exploring art and writing

Posts Tagged ‘reading’


In Books, Bookshop, Literature on March 15, 2013 at 4:12 pm
'The House of Books Has No Windows' Janet Cardiff & George Bures Miller, 2008.Installation with approx. 5000 second hand books. Dimension: 200 x 175 x 110 cm © Cardiff/Miller

‘The House of Books Has No Windows’ Janet Cardiff & George Bures Miller, 2008.
Installation with approx. 5000 second hand books. Dimension: 200 x 175 x 110 cm © Cardiff/Miller

Last week I was asked an intriguing question. As I sat in a bookshop, ensconced in spines of fiction and antique-stained wooden shelves, I was asked who the bookshop’s human equivalent would be were it left to my imagination.

It was left to my imagination for about five minutes. All I could think of, unimaginatively, was books. There were just so many compared to what I’m used to (and I work in a bookshop, so I’m really used to them). Eight shelves high, squeezed together, piled on top. A paper heaven.

No wonder that I couldn’t stop thinking of Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller’s The House of Books Has No Windows. (Thoughts on which I’ve posted here). A mysterious exhibition at Modern Art Oxford in 2008, I can recall stacks of books sculpted to create a little house that could be crawled into, hardbacks placed next to giant megaphones and even more books on the floor and on shelves, all lit by yellow spotlights. I can’t tell if I’m remembering any of this right. And then, sitting in a bookshop all these years later, I remember my own bookcase at my parent’s house, still creaking with triple-stacked art tomes and foxed paperbacks.

After my excursion to the bookshop I arrived home that night and looked at my e-reader. Such a slight and unobtrusive object. As if trying to make a point it was sitting on a box of books that was taped and ready to be shipped to another city. Of the seven books that I have on the reader, two I’ve bought in paperback since first reading the digital copy. All the rest of the books that I’ve read since Christmas…well, I just bought the paper version to begin with.

I’m familiar with the benefits of an e-reader and feel genuinely open to praising them wholeheartedly. But I can’t help it: if I love a book I desire the paper that it’s printed on. And I know that paper books don’t light up when I’m reading at night, but surely that’s what lamps are for?

Cicero said it with more romance: “A room without books is like a body without a soul.” So I’ve come to a compromise. From now on my shelves will be graced by books that are potent enough to inspire what only a great book can: the desperate need to place it in the hands of anyone who I think will listen.

That’s one thing you definitely cannot do with e-readers. That and build a small house out of them. That just wouldn’t work.



In Fine Arts, Identity, Life on June 15, 2012 at 6:40 pm


There comes a time in everyone’s life when they realise that they have no idea what they’re doing.

As you may have realised from my previous blog post (and from the prolonged, empty cyber-gap on this site between then and now), I reached that point a few months ago.

It’s been quite a fascinating experience. I haven’t written a single, solitary word. I haven’t bothered with even a page of literature*. The only films I’ve watched have been along the lines of Kung-Pow and Superstar: Dare to Dream! which we all know are not really films; they are things created solely for the purposes of procrastination and despair.

This has to change. Last week, as I was writing a reserve note for a customer at work I spelled the word ‘call’ wrong. And the word ‘please’. Hopefully I gained points for attempting to use pleasantries, but the degeneration of my skills is still pretty impressive.

So now I finally have it: scientific proof that literature and writing improves intelligence. I have to read in order to be able to spell four letter words.

I suppose what I’m trying to say is that I’ve missed all that stuff. The syntactically complex sentences; the long, meaningful gazes between art-house characters; the questioning of what that painting fucking means. I think it’s time to welcome pretention back into my life once more.

So…I’ve missed you, arty stuff. Welcome back into my life.

*This is a lie. In February I read Caitlin Moran’s How to Be a Woman, but as it’s technically a humour book I’m choosing to consider it invalid; books that make you snort coffee out of your nose don’t count.

Why Can’t I Stop Reading Books?

In Identity, Life on October 16, 2011 at 3:38 pm

'Woman Reading by Candlelight' by Peter Vilhelm Ilsted

A year ago I wrote a blog in which I asked myself the question ‘why can’t I read books?’ As with most people my life has meandered through an array of events and emotions since then, and I’m happy to confirm that I now have no trouble immersing myself in a novel. In fact, there are so many books sitting on my shelf, both read and waiting to be read, I occasionally wonder where I found the time to indulge myself in anything other than prose. Now I’m speculating about where I will find the time in the years ahead, not just to read but also to be active in other walks of life.

Thoughts of time are beginning to occur quite frequently in my head. Childhood seems to stretch itself out like a stalled train, painfully slow and impossible to depart from until you reach some tantalising and mysterious place. This place doesn’t really exist, of course, but I was convinced that it did. Being an adult doesn’t appear to be either tantalising or mysterious. Books, on the other hand, can be breathtaking, devastating, captivating and they are full of what we lack. As people were bustling about and performing their daily tasks this morning, it occurred to me that I am living other people’s stories, the stories of an authors protagonist, of their villain, their landscapes, their desires and motives. I don’t have a journey of my own.

This problem can no doubt be solved by finding a balance between fiction and life, by knowing when to read and when to walk out the front door and go somewhere. And the more I read the more my imp mutters into my ear: as your life goes on, words are meaningless and experience is everything. Surely there is more satisfaction and significance in having travelled the world, met an array of people and immersed yourself in a diversity of cultures than there is in having read an impressive handful of literature? My imp is also fond of reminding me that the great works, the monuments of the written word, are almost always the product of a life that is ‘worn in’; lives that have been tried, tested and verified.

These thoughts are provoked by my return to England and into education. The contrast between a city and a seaside town is palpable; the minute amount of time I have spent here has expanded and filled my head so that I feel as if I have been here for months on end. In reality I have lived here only fifteen days. The intense bouts of feverish reading, the endless cups of tea and the incorrigible musings over fictional characters have made me feel as if I am living in a hybrid land that I can’t yet fully comprehend. I live in Cornwall, but my mind is crossing the Texan plains; I sit in England, but my thoughts are in a French prison; I think of Scottish air and the café’s of a European city and yet I can’t name a street in this town but for the one I live on.

It’s time to regain my balance. Perhaps then my own words will become more than just shapes on a page. After all, it’s life that creates stories that are worth sharing.

'The Open Door' by Peter Vilhelm Ilsted