The Proper Reader

One of the few good things, as some may argue, that have come out of this age of digitisation, is a great increase in the reader population of the planet. Be it non-fiction, fine literature, high or low fantasy, young adult or even Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight Saga (which, in fact, does merit a category of its own), reading has taken a great leap to the top spots amongst the hobbies of people today, along with masturbation and binge-watching TV shows on Netflix. And so the writers are happy because they are being read more, and the readers are happy because there is more to read. But, as is the unfortunate case with the world we live in, someone is ALWAYS unhappy. So, in this day and age, WHO is that someone?

That someone is the Proper Reader. That someone is a person who understands the intricacies of language, appreciates the magnificent beauty of fine literature, and finds him or herself unable to withstand the torture being inflicted upon young and older minds alike under the guise of literature.

And why is it, you may ask, that we must conform our choices and preferences in reading to the opinions of this unknown, self-proclaimed and more or less snobbish “Proper Reader”, so to speak? What makes this Proper Reader qualified enough to tell us what literature is good and bad, and indeed what makes some things literature and other things not? Who is this Proper Reader to tell us that works such as My Name Is Red and Norwegian Wood are finer pieces of literature than, say, the atrocities of Chetan Bhagat, or the Casio scientific calculator manual which has never to this day been fully perused?

Experience is the answer, to put it rather metaphorically and in one word. It is the vast experience which the Proper Reader has which allows him or her to discern good quality writing from the hogwash which can be seen commonly floating around the Internet and in the regular columns of printed dailies. And this experience isn’t garnered by glancing over the new threads and notifications on GoodReads, though that is a great place to start. No, that experience comes from flipping page after page of aeons of the written word, learning to appreciate the finesse of a seasoned writer and acquiring the art of telling the skilled pen apart from the hastily typed up sob story written by exhausted individuals looking to kill some time.

Of course, the real question on all our minds is, how does it really matter? Through books, if indeed James Dashner authored onslaughts can be so called, we are provided with entertainment and amusement, and we get to learn something, even though it may be very, very little. So how does it matter if we only read the hogwash, and leave the most intricate works for scholars and people who don’t have to go to 25th-floor, morning jobs trampling through the subway? So what if we are content with The Devil Wears Prada and would rather read Eat Pray Love than Madame Bovary?

At this point, the Proper Reader, assuming he or she hasn’t had a fatal heart attack, would promptly rise and display before us a picture of the Eiffel Tower, and then show the image of a garbage heap in the corner of a dark alley. The Proper Reader would then ask us: “why do you gaze upon the Eiffel Tower with such awe and admiration, and not even give a second glance to the pile of garbage? If you need something to look at, something for your eyes to do while you dine or chat with friends, then why not just stare at the garbage and contend yourself?” And, of course, the Proper Reader would be right.

It is about the preservation of the unique and the brilliant. It is about appreciation of the art and talent of individuals who have given their life to creating something for the world to admire. But more than any of that, it is about exposing ourselves to that which not only makes us better individuals but also makes us a smarter and overall better civilisation. If we cannot, at this stage of brilliance, appreciate the talents of the Jules Verne and Charles Dickens above the likes of John Grisham, then what right do we carry of calling ourselves civilised?

It is our duty as men and women of knowledge to distinguish the extraordinary from the mundane, to revere the fine above the brutish and to elevate the former so high that when the oceans of ignorance sweep over our existence, we are purged of the latter. We must commit our cause to these higher beings, who have given us such treasures which we may behold, and may one day look upon and beam with pride as we recognize that we belong to the civilisation which created them.

All that said and done, HOW does one gain this experience, without spending an eternity absorbed in books? Isn’t there an easier way out, the chance to appreciate the peaks of literary perfection without having to slog through trilogies of overdone sex stories turned into catastrophic movies starring Jamie Dornan in a less than flattering role?

The answer, if not already obvious by the hinted sarcasm in the question posed above, is no. However, we don’t have to go through all works which have been deemed great over the course of history to find the epitome of good literature. All that we need to do is incorporate some of these revered texts into our daily lives and to see how much of a difference they make. Just replacing one subpar novella with a collection of O. Henry short stories will be the change of a lifetime, and from there on, the journey through the world of literature is, literally (so to speak) endless.

We only need to pick up that one literary book which gets us by the guts and drags us down to a literary Nirvana which we could never have found without the guidance of that particular writer. Sure, the first “great” book that we pick up may not do the trick for us, but we must keep trying, and therein lies the secret of the Proper Reader. The Proper Reader is relentless in his or her pursuit to find that literary work which transcends time and space, and places the reader firmly within the mind of the writer, allowing there to be flawless communication of beautiful thought and feeling.

The Proper Reader, were he or she able to address you, would surely just say this. Put down whatever insignificant story you are pretending to engage in at the moment, and ruffle the pages of history to find the writing which calls to you. Just give it a chance. Allow the timeless work of a beautiful mind to remain timeless, and prevent it from being swallowed up and buried beneath miles of neglect. The Proper Reader, and the human civilisation, and maybe even the universe, would be forever thankful to you.

In honour of the written word…

66 kilometres per second

I have found, over the years, that I am drawn to a great many things and that my interest in these varied fields is very volatile. It is as though these interests are competing for more “brain space”; trying to make sure that at any given point of time, they are the first thing on my mind. Amongst these diverse interests is astronomy, otherwise known as the science of feeling irrelevant. Astronomy recently won the Brain Space Contest, successfully managing to dominate every waking moment of mine in what can only be described as a landslide victory.

You see, the world recently played host to the Eta Aquarids meteor shower. The shower is nothing special, so to speak: it happens every year, lasts two to three days, can be seen throughout the night but you have to wait until dawn to see it properly, and each meteor streaks across the sky so fast that there is barely time to get a glimpse of it (how fast? Take a guess). And yet, for reasons I still cannot exactly recall, I was adamant to see it.

So I picked up my phone and called (I texted, really, but called is so much more dramatic) up the few people I know here who would be interested in accompanying me to a faraway spot in the middle of the night. I was not very disappointed. At three in the morning, I set off from my house with my band of followers, blindly placing their trust (and, more importantly, their sleep) in my hands. Needless to say, I had been subjected to a plentiful of threats that past evening, warning me that there had better be something worthwhile to see if I wanted to return home in a recognizable state. I was, expectedly, terrified. At around four, we rendezvoused with some more of my friends on the way and together headed off to the isolated, hopefully light-free, area which would host us for the remaining hours of darkness.

A bit more walking, mostly uphill, and we were there. I had somehow managed to gather seven eager souls, all of who were expecting the dome to come to life at any moment. Two of them, busy bees that they are, left us atop that lonely hill, but the other five resolutely stayed back, cementing their interest, and their ominous warnings, for yet another time. And then, we waited.

Speaking from a very honest, very objective, point of view, it was not a comfortable wait. The hill on which we were perched was riddled with stones and twigs, making reclining extremely unpleasant and mosquitoes had waged a war against mankind, launching the first of their attacks on us. Despite all this, I still maintain that I have rarely been more at ease than I was on that night. I frequently found myself lost in concentration with my friends, or gazing up at whatever few stars I could see (the most inopportune of all cloud covers prevailed that day).

The walk there alone had been astoundingly refreshing. We had had a run in with quite a few guards, stationed specifically to stop this kind of nighttime strolling by the students, but had found them almost compliant with the state of affairs. A pack of dogs seemed to take a particular fancy to us, before deciding that the sexual pleasures they derive from their own species are greater than interspecific, platonic love. Even the murderous glares I had received when confessing that I did not exactly know the place to which we were going seemed to accentuate the perfection of the night. And then we had reached, and the tensions which had been climbing seemed to alleviate. Breathing was easier (mostly because we weren’t climbing uphill anymore), and there was an inherent feeling of a relaxed atmosphere which prevailed.

The hour and a half before dawn passed by very slowly; the movement of Pluto across the sky was one of the fastest things in our surrounding. Complaints had started ringing through the air, accusing me of leading them on a wild-goose chase, or of wasting their time; complaints which I deftly ignored in the anticipation of the sight, I was sure, we were about to see. Harbouring blind faith, I stared eastward, glaring in the direction where I knew the Aquarius constellation hung smugly in the sky, daring it to disappoint me tonight while also pleading for it to come through. I frequently checked my phone, reassuring myself that dawn would bring with it the promised shower.

The passing minutes were dampening to the spirit, and it truly seemed as though the night would be a fruitless one. Religious, though, in my expectations of the night, I remained undeterred: the sky would blaze with meteors this morning, I knew it. And in that moment, the sheer magnitude of, well, EVERYTHING, seemed to crash down upon me. All my beliefs and opinions on the grand cosmic scale of things came to me at once(opinions which I have once spoken about at length: The Great Cosmic Dice), and I found myself staring in awe at the steadily brightening sky. That we were here, waiting eagerly for a few bright flashes in the sky, seemed to me the greatest testament to the beauty of the universe, unphased in its entirety by the existence or absence of mankind. The universe, it hit me, didn’t care. However, it also struck me just how far we had come in our understanding of the universe itself: that we were here, waiting eagerly for a few bright flashes in the sky, was the greatest testament to how well we had understood the mysteries of nature.

And in that moment, it didn’t matter if I got to see the shower or not, because we had already acknowledged the universe and the existence of a phenomenon which didn’t need to be validated by mankind’s limited observation. It didn’t matter if we got to see the shower or not, because the hours we’d spent waiting for this little display meant nothing to the universe, and would mean nothing for the years and years to come. The Eta Aquardis would happen whether we were there to watch it or not.

I have often been of the opinion that the Universe is able to hear what we say, and while I acknowledge that the opinion is very faulty, sometimes the evidence is overwhelming. Even as I thought about how it wouldn’t matter at all whether we saw the shower or not, a bright light streaked across the sky, whiter than anything in the sky, so fast and so sudden that it was barely visible, and a small smile came upon my lips.

All this, for a faint white light, moving across the sky at sixty-six kilometres per hour.