Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Day 7: Walls of Text, Walls of Pictures [Books]

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If I merely enjoyed books, I would be a different person. Books are integral to my life:

They're the reason why I wear glasses now (don't spend your afternoons during your kindergarten years lying on a bed and reading books, unless you like having four eyes).

They taught me English to a large extent (because learning vocabulary from Tolkien is so much more effective than whatever primary school English syllabi contain).

They're one of the ways through which I connect with other people.

And they introduced me to writers as well as characters whom, though fictional, inspire me to a comparable extent as real individuals.

I used to be able to devour a book a day when I was younger, but now have a little trouble with that - I blame the Internet for my decreasing attention span and inability to focus for long on a single task. Unless of course the book is particularly hard to put down; last winter I zipped through The Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica series in a day or two. It has C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien as two of the protagonists - a nerd's dream come true. It pulls together references to all kinds of mythology and literature. It's also illustrated by the author.

And yes, it's meant for children, but I don't see why books are categorized according to age, and I dislike writers who pander specifically to a certain age group. Everyone should be able to read what they like without being stared at or having to hide the covers of their books or buy 'adult' cover versions.

I borrow a lot of illustrated books from the library just to look at the pretty pictures, since I'm an illustrator by night. Some of the ones 'meant' for children are annoyingly watered down and seem to be made for mindless readers, but others can be hauntingly beautiful in terms of story and art, like Shaun Tan's work.

Oh, yes - Shaun Tan is one of the few people whose work brings me close to tears. Definitely check out his The Arrival, a tale everyone who's ever found themselves in a foreign place, everyone who's ever been lost and confused, and everyone who's ever told stories and listened to them can identify with.

As for books I'm reading right now - I just received Banksy's Wall and Piece yesterday through the Interlibrary Loan system (which is awesome - you can borrow books from any library on the system and they'll ship it to your college library for no cost at all) and Mervyn Peake's The Art of the Lead Pencil - it's very hard to find, out of print, but they had one in a library in Kansas, so I gleefully borrowed it out.

I'm also working my way through Orhan Pamuk's My Name is Red. I loved his The White Castle, and Red is proving to be a delight so far - beautifully crafted tale about a murder in the Ottoman Empire, told from the viewpoints of many different characters and inanimate objects. Particularly appealing to me is how it centers around the artists - illuminators, painters - hired by the Sultan, and spends quite a lot of time talking about their work and what it meant for them. We spent some time in my medieval history class this semester looking at Islamic miniatures, so the book is a great follow up to that.

I should stop here, or I'd be talking about books for a couple more posts, and never get to finishing up the project. Till then, at least.

Charis Loke is a rising sophomore at Brown, concentrating in Biochemistry. Her interests include art and illustration, Tolkien, and procrastination.

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