some pig

You know what’s crazy? In all my years and years of reading, I’d never read Charlotte’s Web — a veritable childhood classic kept in probably every library in every school across the country. Why did I never read it? I’m not entirely sure. Maybe a story about a spider and pig just didn’t appeal to my younger self. Why read farm stories when I could read about the adventures of the creatures of Redwall?

Well, anyway, D. seemed to think this was unacceptable, so I decided to read it. I’m about a third of the way through Ulysses, so it’s probably not a bad idea to take a bit of a break, right?

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page after page

It seems that out of every hobby, past-time, or leisurely pursuit, reading is the one that has endured the longest, and has been the most consistent in my life. I can hardly remember a time in my life when I was not in the middle of one novel or another (except, of course, those brief lulls between books when I need time to recover from book hangovers).

Running probably comes a close second, although I’ve been running less these days — mostly because this summer we’ve had a lot of days when it was too hot, or too rainy. Plus I’ve been doing several late finishes at work, and then week-ends are busy with other things. But overall, since childhood (maybe mid-primary school some time) I’ve always enjoyed running, and I ran pretty consistently year after year.

Now I’ve gotten back into cycling more. This week I cycled to work twice (yesterday and the day before), and surprisingly my legs aren’t quite as sore as I feared they’d be. The thing with cycling is that although I had a bike when I was a kid, and thoroughly enjoyed cycling whenever I got the chance, there’s a huge interval in my life when I didn’t cycle at all. I think I just outgrew my bicycle around high school time, and never got a new one until after uni (?)

I’m not really sure what happened there. Probably it was just easier and cheaper to run. I still think that running has a lot of advantages over cycling (like needing less gear, not needing as much preparation, having more freedom with where you go, etc, etc) but unfortunately it’s not feasible to run to and from work on a regular basis (not from where I currently live anyway)

Another thing that has dropped in and out of my life is writing. Take this blog for example: I used to write a lot more frequently here, but it has become less of a priority in recent months. I used to also write more stories and poems and other creative things, but I feel less compelled to write these days. I do miss it a bit, I guess, which is why I’m here again, but I’m not really sure where my writing will go from here.

So this was basically my train of thought the other night, when I went for a pre-dinner walk. And it was then that I realised that reading was the one true constant in my life — the one habit I cannot (and don’t intend to) stop.

venturing forth

I’m now about 150 pages into Ulysses, so I figured it might be a good time for an update. I think with a book like this, it would be too much to wait until the very end to write about it. Also might be interesting to note down my thoughts on it progressively, and see if my understanding, perspectives and opinions on the story change or develop.

So far, I find that Ulysses has a very staccato rhythm. It’s very “stream of consciousness”, which I suppose is basically what it is, as we are immersed in the innermost thoughts of the two protagonists. It’s very much the most raw and unedited version of thought, intended only for the thinker — no context or subtext explained (since it’s already known and understood by the thinker), and no need to round out each thought as a fully formed, grammatically correct sentence.

The style of writing — with all the short, sharp sentences — seem to give the novel a faster pace. At times, I’ll be reading Ulysses, and find that I’m breezing through it, but then I’ll suddenly realise that I’ve been reading without really understanding or absorbing what I’ve just read. Yes, sometimes that happens with other novels, but it seems to happen more with Ulysses, and actually it feels easier to go faster and further before I realise I should probably slow down and think about what I’m actually reading.

But that’s the nature of thought, isn’t it? There is a lot of conscious thought, but also a lot of subconscious thought, and it all happens so fast. It’s possible for the mind to jump from one thought to another so rapidly, and so seamlessly, no matter how unrelated each subsequent thought happens to be.

Overall, reading Ulysses is more enjoyable than what I expected. But to be fair, I’m not entirely sure that I expected to enjoy it at the start. Maybe I was afraid I wasn’t going to understand it, and I’d just be stumbling through until I got to a point where I was forced to admit defeat. So expectations were probably low.

I mentioned in the previous post that I’m using a reading guide that I found online. However, I’m now at a point where I’m actually considering abandoning the reading guide. This is not because I think I don’t need it anymore, but because it actually has some spoilers. The guide is divided into chapters, and does a pretty good job of explaining what’s happening, but the writer seems unable to refrain from pointing out the foreshadowing of, or connection to, future events. Useful, interesting and insightful, but spoilers always feel like they detract from the pure immersive experience.

Anyway, perhaps I’ll stop consulting the reading guide for a while, and we’ll see if it affects my understanding and enjoyment of Ulysses. Up until now, I would basically read a chapter, and then check the reading guide to see if I missed any important details, or misunderstood what I read. I think I’ve done ok with grasping the general gist of things, but there are events or scenes that the guide has definitely clarified for me. Is 150 pages enough “experience” for me to venture forth on my own now? I guess we’ll find out…

learn, reflect, improve

In recent times, I have been doing daily language study, daily piano practice, and almost daily reading. Having a routine, to me, feels good. Seeing progress from one day to another is encouraging. But it got me wondering… Is the basic structure of life just a series of repetitions?

In the morning: wake up, have breakfast, drink coffee, go to work.

At work: emails, orders, checks, data entry, stock control.

On the week-end: cook, clean, socialise, relax.

In the garden: sow, tend, prune, harvest. 

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an intro to end on

A couple of things to note: (1) Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote Crime and Punishment in the mid 1860s; (2) the edition of Crime and Punishment that I read was published in 1991, with an introduction by David McDuff presumably written in the same year.

After finishing Crime and Punishment, I went back to the start of the book, and read the introduction to see if it could elucidate the meanings of the novel, or perhaps reveal things that I had missed. 

Side note: It never made sense to me to read introductions before reading the actual story because, assuming the story is new to you, you wouldn’t know what is being referenced, and it would also spoil the story. It seems more fitting to put the “introduction” at the end, like a “discussion” section. You know, like how research papers and journal articles are set out as Introduction, Method, Results, Discussion, Conclusion. Perhaps a novel’s introduction should just talk about the context of the novel, or events leading to the creation of the novel.

Anyway, I digress.

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crime & punishment

I finally finished reading Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. It feels like I’ve been reading it for a long time, but I think that’s because I’ve only been reading it in short bouts, and not very frequently. It’s a bit mentally “heavy”, for want of a better word. Reading it for a long stretch without a break just seemed to weigh down on my brain.

But now that it’s done, it feels weird to not be reading it anymore. I guess it’s like the weight was lifted, and I’m still pushing but not finding the familiar resistance there.

That’s not to say I didn’t like Crime and Punishment. At least, I like it better than The Idiot, which I don’t think I really understood. This one had me thinking a lot, but I feel like I understood it better. But I did read The Idiot quite a long time ago, so maybe I’m just more mature and wise or something. Having said that, though, I still feel like I need to reread it one day in order to get a better grasp of everything. 

Did I truly understand it, or did I actually miss the point?

And there is something else that compels me to reread it, even though it’s not as beautifully written as certain other classics I’ve read. Well, that could also be the translation/version I read. I got it second-hand, so it’s quite an old copy. There were several parts that sounded very dramatic and exaggerated, like literary convulsions. But sometimes I feel like that was all intentional, because the whole thing is full of feeling and torment and anguish.

Anyway, with classics like this, I always feel like there’s no real need to go into much detail about the story and meaning and implications, etc, etc. So much has already been written about these classics, and there are so many interpretations and analyses in existence.

I only wish to add that I didn’t particularly like the epilogue. Most of it was fine, until the last few pages, which felt like too much of a backflip, and left a strange aftertaste. If/when I ever reread Crime and Punishment, I’ll have to try to remember to avoid the epilogue, or at least stop before I get to the very end.