Last month, I talked about the importance of taking a break; the benefits of my temporal relief of a knotty problem encountered in any aspects of life, including studying. No matter how pressing a matter might seem to be at a moment, it always does me immense good when I pry myself away, so that I can return to it rejuvenated and ready to tackle it afresh.
So, what is the next stage following the “chilling” method? How did I get myself warmed up to the tons of reading that have piled up since the day I signed up for the modules of the next academic year?
I call this next stage the “thawing” method. It is when I immerse my mind in a semi-ready mode, or when I do not want to be switched off completely, while preparing myself to return to serious studying.
As I do not want to jump right into reading the heavy academic essays and books for my course yet; I look for something that is light: books that are either completely irrelevant or partially related to my degree. The importance of this process is to get my mind attuned to the long hours of reading that awaits – an inevitable process for any student of the English degree course.
Let me begin by the most irrelevant book: Sweet Home by Carys Bray is a collection of short stories that centres on the theme of home and family. The opening of each story never fails to draw me in and keep me gripped till the end. My favourite tells the story of a woman who gets estranged from the world around her, as well as from her husband since she lost her baby girl. Narrated in the first person, the voice of the protagonist is distinctly both disturbed and disturbing. As she takes me through her story – from her losing her baby to her fascination with bags and luggage – I begin to question the mental stability of the narrator. Yet, it is a trail I am compelled to follow; she leads me in a path that is strewn with one horrifying revelation after another, till we arrive at the end where I am made to witness what she does to a “borrowed” baby from her neighbour.
Each short story is about 10 pages long, the shortest being only two. Unlike reading a novel, I do not feel it necessary to finish reading the entire book, just to know how it is going to end. Rather, I could, for instance, pick up Bray’s collection of short stories whenever I want a short break in-between studying; yet, I can still keep my mind in the “reading zone”.
While short stories provide me with the quick and necessary diversion, narrative essays give me a pleasure that is equally welcoming. I am glad that The Face Series by Restless Books did help to curb my restlessness. This series of short memoirs, each with the length of fewer than 100 pages, provides me with the similar intermission in between my studying, just like short stories do.
This series is described as stories of “personal nonfiction in which a diverse group of writers takes readers on a guided tour of that most intimate terrain, their own faces.” I started this series with Malaysian author, Tash Aw’s Strangers on a Pier and relished the anecdotes of his grandparents’ experiences as first generation migrants, and the author’s personal experiences as the third generation. His tone is at once moving and humorous, and that is what made the reading so inviting; Aw has, no doubt, taken the reader to an intimate terrain that immediately makes a connection. Strangers on a Pier also reflects a somewhat similar sentiment of my readings of postcolonialism about the experiences of leaving homeland, about diaspora and displacement.
The final book that I am going to share with you is one that is most relevant to my course: A Poetry Handbook by Mary Oliver. This book is meant for people who are beginning to learn poetry. Therefore, I find it helpful whenever I need a revision of the method and tools of poetry. Oliver covers the basics, such as meter, rhyme, form and diction. Her tone is lucid as she provides me with the much needed guidance in revising my poetry-reading. This book is not required to be read from cover to cover: each chapter stands on its own, categorised by the various techniques of poetry, which I find useful whenever I need to make reference.
Students of the BA English course know the love-hate relationship we have for reading since the day we signed up for this degree. Sometimes, we are so surfeited with reading, so much so that just to read a sentence more gives us the giddiness and nausea. However, I strongly believe that it is for the love of reading, for language and most importantly, the love of literature that we have been enticed to take this course. So, whenever you feel the fatigue of having to plough through one academic essay after another, try picking up something that is much lighter, something that could rekindle the pleasure of reading. Not only have these short reading diversions helped me in the process of unwinding, but they have also reminded me how enjoyable reading still is. It is very much like the relationship of old married couples – we fight, we disagree but we still return to the bond and be reminded of the love and warmth that is still much cherished.
Tiffany is studying the BA English by distance learning in Singapore.