What are you reading now and what books attracted you, literally, lured your heart like the mythic sirens over the past months? Analysing the books we have read recently, unless they were listed for for research or work, tells us wonders about our current mental state. From the emotions we suffocate inside instead of letting them out the fire pit of the heart, the dilemmas faced and now one must reconcile with and the ‘inappropriate’ thoughts polluting the inner judgemental moralist ego, the ambitions motivating the social climber — in short that desired, yet unacceptable part of you that cannot be spelled out. Is it fear or anxiety about the current state of the world affairs, is it safety of your loved ones, is it your own legacy, anything meaningful? Our subconscious and unconscious choices puzzle psychoanalysts.
What the books you read tell about you
Generally, if you are a keen reader not just for entertainment but out of following your sheer curiosity, the key to you may dwell in your library. Recent research by psychologists concluded that “your story choice tells a story about you“, wrote Wendy L. Patrick, JD, Ph.D. in Psychology Today.
Just scan the titles and connect with what they call out from your inner self. You might be surprised that the books you read point like a therapist to your real desires, unfulfilled dreams, life philosophy and overall connection with the intellect, the spirit and the world. I asked a few friends what book/s have changed their life and got quite fascinating, rapid replies. My question was inspired by the board pictured bellow at a Los Angeles book festival.
Books you read by choice are not what you had to read
The books you read were either chosen by you, for you or forced upon you. Which ones do you finish the fastest? What ideas do you memorise for longer? It get even more complicated, what I read for pleasure differs from what I gulp out of sheer intellectual curiosity. Free will is still involved anyway in the choice making and the pursuit of the text until its end.
When I was given Goethe in high school, I did not get why the teacher was so obsessed with the The Sorrows of Young Werther. We were fed the theoretical analysis, but life’s experiences have not yet provide enough in order to grasp the meaning fully. I did not see the in-between the lines nuances. It only came to me in my thirties. Paradoxically, Goethe’s title did not equip in itself the youth with the hindsight necessary for lowering one’s emotional clouding of the breadth of the situation Young Werther lived through. Read a book too young and you might not fully comprehend the weight of the story. I missed the core message which even the mature author only later, more distanced from the semi-autobiographical story was himself able to recognise: “It must be bad, if not everybody was to have a time in his life, when he felt as though Werther had been written exclusively for him.”
For the greatest books are not just about the story, that is a cover up for something deeper, meaningful and important to transmit through the written record. Enriching for the literary world, Goethe did not kill himself because of unrequited love, but overcame his suffering through personal development while writing poems, plays and novels. Struggle with an unrequited love was a popular theme int he Italian opera, and while the book was banned in the birth country of the opera as it was in Denmark and some parts of today’s Germany, it inspired other authors like Mary Shelley and Thomas Mann.
I inclined to very different books in my teens, twenties, thirties, let’s see where I veer in my 40s. With life’s progression towards its certain end at some point, prematurely or timely, and with more languages acquired, I am able to broaden the scope of literature passing through my brain.
I have ripened enough to feel the breadth of Shakespeare, to engage rapturously with Rimbaud, to get Karel Capek beyond his humour into the serious implications for the future – well a century later now, the current world, understand the passion of Neruda (the Chilean Pablo, while the Czech Jan was even more nationalistic) and take Proust more deeply than his memory game with a madeleine, the French pastry I love the most just hot out of the oven. Being able to read Milan Kundera‘s original Czech titles and his later originals in French encouraged my acquired language self to become more confident in my own literary output. So did Nabokov, the Russia-born in English writing maestro.
How we choose what to read
I read a lot, not digitally as much for I relish in writing in the margins, colourfully highlighting what grips me, bookmarking physically the pages that I want to return to. It just does not work on the Kindle or iPad. I tried, but the only book I finished on these electronic devices was, not surprisingly Nabokov’s Lolita, which was rather practical when reading in public spaces. Something does not connect with my brain as tactilely as a printed book does.
It is not enough to buy a book, to put that gift on the shelf, just to touch the bound typed paper, to download the e-book into you virtual library. All this hasty acquiring of content just does not sit within you. Just the catchy title might not tell what the story really is about, how good is the writing, how it flows, and for that one musts use the experience and one’s own brain, leaf through in a bookstore. An intention is not action. Books fill us up only when we pour the content mindfully in.
A book lent from a public library still can have a greater impact on your life than owned copies piled in your closet. Impact and reading is about the process, and maybe that inner necessity to underline, to highlight what touches you, what you want to memorise, sometimes scribed over in personal notebooks.
Therefore, audio books are not for me. I listen to them occasionally, while taking a bath and just want to soak without scribbling, while driving or commuting, but still, during these necessary activities I prefer to unwind with music. To cancel the noise of the urban life, rather than filling my mind with more chatter.
Further, you are more limited while traveling than when you are studying at the education centre’s library or clinging to your home library. While e-books solved the length, weight and extra space in your luggage issue, they are only good if you get as much from the reading as from a printed edition.
Ponder, why you picked this book for this journey or the destination you are carrying it along? The reason why you travel somewhere might be that book or whatever you are longing to escape. An emotion, the past, some life situation you are not ready or do not want to face?
What book changed your life?
When I discover something myself coded into the story, it feels like a grand discovery, firing my passion and connecting me more with my true self. Then, to those book lovers like myself I know I nudge: “you must read this book, so ahead of its time, brilliant, life-changing!” Such a line hints on the greatest review that a broad reader can share.
What I read recently were a curious blend of essays, classics, women’s memoirs, ancient and folk myths, contemporary neuroscience, eastern and western philosophy, poetry, psychological and spiritually leaning fiction and psycho-somatic nonfiction. Some I enjoyed, with others struggled through. The later were either poorly written, did not connect with me or I had to read them for work. Not all were connected with real life experiences. Imagination still casts spells over us, mystery, sci-fi, fairy tales keep us wondering and wandering away from real life. While not my genres of choice, I savour most the authors’s tales where relatable life lines along with the imaginary through metaphorical renderings.
Reading is not just escapism, entering the fictive story, but for me it musts be connected with the reality even if just through a feathery touch, with the productive not just seductive desires, conscious emotions and experiences of not only of the author, but also of the reader.
Books: the mirror of your mind and soul
The books you read mirror your state of mind and the stage of personal development you are currently in. They inspire action or at least a whiff of awareness into our now more connected life.
Peak at your bedside table or your kindle library, scan the titles and reflect upon the content of these books. Take a free day or a Sunday afternoon to graze on these hand-picked snippets of yourself. More than a curated cv, these stacks of printed papers may whisper important insights about what you seek in life. Your mind is savvy, subconsciously the brain signalled you what book to choose.
On the tactile side of reality we live through our actions, and not just in our imagination. We learn about ourselves the most profound lessons only when aware of our actions and mindful about our reactions.
Adventurers tend to be impatient, and I am too sometimes. Practicing calligraphy as much as meditation, yin yoga, ikebana, pottery or other crafts requiring your full attention, pulls the muscles of my patience into their stronger core, and so does reading.
Traveling also inspires my bookish selections. It intrigues me to read a book about the location I am visiting. Such as Men Without Women by Murakami awakened my sensibility about Tokyo’s quiet residential neighbourhoods and the mystery of yakuza’s tentacles in the polished Japanese life. On a similar note is Murakami’s South of the Border, West of the Sun.
Traveling to Asia for most of the past two decades, eastern ancient knowledge has appealed to me since my teenage curiosity spat me around the world dozen times.
If you are curious to discover more, check my next post in which I reveal a bit of myself through the books that enriched me, either changed my perception, view of life, or challenged my preconceived ideas.
As much as the library at your home, your personal journal is the gateway to your true, perhaps outwardly masked self. Rereading your thoughts illuminates the deep scars in the soul, highlights your strengths and weaknesses to learn from.
My final question is: are we what we read or more how we read?
The books you read are just clues and you only have the answers. Nobody else can analyse that for you.