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Friday, November 12, 2021

Reading skills for Pleasure and Benefits - 3

This leads me to share one of my habits (learnt from others, of course) when I read anything, even novels and poetry. This is to keep a dictionary by my side. I have one English,  two Tamizh and one Sanskrit dictionary by my side when I am reading. With modern technology, you do not even need a print edition. There are several online dictionaries - in all languages. It is by using the dictionary I learnt what an adobe is (mud house), a tepee is (a movable tent with a triangular shape) and wigwam is (a lodge), while reading Hillerman’s novels. I also learnt several Tamizh and Sanskrit words with their several meanings.

Another great recent experience was reading Thirukkural in Tamizh and looking up the meaning of the words Thiruvalluvar used. It is obvious that Tamizh in those days was different from the Tamizh we use today. The meaning of words has changed in some. Some words had several meanings. Some of the words are not used anymore. For example, the word for a tooth in those days was எயிறு. But now we use this word for the gum. The word கொடிறு meant what we call கன்னம் (cheek) today.

In addition, whenever Ramaa and me went to any country, we asked the locals about the most celebrated author(s) of that country. We also asked them for suggestions. That is how we found the writings of Jorge Amado (The War of the Saints and many more) and Paulo Coelho (The Alchemist, Zahir and many more) in Brazil and of Ifgan Orga in Turkey. Fortunately, most of the classic books from any language have been translated into English. However, it is not the same as reading the original. But the next best.

When we were in Istanbul, we walked into one of the University Book stores. One young man working there, probably student, was eager to try his English language skills with us. We asked our usual questions and that is how we found this author and his wonderful book on Portrait of a Turkish Family . This is a real-life story based on life in Turkey soon after the fall of the Turkish empire.

This leads me to point out that one way to learn about history, culture, philosophy and religion of any country is to read fiction based on history by authors who do good research. We from Tamil Nadu know how much we learnt about the Pallava and Chola kingdoms by reading Sivakamiyin Sabatham. There are several other examples. “The Source” by James Michener is a remarkable documentation of the history of the Jewish people. I read it just before I went to Israel and was able to relate to everything I saw and heard. (It is a very long book, though). The other book is a classic fiction, Sophie’s World,  in which you can learn about various schools of western philosophies. This was written by Jostein Gaarder, a schoolteacher for use in his class, became a classic and got translated into several languages.

When you read a lot, certain things happen spontaneously. You learn to read faster and faster. That is because you learn to scan the lines instead of reading every word. Actually,  I began to scan without even knowing, until I learnt that this is the method taught in courses on speed-reading.

There is no inherent benefit to speed reading. Obviously, you cannot do that if you are reading course materials. When you are reading for pleasure, enjoying the language and style of the author, you want to read slowly and savor. Speed reading is meant for executives who have to read lengthy reports. We do not want to hurry and skip. The point is that when you read a lot, you tend to read faster because of practice. You do not miss the main points. In fact, I have found that after this many years, my eye seems to catch critical words and phrases in any page. I have learnt without knowing how to scan a passage and a page.

This leads to another point or two. As years advance, you are reading faster and faster and that means you read more books and journals. You also get time to go back and read some books you want to dive into. When you do that second time (or third time as I have done with some books like Sivakamiyin Sabatham and Death of Ivan Ilyich), you catch a few ideas, phrases and references you missed during the first read.  

While reading new authors, I am also looking for newer angles to old ideas and for newer ideas, as it happened recently to me while reading The Four Quartets by T S Eliot for the second time. I also try to relate the style and content of the current author (T S Eliot) I am reading to those by other scholars and poets I have read in the past. During my second reading I found that what Eliot says about time and the present moment to the ideas Buddha presented two thousand years back. This ability to correlate and compare writings by several authors becomes easy when you read some of the classics a second time. This is another advantage of consistent reading habits. This kind of correlation between what you are currently reading and correlating with ideas you have read in other books also improves your memory.

You become a life-long reader and therefore a life-long learner.

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