I’m going to break one of my rules now (I know! They didn’t last long did they?) and talk a little about the BIB I’m reading. So if you want to read I Am Pilgrim as a BIB (I would recommend it) read no further.
Cards on the table. Talking about racism is hard. We can’t understand it or our own attitudes better without talking about it, and saying things that make us uncomfortable.
I had a long conversation with a good friend at work about racism that he had experienced, and it was excruciating for me. I think he found it equally difficult. He’s Indian. We’ve had lots of conversations about family, children and looking after your parents as they need you, and I think we’ve both enjoyed those conversations and learnt a lot from each other. We didn’t shy away from differences in attitude acquired from our culturally different backgrouds, but these were obliquely approached. This particular conversation was overtly about racism, no getting away from it. I wanted to know so I could empathise and be more informed. I was practically silent because I didn’t want to make any racist statement, give offence, make assumptions or upset him. But in the end we came to the conclusion that in order to think about racism on a personal basis you can’t pussyfoot around. You just have to say these things that make you uncomfortable like “Has anyone called you a paki?”, otherwise you’re in danger of trying to deal with the unpleasantness of being a human by ignoring it and hoping it will just go away. We agreed that we’re all different and that the extent of differences had little to do with race, we could both find people from our home towns who were far different to us than we were to each other, and that differences between any two people were far fewer than the similarities.
So back to the book. Similar to What do I know about anything? Help me please! I would like to know what to think of this book. This book is partly about a Muslim radical, and I would really like to get a view of a Muslim on it. I’d like to know whether this book offers any insight into a Muslim world (it’s not all about muslim radicalism, parts are set in Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Turkey), does it present a world that my colleagues at work and Muslims in my community would recognise. Is this book offensive? Is it patronising? Is it worrying? Does it make you mad?
But I’m uncomfortable about this. Is that patronising? Am I being racist? I’ve talked about books with my friend before, but what would I say if I handed this book to him?
I tried to think about it the other way around.
I’ve read thousands of books set in a world I recognise with characters who have a similar cultural background and they’ve been serial killers, murderers, lovers, heroes, brave, arseholes, fun and average people. If someone came up to me and said
“Read this book about a mass murderer, he’s from your religion, does this ring true?”
how would I feel? It probably depends how they were portrayed, with sympathy or as an embodiment of evil.
I’m also visually impaired. I initially thought I’d really like to read a book about a visually impaired character, but then, the one’s I’ve come across haven’t been serial killers or murderers (If you know of any visually impaired characters in books I’d love to know, don’t worry I’ve got Blind Pew from Treasure Island). So again it depends how they are depicted. I loved Rhubarb – Craig Silvey, which made me want to march up to a blind person and ask them whether this is what it’s like to be blind? I thought the depiction in Rhubarb was very convincing.
So the character in I Am Pilgrim, the Saracen (which is probably offensive in itself), how is he depicted? I haven’t read the whole book yet, but so far from my position of ignorance, his story seems to have been treated with some sympathy. There are credible incidents that lead to his acts in the book and I am at some level convinced that he is a real character, not some archetypal baddie with only one dimension.
So what should I do? I feel like I’m on thin ice with this? I feel like I need to say something and then end it with “don’t take it that way” or “I don’t mean it like it just sounded”. But I want to know, I want to get more out of this book than entertainment. I want to understand more. Discretion, on the other hand tells me to keep my mouth shut, sweep it under the carpet and try to remember it’s only a fiction book and not to read too much into it.
- Being Muslim. (misslocklear.wordpress.com)
How often have you heard readers say things like
I never…re-read a book
…read historical books
…read old books
…read on the toilet
…use the library
I’ll confess mine from the list later.
These strong statements come from some of the meekest people I know. I think possibly this is the only time they would ever use the word “never” to another person. It’s surprising, and when you challenge them they seem unaware of the strong view they’ve just expressed. But contradict them and you will be treated as if you have personally affronted them. Beware!
I think this may be because reading is a very intimate and personal experience. The book is only half of the story. Whenever you read you bring yourself to the book and your reading style, your experiences and your outcomes are entirely unique. Therefore when you discuss reading you are really revealing a little of yourself, it’s a risk. The private intimate nature of reading means you can be entirely selfish, have it your way, do it your way, read what you like and no one need know or comment on it.
But when asked for your opinion, it is not surprising then that, you make the most dictatorial statements! And if someone doesn’t agree, then they are personally attacking you! It is strange then to think that discussing reading is viewed as such a good and safe topic of conversation.
We’re all individuals, and I increasingly come to the conclusion that we cannot know how anything feels to anyone else and should not guess. I don’t even know if the blue of the sky today as I perceived it, was the same blue to you. So we are individuals trying to make bridges, we are separate and are constantly reminded of that fact by our inner voices. But frequently in books we come across something that chimes a common note with how our own brain works, someone else thinks like that too (hopefully this doesn’t happen when you’re reading Dexter). This is a very intimate relationship with each book you read, and it is unique, no one else will feel exactly the same reading the book as you.
So, meek and not so meek readers, are you prepared to take a risk and give of yourself? What are your “nevers”?
Mine in the list above are…
I never read non-fiction (I’m a bit embarrassed by that)
I never re-read books (There a so many new experiences waiting)
Go on, share yours.
In discussion over lunchtime at work it seems that there are definitely two camps on the “reading on the toilet” debate. Those who do, and those who think it is akin to devil worship.
Now I have no problem with this and enjoy a good read in the smallest room in the house. (If you’re in the other camp please don’t unfollow me) It’s peaceful and quiet, I can lock the door and generally don’t get disturbed. So I thought I’d look up some intellectuals who read on the loo! You know sometimes how amazing the internet is? You look up something pretty obscure and are inundated with 2,433,235 results. This was not one of those fruitful searches, which is really surprising given that the BBC quotes a survey which said that
Nearly half (49%) of men admitted to reading while on the loo, compared with 26% of women.
do it! That’s millions of people. So they’re not ‘fessing up. So I’ve decided to “out” some intellectuals who look like they’d all enjoy a good read in the toilet. (If you can name more than 5 I’ll give you a prize – I can’t… Malcolm Muggeridge? Charles Darwin? Sasha Distel? and is that one of the Chuckle Brothers?).
I would expect that the most popular place to read is in bed before going to sleep. I enjoy this, but often have to get up and go and read in the living room because I’ve reached the point where the story is so exciting you can’t stop and there’s only a little bit more than you think you could read so you stay up late! And my wife wants to put the light out!
I also enjoy reading on the bus, when I’m not sitting with a friend, and if I’m eating on my own I’ll often read then.
The other classic reading place is on holiday. So many people tell me that they are saving books for their holiday or only read when they’re on holiday. I do stack them up on holiday, probably reading more.
I loved this quote
A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies.
The man who never reads lives only one
George R.R. Martin from this post A Thousand Lives
I don’t do this all the time you know. I still enjoy wandering around bookshops (especially where they are laid out on tables), looking at the covers, reading the blurbs and picking, yes actually picking books. I look at Amazon for this too. I wouldn’t miss out on the culture of picking books and sometimes there are just books you have to read. They leap off the shelves at you and hook you in (the cover’s interesting, the title is right up your street and the short blurb is intriguing). So I’m not exclusively blissfully ignorant but try to alternate. It’s a very different reading experience. One you think you know what you’re getting the other a surprise. I like both.
At the moment I am reading The Postmistress – Sarah Blake as a BIB (although I think I vaguely knew something about it, but if I did it’s subconscious, so I’m counting it) and enjoying it. It’s not what I expected and is suitable complicated to not be predictable. So it looks like a good choice for a BIB.
I’m not a fast reader, so I’ll let you know when it’s finished and I’ll add it to the list.
Recommendations, recommendations, recommendations…
You don’t want to read some dusty rubbish, so recommendations are the key. But they don’t have to be in the usual form, friends are great but they will want to tell you something about the book, head them off. So here’s a list of ideas, depending how brave you are!
- Friends – but hold your hand up once they’ve given you the necessary details – or preferably the book, you can discuss it afterwards
- Obscure book awards or old shortlists (Amazon are quite good for this, but I like the Commonwealth Book Prize – I’ve got a few of my BIBs – Blissfully Ignorant Books from there, see later post)
- Libraries obviously, but spot the returns trolley or the trendy new displays (don’t be tempted to look) or ask a librarian for a book worth reading
- Charity shops, try asking the assistant for a book they like or just pick a prominently displayed one whilst squinting 😉
- Amazon book list 100 bestsellers , 100 most wished for or 100 movers and shakers where they haven’t categorised them too much.
- Car boot sales, ask the seller to choose their favourite
- Richard & Judy book club stickers on things, and this is great because you won’t have to have anything to do with R&J! Some great books, worth reading but you don’t want all that flannel, perfect.
- and finally looking at blogs (not too closely mind) like this one
I’ll update this list as other ways occur or as others suggest.
Quite a few of these involve talking to strangers, so the whole thing is probably character building to boot!
I basically inherited a large collection of books from a friend when their lodger left them behind. They read a lot she told me and so I thought the books worth having. I initially edited out some I definitely wouldn’t read (Dr Who, not that I have anything against these books, but there’s a whole world of books to read so why read something you can see on TV) then forgot about them. I was stuck for a book one day and picked up “A Diary” by Chuck Palahniuk, I suppose thinking it was a diary of an artist. And it was, but what a journey I went on with the main character. If you don’t know his work I’d recommend this as a first book to try the blissfully ignorant technique.
Go on, give it a go and let me know what you think.