Tag Archive for Hardcopied

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.

 

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. 🙂 )

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