Thoughts on the Hardcopied challenge

Stack of five printed books that I read in July

My five Hardcopied books

 

So, three weeks later, what did I get out of the Hardcopied challenge, to read only print books for the month of July?

First thing. I already read a lot of print books, but the Hardcopied challenge got me to slow down. (On my time off. The working day was as hectic as ever, alas.) I hadn’t finished many books this year, after averaging one book a week last year, but in July, I decided that sunny Sundays were reading days. So every Sunday, I went to a different Toronto park with a book, and I read. (I sometimes went out in the sun to read on Saturdays too. I was inspired.)

I could feel the difference right away. Of course there were still distractions; any park worth its name is going to have those. But there wasn’t the pressure that I had to jump–to a different topic–a different thought–a different online task. It didn’t take long before I was reading longer passages and then stopping to think about them as I looked around. I noticed a lot of things around me. The house across the street from the park bench by my building, where the new owners had really been spiffing it up. The different people and their different dogs, strolling along the boardwalk down by the beach. And who could resist the guy in High Park, who sat coaxing tiny chipmunks onto his hand, where they sat eating nuts, their fluffy little tails hanging off his palm?

There was no pressure to get one thing done solely so I could get on with the next thing. I also stopped work a little earlier on some days (I work at home) so I could lounge around with a Blue Jays baseball game in the background and read some more. So I finished five books in July, after only managing one each in April, May, and June. I’m not sure I’ve ever enjoyed a stint of reading quite this much. And it’s been a great, relaxing summer too.

I’m already kind of eager to do it again. I may toy with the idea of doing my own Hardcopied thing every second or third month or something. But I do want to continue to set aside long stretches of time just to sit and read. And think. And absorb.

 

Birthday Swag for Hardcopied Book Challenge

Birthday swag

Birthday book swag

I wasn’t planning specifically to buy any books for the Hardcopied July print-only challenge. After all, I  have six large bookcases full of actual print books, many of which I haven’t read yet. (Remember my “Reading Through the Bookcase” plan? I’m not done with that, and I’ll be getting back to it.) So it wasn’t like I didn’t already have lots of books to choose from.

But my mom died in April and left me a little bit of money. And if she were here, now would be about the time that she’d be mailing a cheque for some birthday money for the end of July.

So I bought these things yesterday, on Canada Day, to celebrate my mom and my birthday and the print-only reading challenge. I miss being able to buy books whenever I want. And two of the books were recently recommended in a book discussion, while the third is by one of my favourite authors, Joanna Trollope. So, bonus!

And those beautiful needlecrafted bookmarks I’ve got sticking out of the books? Those were done by my mom (just two small examples of some really marvelous work she did over the years). So she’ll be there while I’m reading.

 

First Hardcopied Book: The Diary of Lady Murasaki

MurasakiI have already finished my first book for the Hardcopied July print reading challenge: The Diary of Lady Murasaki. Yay! Now, granted, it’s quite short, but it still counts.

You have to be in the right mood for this sort of book. This is not fiction, but a document written by a historical figure in Japan during the Heian period (late tenth/early eleventh centuries). It’s a translation (by Richard Bowring) of a document written by a lady-in-waiting of the Japanese empress, Shoshi, around the years 1008 to 1010 or so. (For context? Around fifty years before the Norman Conquest.) It provides a lot of insight into how court events were planned after the birth of the youngish Emperor Ichijo’s first son. We get to see how the ladies who surrounded the empress behaved and comported themselves, we read detailed descriptions of how they dressed, and we get a senior lady’s opinion of the goings on. We also see  just a bit of the machinations that the men are involved in.

This is apparently one of the earliest insights into how Japanese court etiquette operated, especially since this was in a time period when people’s court roles were not quite as rigid as they later became. Historians find this period really interesting because it was right when Japan was pulling away from Chinese influence and was developing its own distinctly Japanese culture–especially a written culture. It was the Japanese women in particular (who were shut out of the official and governmental writings, still heavily influenced by Chinese) who did the most to codify and spread the newer Japanese writing. So this account (along with two other women’s accounts from the same general period–The Pillow Book by Sei Shonagon and Izumi Shikibu’s diary–is very important in showing that new cultural development. One of the most important elements in this culture and in the court was the ability to create simultaneous lines of poetry, responding to moments as they happened and particularly responding to another person’s initiating of their own poetic lines.

What’s also interesting is how little actual power the emperor had and how much power the strongest families surrounding the court had instead. Yet the only way they could really get this power was to get as many family members as possible either married into the royal family or married into other powerful positions that surrounded the court. So the current (at that time) patriarch of the Fujiwara clan, Michinaga, was the one who got his daughter married to the emperor, and he is in control of a lot of the rituals that follow the birth of the baby prince. And it’s kind of amusing how, whenever the attending officials are named, you might get seventeen of them with the name “Fijiwara” and perhaps four of them with other names. Murasaki herself was from another less influential branch of the Fujiwaras.

The translator, Richard Bowring, wrote an excellent introduction explaining the historical and cultural context, and he also added Appendices that showed detailed floor plans of the rooms, apartments, and garden areas of the buildings in which the events took place. This added a lot of rich context.

So! Short but sweet. But as I say, you do need to be in the mood to delve into history in some detail. (And also, thanks to my friend, Tim, who originally sent me this book. :-) )

Hardcopied: A July Print-Reading Challenge

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt starts tomorrow! The Hardcopied challenge (see the Hardcopied Facebook page or the Hardcopied Book Club on Goodreads), in which a person decides to read only print books for the month of July, 2015. I’m doing it — are you?

A friend was ruminating recently about reading print books verses reading ebooks. There really doesn’t need to be the word “versus” in there, because both are of value. But we do read differently in each medium, and believe it or not, there are always likely to be print books in the foreseeable future. (That’s what head Harvard librarian, Robert Darnton, certainly believes, as I discuss in a review of his book.) So it’s probably a good idea to keep up our print reading skills as well as our ereading skills.

My primary reader, the Sony Reader (and then Sony sold us out to Kobo, for which I will never forgive Sony, but that's another story...)

My primary reader, the Sony Reader (and then Sony sold us out to Kobo, for which I will never forgive Sony, but that’s another story…)

One of the things that researchers have noticed–in general, so individual people may vary on this–is that when one’s primary reading is done onscreen, we tend much more to read in quick “jumps.” We flit from one thing to another, and our attention span does not seem to be as long. I’ve noticed this myself; I get a bit restless and start feeling an itch to go look at something else. With our screens, tablets, and smartphones, we can do this all too easily, and we never sit on one thing for all that long.

With print reading, we have to spend time. We are concentrating on one thing only, and we have to concentrate to stick with it. This makes us go deeper. It also gives us time to really think about what we’re reading. (And interestingly, some studies show that we retain things we’ve read in print form much more readily than things we’ve read onscreen. Hm.)

So I’m in! I’m going to read only print books in July. Want to join me?

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