And there’s. So. Much. More.
So. If you weren’t convinced when I wrote this to start with, I write it again:
Get a hold of this book and read it. Regardless if you’ve read it before or not. Read it.


The book I am blogging about is part of the book-reading challenge I’ve set for myself during 2020, to read and blog monthly about 12 Swedish and 12 English books, books that I already own.

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Betrayal occurs

June 12, 2020
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Betrayal occurs when those who have power see the trouble and look away. Betrayal occurs when people break promises, hedge on vows of help, protection, speaking for, standing with, withdrawing from acts of courage and acting preoccupied, indifferent, unaware, and so forth instead.

– Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Women Who Run with the Wolves

I haven’t finished reading this book yet.
I thought I would be done by now because I did finish the book part of it earlier this week, but then, I peeked at the notes. And was hooked.

Imagine.
A book where the notes section – you know, with minuscule font size, page upon page, referring to something you simply cannot be bothered to flick back through the book to find… – draws you in. Where it contains almost the same amount of marginalia-worthy, dog-ear-enticing phrases and pieces of information as the book part of the book. Like this stanza.

Betrayal occurs when those who have power see the trouble and look away. Betrayal occurs when people break promises, hedge on vows of help, protection, speaking for, standing with, withdrawing from acts of courage and acting preoccupied, indifferent, unaware, and so forth instead.

Have you been betrayed?
I have.

Have you betrayed?
Looked away? Broken a promise, hedged on vows to help, stayed silent, pretending to be busy with other things?
I have.

I think there’s not a person on earth who would answer these questions differently.
And I don’t know that that is something to strive for.

But getting conscious about it.
When I betray – or even better, when I am about to. Giving me an opportunity to n o t.

Betrayal occurs when those who have power see the trouble and look away.

Daring to witness me, call me out on my own bullshit.
To n o t look away.
Not from the trouble, and not from me, trying to escape – myself?


#tankespjärn, for those who wish to discover. More. Other. New.
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I. Have. To. Write. About. It. Now.

May 18, 2020
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One of my 12 English books to read and blog about this year, is Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estés. Normally, I never write about the book until it’s finished, which is when I write my book reflection. However, this book, which I am approximately 60% through, has certainly challenged me, as almost not a page goes by without me making copious notes in the margin and the number of dog ears is just ridiculous! I usually don’t mark pages with dog ears, but the best of the best of this book has me crying out for me to make it easily accessible in years to come, and alas, the book probably has 50 dog ears by now….

Anyway, as I was reading this book during my weekly Monday Reading Retreat, a paragraph jumped out at me, and I simply cannot hold it in anymore. I. Have. To. Write. About. It. Now.

”Creating one thing at a certain point in the river feeds those who come to the river, feeds creatures far downstream, yet others in the deep. Creativity is not a solitary movement. That is its power. Whatever is touched by it, whoever hears it, sees it, senses it, knows it, is fed. That is why beholding someone else’s creative word, image, idea, fills us up, inspires us to our own creative work. A single creative act has the potential to feed a continent. One creative act can cause a torrent to break through stone.”

This.
This is what The Creative’s Workshop is to me.
It feeds me.
There is so much creativity just whizzing and bouncing along in the workshop, it’s almost ridiculous, and it feeds me and my creativity to levels I’ve not experienced for many years.

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…seize the wonder of being alive in this moment.

March 22, 2020
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“As well as saving millions of lives by killing rodents, our soft-footed friends have helped heal countless hearts. Sitting quietly at the ends of beds, they’ve waited for human tears to ebb. Curled on the laps of the sick and elderly, they’ve offered comfort impossible to find elsewhere. Having served our physical and emotional health for thousands of years, they deserve recognition. The Egyptians were right. A cat is a sacred being.”

Picked it up in one of those bookshelves at an office, where people can put books they’ve read, and if there’s a book calling out to them, take that one back home to read. I didn’t bring a book with me, but I’ve been generous with donating books both here and there over the years, so I figured I could put this book in my backpack, as it did just that. Call out to me. To take it.

So I did.

“Mothers have powers beyond politics, art and money. We’re the people who give life, nurture babies and make them grow. Without us humanity would wither like seaweed on a rock. Knowledge of our power is so deep we don’t talk about it often, but we use it all the time.”

And what a lovely book it is, Cleo, by Helen Brown.
I’ve written on how Pop the cat is my resident master of self-care, and he continues to teach me how to enjoy every ounce of life.

“Cleo was changing my attitude to indulgence. Guilt isn’t in cat vocabulary. They never suffer remorse for eating too much, sleeping too long or hogging the warmest cushion in the house. They welcome every pleasurable moment as it unravels, and savor it to the full until a butterfly or falling leaf diverts their attention. They don’t waste energy counting the number of calories they’ve consumed or the hours they’ve frittered away sunbathing.”

In a world that is slowing down, the following lines spoke volumes to me.
So I will leave them here, for you, to read.
For you to look within, while you read, to discover what happens within you.

“One of the many ways in which cats are superior to humans is their mastery of time. By making no attempt to dissect years into months, days into hours and minutes into seconds, cats avoid much misery. Free from the slavery of measuring every moment, worrying about whether they are late or early, young or old, or if Christmas is six weeks away, felines appreciate the present in all its multidimensional glory. They never worry about endings or beginnings. The joy of basking on a window ledge can seem eternal, though if measured in human time it’s diminished to a paltry eighteen minutes.

If humans could program themselves to forget time, they would savor a string of pleasures and possibilities. Regrets about our past would dissolve, alongside anxieties for the future. We’d notice the color of the sky and be liberated to seize the wonder of being alive in this moment. If we could be more like cats our lives would seem eternal.”

 

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The Swan Thieves (book 1 of 12)

January 30, 2020
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“It was as if he simply did not know how not to be himself, and I felt his selfhood go down through me like lightning–I who doubted and second-guessed and analyzed every second of my own life.”

Started reading one of the books on my reading challenge… but was somehow drawn to pick up The Swan Thieves by Elisabeth Kostova instead. And why resist? If a book is calling to me, why not go with the flow?

“But most women were remarkably strong, I’d always thought; those who healed themselves were full of a deeper life afterward.”And how I loved this book. Thick, deliciously thick; weaving together now with then, through the eyes of not one, not two, but many more. Once I finished it, I gave the book 5 stars on Goodreads, only to have my eyes fall upon a couple of reviews by other readers. Some low ratings, and then, a very interesting 4- or 5-star review saying something along the lines of understanding the low ratings, as “nothing really happens” in the book. That got me thinking… and I agree. It is a very slow novel, with a lot of technicalities into the art of painting, about colors and brush-technique and fading light… and yet. What I love about it is just that. I am given a glimpse into the ordinary day-to-day-life of not just the main character, but of his wife, his psychiatrist, his art student, and of others, such as not just one, but at least two, and in a sense, even three artists, of a century long since passed.

Then there are the beautiful passages that I’ve marked.
And others that I simply let enter me as my eyes gently span page after page, sentence after sentence.

I love how I can find a sentence or two, or longer passages, that speak to me, in basically any book I read. Speak to my sense of aesthetics, curiosity, to my longing for romance, love, human touch. Sometimes making me connect dots to other books, other pieces of fact, of questions or ponderings I have. Sometimes tapping into my sense of justice, outrage; making me cry, laugh, strive to do, to be, better at being me, of letting more of me out, refraining from holding myself back.

“It’s a shame for a woman’s history to be all about men–first boys, then other boys, then men, men, men. It reminds me of the way our school history textbooks were all about wars and elections, one war after another, with the dull periods of peace skimmed over whenever they occurred. […] I don’t know why women so often tell stories that way, but I guess I’ve just started to do the same thing myself […].”

The Swan Thieves is a story of strength. Of skill and talent.
Of love, of sleuthing, of daring to live. Or not.
Of hope. Longing. Courage.

“Aren’t there things greater than public censure, things that ought to be attempted and cherished?”

Yes.
There is.
And to do so requires me to be me. And you to be you.


The book I am blogging about is part of the book-reading challenge I’ve set for myself during 2020, to read and blog monthly about 12 Swedish and 12 English books, books that I already own.

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Lame Deer, Seeker of Visions (book 9 of 12)

September 29, 2019
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“The way to power is by giving, not by taking.”

I got it from Sara. She read it, marking the pages where she found little gems of wisdom and insight, and then mailed it to me.  And I, in turn, made it one of my twelve English books of the year: Lame Deer, Seeker of Visions by John (Fire) Lame Deer and Richard Erdoes. The book was first published the year I was born, 1972, and the copy I was gifted is an enriched classic published 1994.

“A fascinating story” is a blurb by Library Journal included in the preface. And yes. It is. Spanning high and low, delving into Lame Deers personal life as well as ancient stories such as that of White Buffalo Woman, dipping a toe into the use of herbs as medicine and components of rituals, and much more.

There are several passages I found of great interest, here are two providing me with great amounts of tankespjärn:
“A medicine man shouldn’t be a saint. He should experience and feel all the ups and downs, the despair and joy, the magic and the reality, the courage and the fear, of his people. He should be able to sink as low as a bug, or soar as high as an eagle. Unless he can experience both, he is no good as a medicine man. Sickness, jail, poverty, getting drunk – I had to experience all that myself. Sinning makes the world go round. You can’t be so stuck up, so inhuman that you want to be pure, your soul wrapped up in a plastic bag, all the time. You have to be God and the devil, both of them. Being a good medicine man means being right in the midst of the turmoil, not shielding yourself from it. It means experiencing life in all its phases. It means not being afraid of cutting up and playing the fool now and then. That’s sacred too.
Nature, the Great Spirit – they are not perfect. The world couldn’t stand that perfection. The spirit has a good side and a bad side. Sometimes the bad side gives me more knowledge than the good side.”

“This kind of medicine man is neither good nor bad. He lives – and that’s it, that’s enough. White people pay a preacher to be ‘good’, to behave himself in public, to wear a collar, to keep away from a certain kind of woman. But nobody pays an Indian medicine man to be good, to behave himself and be respectable. The wicasa wakan just acts like himself. He has been given the freedom – the freedom of a tree or a bird. That freedom can be beautiful or ugly; it doesn’t matter much.”

How different this is to the way the culture of the world I perceive myself a part look at it. We strive for goodness, for the perfect gurus, damning each and everyone forever if there were ever a speck of dust marring their perfect image. We do it for politicians and business leaders, for holy men and women and artists, for anyone we want to put on a pedestal.

Being put on a pedestal, never be allowed to slip up, make a mistake, falter. Neither here and now, in the future nor for that matter, in times gone by.  Could there ever be a position I’d want less than that one?


The book I am blogging about is part of the book-reading challenge I’ve set for myself during 2019, to read and blog about 12 Swedish and 12 English books, one every other week, books that I already own.

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The Underground Railroad (book 8 of 12)

August 18, 2019
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I remember seeing a blurb of The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, most likely in 2017 when the book and its author was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. It hooked me and I put the book in my Want-to-read-list on Goodreads. So I bought it. That’s not so common after all, I am an avid lover of library books, I am proud to say!

But I am glad I did buy it. If nothing else because I now have a great book to gift to someone, because it is truly a worthwhile read.

“She was a stray after all. A stray not only in its plantation meaning – orphaned, with no one to look after her – but in every other sphere as well. Somewhere, years ago, she had stepped off the path of life and could no longer find her way back to the family of people.”

It’s imaginative, the way Colson spins the underground railroad, transforming a historical phenomenon into something which makes my head spin. And he does it so skilfully I catch myself multiple times thinking this is really how it was done…

“Freedom was a thing that shifted as you looked at it, the way a forest is dense with trees up close but from outside, from the empty meadow, you see its true limits. Being free had nothing to do with chains or how much space you had. On the plantation, she was not free, but she moved unrestricted on its acres, tasting the air and tracing the summer stars. The place was big in its smallness. Here, she was free of her master but slunk around a warren so tiny she couldn’t stand.”

It’s a book of ups and downs.
Of friendships and fierceness, of horrors and hardships, of love, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

“To see chains on another person and be glad they are not your own – such was the good fortune permitted colored people, defined by how much worse it could be at any moment. If your eyes met, both parties looked away.”

Whenever I read or hear about the horrors that humans can inflict on other humans… I breakdown. Cry. I have a hard time to accept the things we do to each other, that are anything but kind. And this book… filled with “things we do to each other that are anything but kind”. And, luckily enough, not just that, though. The book leaves me with a sense of hope, strangely enough. Perhaps because things have changed. For the better. Far from good enough in many aspects, but better than it was in the times depicted so skilfully by Whitehead.


The book I am blogging about is part of the book-reading challenge I’ve set for myself during 2019, to read and blog about 12 Swedish and 12 English books, one every other week, books that I already own.

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The Wind-up Bird Chronicle (book 5 of 12)

May 26, 2019
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Haruki Murakami. 
The Wind-up Bird Chronicle.

Mesmerising, surreal, this really is the work of a true original the blurb from The Times reads on the cover. And in all honesty, I don’t know that I have much more to add to that. Mesmerising. Yes. Surreal. Extremely! The work of a true original. Heck yes. It’s another one of these reading experiences where I cannot wrap my head around what would make someone be able to write like this, to actually put what has been put on paper, down on paper.

Curiosity can bring guts out of hiding at times, maybe even get them going. But curiosity evaporates. Guts have to go for the long haul. Curiosity’s like an amusing friend you can’t really trust. It turns you on and then it leaves you to make it on your own – with whatever guts you can muster. 

Did I like it?
Yes. And no.

I mean… Yes. This is such an awesome book. But it is a book that demands my attention as a reader. My full attention at that. So, quick reader that I am, these 600 pages or so took me more or less 6 weeks to finish (which for me is a long time. Remember, last year I read 101 books, this year I am aiming at 75. If all books I wanted to read demanded as much from me, I would fail miserably in reaching my target.). A dozen pages or so at a time. Not much more. Sometimes less. (And yes, of course, I’ve been reading a few other books during this period, as per my usual habit. I am a parallel-reader, not a serial one. But regardless!)

And in a sense… this sentence points to my ambivalence as a reader:
The majority of people dismiss those things that lie beyond the bounds of their own understanding as absurd and not worth thinking about. 

This book is, at times, so far beyond the bounds of my understanding, it would be easy for me to dismiss it as absurd. Or plain strange. Not worth the effort. But it is! Truly. Like the back cover blurb from Independent of Sunday reads: How does Murakami manage to make poetry while writing of contemporary life and emotions? I am weak-kneed with admiration.

So am I. Murakami has a brain that I’d love to be able to “look inside”, to see how the connections are made, what type of leaps of the imagination that are necessary to spin this story… it’s so far from the way my brain works (or so it seems). But then again, that might just be another of the things I’ve come to know about myself, that isn’t anything but a belief, after all:
To know one’s own state is not a simple matter. One cannot look directly at one’s own face with one’s own eyes, for example. One has no choice but to look at one’s reflection in the mirror. Through experience, we come to believe that the image is correct, but it is just a belief. 


The book I am blogging about is part of the book-reading challenge I’ve set for myself during 2019, to read and blog about 12 Swedish and 12 English books, one every other week, books that I already own.

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The Black Swan (book 26 of 26)

December 30, 2018
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The Black Swan – The impact of the highly improbable, is a book written by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. It is the perfect follow up to Thinking, fast and slow, as Kahneman and Taleb cross-reference each other throughout the two books.

What then, is a Black Swan? In Taleb’s words: “First, it is an outlier, as it lies outside the realm of regular expectations, because nothing in the past can convincingly point to its possibility. Second, it carries an extreme impact (unlike the bird). Third, in spite of its outlier status, human nature makes us concoct explanations for its occurrence after the fact, making it explainable and predictable. I stop and summarize the triplet: rarity, extreme impact, and retrospective (though not prospective) predictability.”

The Black Swans live in Extremistan, whereas most of us humans seem to believe we live our entire lives in Mediocristan: “Mediocristan is where we must endure the tyranny of the collective, the routine, the obvious, and the predicted; Extremistan is where we are subjected to the tyranny of the singular, the accidental, the unseen, and the unpredicted.”

As with Thinking, fast and slow, this is quite the read, not easy, often times mind-boggling to say the least, but greatly helped along by the dry humor inserted here and there – making it a challenging but fun read!

Taleb doesn’t seem to leave a single stone unturned, yet he is clear about the danger in pretending to know what one does not know: “My biggest problem with the educational system lies precisely in that it forces students to squeeze explanations out of subject matters and shames them for withholding judgment, for uttering the ‘I don’t know’.”

With this final book reflection of the year, a year of reaching my goal of reading one hundred books (this one!) as well as reading – and blogging about – 26 Swedish and 26 English books that I decided upon at the start of the year, I am happy to put this book reading challenge to behind me. Urged along by Taleb who writes read books are far less valuable than unread ones I will happily continue to purchase and borrow books, matching my library of read books with my antilibrary, of as yet unread books.

Seneca ended his essays with vale, often mistranslated as ‘farewell’. It has the same root as ‘value’ and ‘valor’ and means both ‘be strong (i.e., robust)’ and ‘be worthy’. Vale.”

Indeed a fitting way to end this year of lots of reading and no less than 52+ book reflections (counting the Swedish ones as well as the English):
Vale.


The book I am blogging about is part of the book-reading challenge I’ve set for myself during 2018, to read and blog about 26 Swedish and 26 English books, one book every week, books that I already own.

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