Tag Archives: imagination

Why do I read?


Why do I read?

Proviso: added later to prevent people writing comments telling me I’m wrong … these are my views, my thoughts, my ideas, and the answers to my questions, about my reading – Okay?

So back to the question … And what a question! What has prompted it? I joined a book club last night – a case of third time lucky as I’d tried others – one at a local restaurant that enticed you to pay for a meal whilst discussing books – but with 30 or so diners hardly anyone except the ‘head’ table got to speak. A purely commercial venture. The second was an offshoot of a women’s discussion group that I belong. But this turned out to be a gossip fest rather than a genuine attempt to discuss books, and the rest of the group only read crime so I left, disappointed with both groups. Maybe this one would be different. And it was – but …

The group comprised of mainly sweet young things in their twenties and early thirties, at most, so I was at least 3 if not 4 decades older than the majority. And this is where my question starts to be relevant. As it was the first meeting there was no chosen book to discuss. So we spent the evening setting ground rules and structure. The ‘leader’ gave us a choice of two books for next month – one a bloody (in all senses of the word) crime novel whose title and author I’ve already forgotten, and The Catcher in the Rye. Oh! Right … boring then! As I said, I’m several decades older than the rest of the group so have read the second book years ago, with no desire to read it again. And the crime book – full of violence and abuse?

That is what sparked my question. You’ve probably forgotten what it is after my initial preamble. Why do we read? And here I’m talking about fiction, not factual, text books, you understand.

As a child (my views, my theories, you understand – not academically proven) I would say initially we read in order to learn to use words, and to stimulate the imagination, with a smidge of entertainment thrown in. As we get older – teens and twenties, I wonder if it is to explore new ideas, and, vicariously, new experiences. Later still, in my opinion and from my experience, it is more a form of escapism from the mundane aspects of life. Of course, all of these reasons cross the boundaries of age, both ways.

But for me, in my sixties, having done many things in my life, having seen and experienced all shades of life from dark to light, from depressing to uplifting, reading has taken on a whole new raison d’etre. Today, I read to expand and stimulate my imagination, and to authenticate and validate my spirituality (and for entertainment, of course). I do not want to read about violence and abuse, about misery and death. Firstly my career was as a social worker so I’ve seen plenty of real life misery and abuse, and do not want to read about it when I can choose other, more life-affirming books. Secondly, as someone on the downward slope towards whatever lies beyond the veil, I really do not want to read about violent and degrading torture and death. Neither, incidentally, do I want to read endless and mindless rom-coms involving thirty-year olds who think life is over if they aren’t in a loving relationship (dressed in designer footwear) by then, and where the older generation is included as comedic diversion, or are shown succumbing to daftness and worse, senility. Life is too short, and there are far too many books, to waste time reading about desolation and wretchedness, no matter how worthy; or pointless and shallow self-indulgence.

I want to read life affirming stories of love and challenge for heroines and heroes of any age, in any world – real or fantasy; stories with a touch of magic that leave me feeling good about this world; stories where the bigger picture demonstrates that we live on a beautiful planet surrounded mostly by lovely people, no matter what is happening in the small detail and dark corners, and that humanity (or its counterpart – elf, hobbit, dragon, vampire, alien) can rise above the darkness. These books don’t have to be great literature, and they don’t have to be adult books. I read children’s and young adult fiction, as well as books aimed at grown-ups. But the books have to be ultimately positive, beautifully written, atmospheric and life-affirming.

If you look at current best seller lists you might think I have a hard job finding books that appeal to me in my current life stage, and according to my strict criteria. Not at all, there are myriads of gems out there that are lyrical, descriptive and with really interesting story lines. Too many in fact, and I will never read all the ones that I want to read, I would need another whole lifetime, but then there would be, oh dear, a whole lot more newly written books as well.

Part of my problem or privilege depending on your perspective (after all I am reading prolifically in order to try to catch up, so maybe it is a good thing), is that I started late as a reader. We had few books in the house when I was a child. It was only with the opening of a library in the neighbourhood when I was about 10 that I discovered story books. Until then I had four books – a Hans Andersen fairy tale book (illustrated by Heath Robinson – not the one who designed weird machines, the other one – his brother, maybe?), a Grimm’s fairy tales (illustrated by Rackham), a book about dinosaurs, and an Enid Blyton Nature book full of environmental activities and stories about a young uncle who took his nephew and niece into the woods and countryside to explore nature (yes really! As a social worker I might have been pretty suspicious but as a young reader it was spell-binding). These books set the course of my life – a life-long love of fairy tales, mythology and fantasy ensued; also an interest in children’s illustrators. I have always had an interest in nature-study and for two decades taught environmental education to children through Wildlife Watch – and repeated many of those activities first discovered in the pages of that battered old green Enid Blyton hardback. And I still am fascinated by dinosaurs, and it was magical to see the first scenes of brachiosaurs in Jurassic Park – still my favourite film after Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit (all parts).

As for the afore mentioned Lord of the Rings/Hobbit – ask any of my friends – I am obsessed with the whole concept, and have been since 1966 when I was first introduced to the books by my English teacher after professing a love of reading as opposed to sport, when she found me hiding away in a classroom instead of being on the scary (far scarier than Doctor Who or orcs) hockey field. The books epitomize my criteria: poetic and lyrical language, and great structure, a good balance of action and description, a vast and vivid vision, a good storyline or ten, ultimately positive despite the apparent lack of hope and warfare, great role models (though slightly lacking in females other than Eowyn, Galadriel and Arwen) , and, oh yes, elves … magical! Plus Tolkien gave us a plethora of back-story mythology … bliss. I’m still exploring this underpinning mythology five decades on, and still just as interested. What other book can so inspire one person. And by the way, I’ve read the Silmarillion! Difficult, very difficult, but beautifully poetic and infinitely satisfying if you persevere.

So why do I read? For inspiration, to feed my mind, heart and soul, and to be entertained. Oh, and before you all start writing in comments disagreeing – remember – this is about me, no-one else: my ideas, my thoughts, my reasoning, and my answers.


On Dreams


On Dreams

I’ve been dreaming a lot lately, more than usual … some beautiful, some magical, some unintelligible and some disturbing; and some of them, those strange dreams that leave you unbalanced and anticipating something unknown for days afterwards. I do not know why because for many years I rarely remembered my dreams, at times wondering if my brain had stopped dreaming. So, I ask myself, why this increase recently? Am I going through changes in my thinking or my lifestyle that warrants messages from my sleeping mind? Or is just a random cyclical thing? Whatever it is (and they have, at least, given rise to new poetry and ideas for stories, so they are being useful) I have been thinking deeply about dreams for a while now.

Dreams intrigue me – everyone dreams, I assume – but what are they? Where do they come from? Are they simply our mind cataloguing our computer brain files and shifting things around, or are the more significant than this, more fundamental, more vital?

I find it hard to believe that dreams are purely a systematic shifting of memory bytes. That’s almost too easy an answer for something as complex and varied as dreaming. Many are just too vivid, too diverse, and have too many images that are unlinkable to any current or past experience.

Dreams are universal functions of our mind and unite humanity across space and time; as I said – everybody dreams, and humanity has dreamt since the earliest of times. Therefore it seems reasonable to surmise that they must have some function within, and exert some influence over our existence. There must be a reason for dreaming … or maybe not. Should everything have purpose or is that a rational, day time idea? Maybe dreaming is simply another, different, level of existence. During the day we live by reason’s code in order to be safe and survive, but at night we can travel through time or soar to the stars, and do things we might otherwise never try, trapped as we often are by our insecurities and fears. During our dreams we are free to fly, dance, love and create new realities for ourselves.

There are people, of course, that can blur the boundaries of dream and daytime consciousness. I call it that rather than reality as I believe that there are many different realities. These people are the great visionary thinkers, artists, poets, writers, and especially children, who haven’t yet been polluted by society’s ideas of what is real. Such people possess imagination and the ability to express it for the potential benefit of others. They, we (for I class myself as a visionary, a writer, a poet and an artist, and I still possess a childlike mind, too childlike some would say) take our dreams into daytime consciousness daring to imagine broader horizons, new and different worlds, stranger dimensions. We fly on cosmic wings in and out of our dreams, creating and imagining and interpreting the world around us, transforming it into places of greater beauty, more magical and enchanted, remaking it in our own image.

The dream world whether captured by our night time consciousness, or flowing from our pens, keyboards and paintbrushes, is considered by many – so called intellectuals, or just plain old adults – to be unreal, fiction, imaginary. I include the last word as it illustrates the irony of the idea – imaginary ie coming from the imagination, which is purely an extension of our night time consciousness, our dreams. Yet in many parts of the world now, and in many cultures of the past, the boundaries between dreams and waking are both fragile and shifting. The Celts (a culture I identify with both emotionally and genetically) believe dreams are the realms of gods and goddesses, places to discover the very essence of existence.

And indeed, it is that dream consciousness that allows us to see beyond the mundane world to the very core of being, so that we might reach higher than our current existence towards goals and aspirations we would otherwise reject as beyond our place in the world. Dreams allow us to believe we are greater than we are and enable us to transform ourselves in new and inspiring ways.

Dreams and imagination are the central core of who we are – they have allowed human beings to rise from simple creatures of instinct to complex beings who have the ability to fly to the moon and beyond. Without dreams we are not human; they are what make us human and not just animal, for dreams and imagination transport us across the boundaries of possibility and hurl us to the ends of infinity.

A dream journey is a trip into the unknown – whether during night consciousness or through the modus of creating something from imagination. During our waking time we tend to stick to what is familiar, stay in out comfort zones. Often this is necessary in order to survive, or is the result of imprisoning fears. But in our night dreams, our day dreams, our fantasies, we can do anything, go anywhere, be anyone we choose. We can be something different every time we dream, or stretch and challenge ourselves immeasurably.

Our job as an adult is to grow and learn and develop, to expand our knowledge and skills; yet it is the child that sees and accepts, unconditionally, the vastness of the universe as accessed by imagination and dreams. Be as little children …

Today’s Western society is extremely materialistic, governed by strict concepts of reality: science. If it cannot be seen, touched, proven it cannot exist.  Dreams, spirituality, magic are all seen as fantasy. Yet the latter encompasses vision and a belief in potentiality. The latter pre-supposes that there is still much to be learnt about the present universe and our existence within it. The latter requires open-mindedness. A materialistic, realistic view is close-minded. So which is superstition and blind faith, and which is liberalism and progressiveness?  Today’s imagined dream, today’s imagined story, today’s magical idea is tomorrow’s science or medicine or invention. Is it fear of the unknown, fear of being vulnerable to possibility, fear of surrendering our imagination that insists on keeping our dreams imprisoned in a cage, and labelled unreal? Isn’t it essential to our very existence to listen to our dreams and dare to imagine a better world, a world of love, tolerance, peace and environmental purity where everyone has enough to live on, and no-one is subjugated? I’m certain that most of us dream of such a world so let’s keep dreaming, let’s keep imagining, and turn those dreams into reality on both plains of existence.

I’m conscious that I’ve not really explored what dreams are, after all, just that they are universal and essential and important – maybe their nature needs more thought from me, but in the meantime: Dream on …