Reading – not a waste of time

How many parents have told their children not to sit with their noses in books, How many people think reading is a waste of time? How many people are critical of the ‘trash’ that some read these days?

Anything that encourages children to read is worthwhile. Reading habits will change over the years and hopefully readers will discern what is good and what is mediocre. Some will enjoy what others deem to be lightweight and worthless, but it is still possible to learn about relationships and human behaviour generally by reading what has been termed Victorian dross and the chick-lit of today.

Steven Gambardella’s blog about Seneca and time prompted the development of a train of thought that had started after an ‘Exploring Literature’ meeting this morning. We are still reading The Divine Comedy by Dante and very conscious of the fact that we are merely skimming the surface. Yet, we do feel enriched by reading and discussing a text which we could spend endless time studying.

In his blog today, Steven Gambardella reminded his readers of the value of time spent reading

We accumulate knowledge over time, but books allow us to accumulate the time the writers have given us. Think of books as condensed time.

Time spent reading good literature is a means of absorbing knowledge that was gained over many years.

Distilled and compressed in the pages of books are years, decades and even centuries of knowledge and wisdom. If you read a good book, you are concentrating the time you have.

I would add that if children are reading whether it be comics, Harry Potter or Jane Austen – they will be learning. Boys in particular are very often reluctant readers so I would never discourage them from limiting their reading to comics. That isn’t time wasted. Reading is a habit that needs to be nurtured. They might one day find the joy of learning from more weighty works. Better to read the lightweights than never to read at all.



Samuel Beckett, in my opinion anyway, is one of the most thought provoking writers. He must surely be one of the most quoted and, bearing in mind my references to Dante in a previous post, I have to remind you of Beckett’s comment

All I want to do is sit on my ass and fart and think of Dante.

But possibly my two favourite quotes of his are

Words are the clothes thoughts wear.


Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.

The latter is on the wall in my study beneath a portrait of Beckett – something to inspire me when my thoughts are naked.

Not Dante’s Inferno!

At present a group of us are reading the first part of Dante’s epic – the Commedia. So we are in the midst of the Inferno.

Although this is a remarkable piece of work written in the 1300s, it is quite striking how relevant it is to today’s political situation. We read of political parties being divided – so much in-fighting, back biting and general discord … I need say no more.

On a much lighter note, I was reminded of a piece of flash fiction that I wrote …

Late Night

Vera settled down with her night-time cup of hot chocolate and ginger biscuits. She pulled the tartan rug over her knees and cradled the mug in her hands. The plate of biscuits was balanced on the arm of the settee.

The clock had just struck ten. She was really ready for going to bed; ten was her usual bedtime but tonight she’d decided to stay up to watch the film on TV. She could have recorded it, but hadn’t quite mastered the intricacies of the remote and she didn’t want to miss that film by not finding the right channel and pressing the right buttons.

She sighed. Some things need a young head not an old one, she thought. Anyway, she could have a lie in in the morning to make up for her late night.

She reached out for a biscuit and dunked it in the hot chocolate. Mm, heaven! It took her back to childhood. But then it had been ginger biscuits and milk – cold milk not hot chocolate. But the bliss of dunking a biscuit… always frowned upon by her mother. Not ladylike!

Vera smiled at the memory and dunked the second one. With these new false teeth, she had to dunk anyway – hard biscuits were too much of a challenge.

The hot chocolate had left Vera with a warm glow. She put the empty plate and mug down on the wee table beside her and snuggled under her travelling rug. She didn’t want to put much more coal or logs on the fire.

The television flickered in the corner of the room. Vera picked up the remote to turn up the volume. Her hearing wasn’t so good these days. A shot and background  music blared out. Suddenly Vera felt she was falling, gazing into a fiery landscape. ‘Hell! I’ve gone to hell. I shouldn’t have left the church’, she moaned. ‘Is this divine retribution?’

A distant voice called, ‘Vera! Vera?’ Vera moaned softly. ‘Hell –I’ve gone to hell’ she whispered again.

The tartan rug lay tangled round her feet, the voice echoed again from her personal alarm pendant while the embers flickered in the hearth.

Dante and Terza Rimas

Before our Exploring Literature group embarks on tackling Dante’s The Divine Comedy, I thought that I’d better do some background reading and refresh my memory about terza rimas.

TS Eliot noted that it is much easier to write a terza rima in Italian than in English.  Terza rima is Italian for `three rhyme, and is said to have been invented by Dante. It is generally iambic and has a rhyme scheme  aba,bcb,cdc,ded etc. The Italian language certainly lends itself to that rhyming scheme – much more so than English.

When Clive James translated The Divine Comedy, that was aptly described as a monumental achievement. Unlike some who have avoided rhyme in their translations, he has produced one long rhyming song. Amazing! No wonder it took decades to achieve.

I’ve borrowed a book from a friend which is giving a fascinating insight into Dante’s life . Patrick Boyde, in the preface to his book Dante Philomythes and Philosopher -Man in the Cosmos, notes how Dante was  a lover of myth as well as a lover of knowledge – a philomythes  and philospher. So, adding those attributes to poet, it’s little wonder his work has been revered for centuries.

As for writing a terza rima – I attempted to write one about twelve years ago when I set that as a task for my then writing group.  Given my interest in archaeology and the fact that we were trying to make a vegetable patch out of a new garden, my poem was based on the items being turned over by our digging. My abysmal effort is evidence of how difficult I found it (the writing not the digging).

Clay Pipe Terza Rima

 This pipe is from a world of long ago.

A time when life was simpler but so hard

with little time for leisure, and we know


the tales told often by the local bards

just showed idyllic, peaceful country life

like sentimental verse on greetings cards.


Life then tested the labourer and his wife

working long, long hours in wind and rain,

they struggled on through times of strife.


We dig the soil, to find clay pipes again

with bottles and a twisted ancient plough.

In future years, will signs of us remain?


Will future gardeners look on our life now

and wonder at the way we lived, and how?


This is the first, and almost certainly the last, terza rima I have attempted…

But I am looking forward to when our group starts studying Dante in the autumn!