Friday, May 29, 2015

The Simple Act of Reading

Title:  The Simple Act of Reading
Author:  Debra Adelaide, editor
Publication Information:  Random House Australia. 2015. 288 pages.
ISBN:  0857986244 / 978-0857986245

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "I could not image a more perfect book than this:  a collection of essays by writers I admire about the one thing that has preoccupied me my entire life."

Favorite Quote:  "Imagination and memory are the same, seeing what you cannot actually see. Some might say that the memories we have of particular novels and the deep feelings for characters in them are as false as any dream memory or imaginary friend, but as I get older, I'm finding with my own memories and children, memory itself is a kind of secret fiction, always changing:  the stories we tell ourselves - and our children - as fictional as the stories our parents ever told us." ("In Your Dreams" by Sunil Badami)

A book about reading by writers - What a wonderful combination! The Simple Act of Reading is a collection of essays and memoir pieces by Australian authors on the subject of their love of reading and on particular books and/or authors that have had a significant impact on their lives. The directions to the authors were simple:  "Write about any aspect of the reading life that is meaningful to you, and will be to those interested in what makes writers tick."

Many pieces focus on childhood reading experiences. Some speak about specific works that impact their lives. Others write on the process of reading, for example, collaborative reading and ebooks.

Some pieces in the book are reprints of previously published articles; some are new works written specifically for this book. As is the case in compilations and anthologies, reactions to the different essays differ. Some are just interesting to read, and some touch the heart. Some are more essay, and some are deeply personal memoir pieces. Because of the essay format, the book does not have to be read cover to cover or in its entirety. In fact, I would suggest reading it one essay at a time so as to focus on the ideas in each one. Pick it up, read an essay, and put it aside. Go back to it and read another. This is definitely a book to be enjoyed over time.

In a book about books, I often find myself making a list of other books to read. This book introduces me to a set of Australian authors whose work I have not read. Through the essays they individually present, I get a sense of their writing. In addition, the books mentioned in each essay form another complete reading list. Some of the referenced works I have read; some I have not. Many references such as Enid Blyton bring back fond childhood memories, reminding me to revisit them as an adult.

What I really appreciate is that I do not have to make my lists at all. The table of contents provides the list of authors who have contributed to the book; an appendix provides short biographies. An appendix to the book includes all the books referenced, making it easy to compile a reading list.

A unique feature of this book is that all proceeds from the sale of the book will be donated to the Sydney Story Factory. The Sydney Story Factory is a nonprofit writing center to support the young people in Sydney. Their motto reads, "Igniting the spark of creativity in every child, one story at a time." Programs are open to everyone, but the center particularly hopes to support non-English speaking and indigenous youth as well as other marginalized populations. The program receives support from writers, readers, the publishing industry, and other business supporters. It is based on the model of a program in San Francisco.

To quote one of the essays, "This is the almost religious, meditative transcendence of the simple act of reading:  that in losing ourselves in the lives of others, we can find ourselves, enabling us to see the world and those around us refracted in a new light - in our  own reflections." What does "the simple art of reading" bring to your life? I know mine is richer for it and richer for having read this book.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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