Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Importance of Distractions

Distractions may have garnered a notoriety in the world of media, but as this mention of a shiny blue elephant demonstrates, distractions can ironically be excellent at keeping a reader engaged.

That, weirdly, ties in with Bill Bryson's Made in America, which I just finished. Longtime readers of this sentence will be aware of what this sentence is supposed to be about: Bryson's literary style and the value of distractions.

In a world of increasing brevity, Bill Bryson has managed to remain a trans-generational favorite. Even his books about seemingly boring topics, such as Made in America and A Short History of Nearly Everything, have been popular. A lot of that has, in my opinion, to do with the emphasis he lays on what would be considered by many as distractions. This, among other things such as the lack of a second and third volume, prevents Made in America from becoming a modern take on The American Language. No, don't you dare spoil the point I've made by pretending you know what that is.

The book begins with, as any good tale should, at the beginning: the Mayflower's arrival in the New World. Then on, it tracks the development of the language through the nascent country's early struggles, the nascent country actually becoming a nascent country, the nascent country's rapid march into middle-age rotundity, the surprisingly 1960s-esque 1880s, the World Wars, and the subsequent Space Age.

However, rather than writing a scholarly opiate detailing the development of American English from prepubescence to its - only slightly pimply, to be frank - form, Bryson charts the 400-year journey of the language in anecdotes, tangential references, and a meaningless third term that completes the semantic symmetry of threes in this sentence. This technique helps maintain the pace of the narrative - very easy to drop with such topics - and allows the writer to include more information without it being taxing for the reader.

When writing about the contribution of the aviation industry to the English language, for instance, Bryson dedicates a needless number of pages to how the Wright Brothers almost went uncredited as the inventors of airplanes. When describing the contribution of the car world, the stunningly unsuccessful Ford Edsel's conception is detailed even when it led to the addition of exactly zero words to American English.

This, an intrinsic part of Bryson's writing, ties in with the modern rise of microblogging surprisingly well. Like a concise description of a photo on Instagram but, one hopes, unlike the frankly useless smorgasbord of #narcissistic #hashtags on a Facebook check-in, perhaps the future of the written word lies as essentially a collection of microblogs, perhaps only tenuously tying in with the central tenet but entertaining nonetheless.

Unless, of course, you disguise 90's Bollywood movie scripts as novels and think you know What Young India Wants.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

3 Ways to Fit in a Daily Dose of Reading

Reading is a pastime for a privileged few who think it's okay to refer to themselves as the privileged few. While most take up books as a last resort, these privileged few (nobody objects if I keep using the term, right? No? Good!) start to rot without one. They turn to their mobile phones in desperation and usually fail to find in the virtual world the company they desire. They turn to their TV screens and manage to pass a while, but eventually crave the lignin-infused company of a book.

In spite of their dreams of leading a life filled with books at every step in a house filled with books with someone who shares this fantasy, routine life interrupts harshly. Finding time to read amidst the daily rush can then become a chore itself. Here's the three best ways you can fit in a bout of reading in the grind of the modern 9-6 life.

The Lunch Break

If you work in a place with a lunch break smaller than an hour, my sympathies are with you. Luckily most of us don't and have an uninterrupted block of time in the afternoon. While I'm not advocating abandoning lunch - well, not just advocating abandoning lunch - it's the easiest thing in the world to read while you eat. Unless you need company while you eat, in which case you're probably wasting more of the lunch break than you need to.

Be bold enough to use the overachiever's privilege to extend your lunch breaks beyond the allotted amount. But maintain the fine line between being an overachiever deserving a bit of laxity and an inefficient break-hogger. Oh, and make sure you overachieve.

The Waits of Modern Life

Unless you have ordered some really fast food, you probably have to wait up to 15 minutes for takeaways. Unless you are married or live with your parents, you probably have to order takeaways more than once a week. This can add up to half an hour of reading time. Add in other places that have lines, and you can extract a couple hours of reading time per week without breaking a sweat.

If you use public transport for your commutes, you probably get around an hour every day. Instead of looking out the window at scenes you see everyday, dive into your paper-backed companion. Even if you don't get a seat, reading while standing is not as hard as we may imagine. Give it a go.

The Game of the Throne

If you suffer from constipation, it may be hard to find a silver lining. But if you are a reader and constipated, you've discovered the key to making the best out of something that literally forces you to sit motionless for a considerable time. Grab a book and at least the problem of boredom is eliminated! The other one, well, I could perhaps recommend a good thriller to shock your systems into action...

Read a book instead of watching the same illegally downloaded shows over and over again. Instead of torturing your mind with soap operas. Instead of torturing your eyes with video games. Grab a book any time you can, in any filler, any pause. I promise, you won't regret it.