A Life with Books: A Rather Short History

There was rarely a time I did not enjoy reading. I remember at four, in Kindergarten, lying on my stomach reading a book and loving every word I read. What wonder was bestowed on me at such a young age that I would grow up with an infinite affinity for books! My penchant for reading grew with each passing day when my dad happily took me to the library, where would I spend at least an hour browsing the shelves pondering what I would read next. Would it be a picture book or something more ambitious? By the age of eight, I had grown out of children’s books and began taking an interest to adult books. I picked up my first Shakespeare collection at that age and never looked back. When you are young, you don’t overcomplicate ideas and words. Reading Shakespeare was not too difficult at that age. I have this one memory of lying on my grandma’s bed with Shakespeare’s books all around me and taking it all in. Taking in the beauty of being around something that was new to me and yet so classic. That memory is burned into my mind and has never left me.
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After Shakespeare, I broadened my horizons to the likes of Stephen King and Anne Rice, whom I thought were salacious and very adult but I thought I was ready for it. I cannot recall which King novel I started with but my first Rice novel was the coveted Interview with the Vampire, which I adored and only cemented my love for vampires and the strange. My vice for the weird and unusual were sprouting at a young age but there was no one I could share it with. No one who was my age enjoyed reading adult novels. What is more is that my family were never big readers so I could not talk to them about it. Luckily, they never questioned my reading tastes, they were elated that I was reading at an advance pace. I appreciate that more than words could say. They never said ‘No, Hanaa. This book contains themes that I don’t want you learning about.’ They merely saw it as an interest for books. And an interest it was! I can tell you that I did not understand most of what was happening in Interview with the Vampire, but I can also tell you that I was intrigued and kept reading as many books about the occult and vampires as I could find.

Growing up was difficult because I stuck out like a sore thumb with my bright red hair. Many people would call me ‘The daughter of Satan’ on account of my hair, which makes me laugh now but it hurt to hear that then. I was labelled and I took it to heart. I thought to myself that if people saw me in this light, then maybe I should take full advantage of it so I explored as much as I could about horror through books. Already enjoying horror movies at about five, horror novels were my next creepy experience. I would search my school’s library every day, browsing the shelves for title keywords such as ‘kill’, ‘devil’, ‘death’, and many other words that I thought were provocative. Certainly reading books with these words in the title meant that they were frightening. Not necessarily. I read To Kill a Mockingbird and The Devil’s Arithmetic, which provided insight on historical and social issues but they mislead my younger self and I dropped books with ‘misleading titles’ after reading those two. Poor little Hanaa not being able to find scary books, but never fear, the true crime section was not far away. My school’s library back in the early 2000s had an incredible selection of books, so much so, that we had a true crime section. I shit you not. An elementary school who taught kindergarteners to sixth graders had a true crime section and you bet your ass I read all of the books they had. It was the only literature that scared me and gave me nightmares but reading about real crimes made me seek out more information as to why people commit these crimes. But the little psychopath inside of me wanted to know how brutal and over-the-top these crimes got so my dad agreed to take me to the Public Library where I ran free and checked out several books on the topic. My dad, understandably worried, let me check the books out but he probably thought (and prayed) that I was not going to get any big ideas. I certainly did not. I will tell you, however, reading that sort of content at a young age changes you and makes you see the world in a different way than you used to.

Equipped with my knowledge of serial killer before the tender age of 10, I had knowledge no one else had but I was still alone with no one to talk to. I kept my nose in a book reading voraciously on whatever topic interested me at the time. Still fixated on horror and the horrors of humanity, I picked up more adult books that interested me and kept me busy. I did not have many friends growing up because of my interests and my lack of ‘normal’ conversation topics. However, around the age of 12 is when I began to read, and go into the dark hole of obsession of Harry Potter. The first kid book that I enjoyed and was able to talk to people about. Reading the Harry Potter books was addictive but it made me so happy and gave my mind a break from the true crime I was reading.

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I was 16 when the Harry Potter books came to an end, and therefore the end of an era. Around this time I was reading classic literature for the first time. The likes of Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger and The Stranger by  Albert Camus were what I was reading because I wanted to read about the rebel and outsiders of society. Although I did not like Catcher in the Rye, I was still an advocate of reading and pushed reading classic literature on my classmates. I talked passionately about poetry and literature that would make my cohorts think differently. In many ways, this was lost on them and I accepted that literature might be a lost cause on many teenagers who were more interested in passing classes and talking about their drama. I kept my nose in a book again and became a literary snob, only reading ‘the greats’ and dismissing the ‘lesser’ literature (i.e., young adult). I thought that there was no reason to read anything other than classics because newer literature was a rehash and therefore a waste of time. This was around the time I got my first job at a book store. I was immediately put into the kids’ section, and practically being forced to read children’s literature and young adult. Hating this, I slugged my way through these books and…they were not as bad as I was thinking. Although I did not like everything, I found a simple joy in reading young adult. A breezy read that made me remember that I was a teenager and not to take life so damn seriously. Taking a break from the serious world of literature was refreshing, but I began to miss reading adult fiction, so I went back to my old ways and never looked back.

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Today, my reading tastes have grown and blossomed in ways I would not otherwise imagine.  I look for deeper meaning in every book I read, and I try to savour every word as if it is the last word I would read. Reading brings such enrichment to daily life that I cannot truly explain its effects. Reading has helped me understand people and to talk to others without sounding like the weird awkward robot I really am inside. I feel that if more people knew the advantage of reading, more of us would pick up books without hesitation. We would pick up books that would challenge us to think differently, and adopt new ideas, as well as become more empathetic. Books, in that way, are mind-blowing. Who knew that books would seriously damage us in the best way possible? It ruins the little box we have been living in, and gives us new life, and perhaps new hopes and prospects. There is nothing better than books, and that includes food! Perhaps this is why I become so defensive when I hear a book is being challenged or banned. How crude the idea is of banning a book because it does not align with your ideals? Have you no brain that allows you to process new information or to understand that other people think differently? Perhaps I should not be so rude myself, making fun of those who seem to hate books and the ideas they contain, but can one truly justify banning a book without sounding stupid? A book is banned because it is ‘anti-family’ or illustrates drug use? What about television shows or movies that depict perhaps more violence than many books do? Is that fine and does that causes no alarms? Regardless of such ideas, a book in your company is rather the most satisfying company to have. I do not know where I would be without my books by my side. I know I would not think as deeply about life and never try to seek out a meaningful life. Books have taught me more than school and university have. They have been my constant companion, keeping me away from loneliness whenever I felt so alone. Keeping me in good spirits whenever I felt melancholy. Keeping me alive when I would otherwise seek the darkness. Books have taught me to live.

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Nostalgia – Why must I dwell where I do not live anymore?

Scattered ramblings

This was inspired by a dream.  How sweet that a mere dream almost unrelated to anything else I’ll talk about made me feel more nostalgic than usual.  Two boys from my elementary class decided to visit my subconscious, and in my dream were trying to convince me to do something (I’ve completely forgotten what they wanted from me), but they kept saying that although they were shitheads to me in elementary, they were super nice to me in high school.  Lies. All lies.

But this had me wondering about them and about why I had this dream. Dreams are so convoluted and although we don’t always know what they mean, they still sometimes haunt us.  I was thinking about it and I remember that I was looking for a particular YouTuber who is my guiltiest of guilty pleasures, Rob Dyke, and I as a typed in ‘Rob’ the second search suggestion was Rob Zombie and I remembered those two boys who were inseparable, loved Rob Zombie. They decided to visit my dream. I’ve been thinking about my family lately and the division between us and how time got away from us so fast that sometimes it feels like it didn’t happen.  My childhood of laughter, fun, tears, and scars feels like a hay fever dream where everything is fuzzy, slower, but you can still feel it… feel something.

Childhood goes by so fast and the lovely thing about being a child is that very often you don’t feel nostalgic. You don’t want something the way you want it when you’re an adult.  You may miss something or someone, but I think that it is heightened as an adult. The sweet yet bitter embrace of nostalgia, where you wrap yourself in nostalgia like a blanket.  That blanket you loved.  That memory of getting ice cream with your cousins.  That memory melts and dissolves like that frozen sugary sweetness and it never takes the exact same form again.  All of a sudden – in a snap – you’re all adults.  Sometimes you stop talking.  Work and other commitments get in the way. And sometimes you make that effort of wanting to see each other because there’s that love.  That memory of something that connects and binds you. They are the first and last people who are a bridge to your memory.

 

Maybe that’s where the dream came from. Rob Zombie decided to be the foundation of the dream.  Back to childhood and the two boys I associate with Rob Zombie always. They’ll never die in my memory so long as I live.  And back to childhood where I was wanting so hard to fit in but never could. I took for granted the friends I had. The ones who were always around, even though they were pretty awful sometimes.  Or maybe they were perfect.  I don’t know. The age where you can’t wait to be a grown-up and have all the freedoms you can imagine.  To be pretty and popular…to be cool.  It’s strange to think about now. These words, words, words that steer you and try to make you into something that perhaps you’re not.

I was looking through my old belongings after this dream.  My thirst for nostalgia was insatiable.  Flipping through old preteen and teen magazines that I consumed with no problem at all. Looking at who was popular then.  What everyone was wearing and why it was popular.  We’ll never truly know why some trends were to die for.  Going through old toys that I loved as a little child. Remembering on more than one occasion being called ‘lucky’ that I had a loving family and I had all of the coolest stuff.  I can’t believe that I was superficial.  Most kids are conditioned to be, aren’t they?  I had an amazing family with the best cousins. But growing up is the toughest part.

To think that my 11 year-old existence was so long in the past scares me but sometimes makes me happy.  Happy to not be her anymore.  Someone who tried so hard to be pretty and popular…just to fit in.  Happy that I finally don’t have those braces, retainers, and appliances in my mouth anymore.  Although, it seems that as time passes, that money that went into investing for a better smile, seems to have been for naught. I digress. Or regress… Happy that I’m not going through puberty anymore and no longer in that awkward phase where my face was still trying to proportion itself out. My body was still stretching. Happy that I don’t see that face in the mirror anymore.  Never has there been a time in my life where I hated myself more. Although it’s still something that bothers me every day.  I’m happy I’ve grown in some way.  It scares me that it’s been so long ago and I still hate myself.  Like this chronic pain that will never leave.  Some days are better, but in the greater scope, it’s only one day out of the month where I feel like I’m ok. Have I really grown or am I still stuck?

 

Thinking about how everything changes quickly and you wonder how at 5, your friends are your friends. Inseparable. Together forever.  13 comes and they have forgotten about you in one summer.  They are faces in the hallway now.  How your family is getting older and time keeps going.  Time moves on and you have to, too.  Cousins, siblings getting older, married, having kids. The people you’d least expect to do anything like that are now old enough to have those needs and desires.  It still feels surreal. Remembering getting into trouble for stealing goodies, experimenting with household items. Will this toy truck flush down the toilet? Telling secrets, having sleep overs. Trying to stay up all night and not get caught.  Being put into a trance while writing this. It feels like I’m not here anymore. That this very moment as I am typing, will soon be in the past. It is. Never to be lived out again. Unless I delete the sentence and write it again. It still feels like I can reach out my hand and grab those memories, but they’re too far gone.

Never rush growing up.  Stay young and curious.  Don’t be too hard or too soft.

 

Beauty is in the Breakdown

A Brief History and Discussion on Aestheticism

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There’s no doubt that when one thinks of aestheticism, one thinks, hears, feels, ‘beauty.’ Indeed, when a work of art is presented, ‘beauty’ is always on the tip of one’s tongue and on everyone’s mind. When it comes to literature, however, does beauty still stand as the main component, or is it something else that makes aestheticism in literature stand out more than other movements? We will explore, briefly, the history and standing of aestheticism in literature by highlighting a few authors, criticisms, and what makes aesthetic literature aesthetic.

Aestheticism, in a general way, means art for art’s sake. One is simply not creating a work of art to fit into a specific category, or not creating art to mimic nature or human behaviour, but creating art for the sake of art is to create art without placing into a complicated label, but to invoke the beauty, simply. When one looks at a piece of aesthetic art, it is flooded, filled with beauty, nothing else. Pure, unbridled beauty to the dear gazer or art critic. When applying this to literature, aestheticism goes against more ‘traditional’ literature, in which emphasizes the need to convey truth, but to not replicate nature or humanity, to which it turns into a copy, or mimeses. Miming truth makes it false, and thereby one cannot learn or gain new knowledge. The idea of a copy of a copy, which can be seen famously in Baudrillard’s idea of forms in Simulacra and Simulation, or in Plato’s dialogues where he discourages use of performance but instead encourages seeking truth. Where Baudrillard believed in no wrong or right with reproduction of real subjects, he believed they, the simulacra, would still be real in its own right, but as he coined, they would be hyperreal. Although Baudrillard was not opposed to this method completely, but did see negatives when it came to simulacra, Plato, on the other hand, had his issues. In terms of forms, there would be the real and the intentionally false or distorted.

Philosopher Gilles Deleuze saw fewer negatives with simulacra and its different forms, its mimesis. Instead of creating less true versions of something that’s real, one is instead creating what he/she would view in his/her own perspective. Perspectives are far more complicated and will not be explored here, but instead left for another time. Deleuze stated that the idea of recreation would be challenging the original – turning it on its head—and creating a new perspective or angle. This is a more positive spin on simulacra, or mimesis. It gives way to more opportunity to create new ideals, new truths. Although this is highly debated, there is one analogy that puts the idea of ‘a copy of a copy’ together seamlessly: Suppose one had a new cassette tape of a popular musical act, and no one else from the circle of friends had this illustrious tape. The owner of this cassette tape would make a copy, or bootleg to share with his/her friends. Making copies from the original would slightly degrade the quality of the tape, but not significantly. Enough, however, to notice a slight difference when listening on high quality headphones. If the friend who received the bootleg wanted to create a copy to give to his/her friend, the quality would lessen again, static would become apparent, wavering sounds would, too, become apparent. When this process is repeated from the latest copy, the further away it is from its original. The quality would be lessened, and perhaps the experience would differ, and therefore the perspective would change as well.

This analogy can be put to the test with something as unremarkable as the children’s game, The Telephone Game. Or the psychological classic in perspective, Assembling the Elephant, or Blind Men and an Elephant. To move on further to understand aestheticism in literature, we must begin from where it all started.
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Gorgias of Leontini could be considered an ur-aesthetic; one who would place more emphasis on performance to entice and persuade than to tell the truth as exactly as it is seen. Although a sophist, he still believed in challenging perspectives that were held in high regard in his time. Although aestheticism was not recognized or coined in his time, a reader or scholar can look back in Plato’s Gorgias or read his few surviving pieces and compare his work to that of Oscar Wilde, one of the most recognizable aesthetics. His views differed from Plato’s drastically but can be seen as timeless today.

A moment of prominence for the aesthetic movement was the 19th century. Although it is not known when aestheticism started, if my theory stands, then aestheticism has been around since almost the beginning when humans were able to garner more sophisticated skills. According to a few online sources, Aestheticism officially began in the 19th century with Immanuel Kant, but many other accredited sources have not been able to confirm this.

Creating aesthetic literature is creating beautiful literature. Painting a picture that one cannot take his/her eyes off of because of the use of muted or pastel colours. The vivid imagery that reminds one more of a dream than it does of reality. A heighted reality – the mind of an idealist! Beauty, for many aesthetics, is of foremost importance and we should all aspire to it. The aforementioned Oscar Wilde is a perfect example of aesthetics due to his dandy prose and verse. His love for unbridled beauty corrupted as seen in the masterpiece, The Picture of Dorian Gray. After all with beauty standing on its own, one should not be concerned with morality or the pleasure it might bring to its audience; instead, the piece is a standalone – focusing more on the person, the self, than other issues such as capitalism and industrialism. Wilde’s art was less concerned about guiding an audience to a political or social ground. To contradict and argue with Plato’s view on nature versus art, Wilde firmly placed his feet on the ground and stood by the notion that art is superior to nature. Simply, Wilde believed that nature was monotonous, crude, and lacked design when compared to art.

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Other notable aesthetics to explore at a later time include, J.W. von Goethe, Georges Bataille, and Charles Baudelaire who put art before nature, and believed that under the philosophy of aestheticism held more ground and worship than any other belief. Be that as it might, modern critics have cited those who believe in aestheticism are virtually shallow individuals who have no depth. By putting beauty first, what does that say about our society? Are we mindless drones who admire only the shell but not what is not on the inside? Are we shells by extension or is there hope for us to gain depth and break the chains of shallowness? These are interesting questions, but what is more pressing is our psychology – or rather our brains – are hardwired to see and appreciate beauty first then to dig deeper later. Whether or not we find a seedy underbelly underneath all that beauty or we find more beauty, we have to learn that beauty is not the end. Beauty is not where we fail as a people; it is where we rise. Beauty is aspiring, inspiring, but it is also full of depth and design. Regardless of what you believe, there is no doubt our eyes are drawn to beauty.
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