Tag Archives: Fyodor Dostoyevsky

The right notes – music to read by

FullSizeRender (1)Back in the early 2000s I worked a night shift job. Each morning I’d return to the house I shared with three others at 4 or 5am, and read for a hour in bed before turning in.

I’d always believed that reading, like sleeping or writing, was best done in silence. But there’s silence and then there’s 4am silence. The coastal suburb I lived in was pin-drop quiet.

And so I picked up a new habit – I’d play music as I read. The only condition was that the music had to be quiet – not solely in terms of volume but also by way of sound.

I spent most of those early mornings listening to Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works, Volume II. The slow surges, whale-call noises, absence of percussion – all served to fill the lingering silence of an early summer morning in Clontarf.

The music also helped me, it seemed, focus on what I was reading. The subject matter might have differed (two of the books I read at that time were Crime And Punishment and a popular biography of Irish Arctic explorer Tom Crean) but the effect of music was the same. Like the ambient hum of one’s body heard in a sound-proofed room the music lingered, just out of feeling but present, while I read.

Brian Eno. Detail from 'Music For Films' sleeve

Brian Eno

The use of music as an aid to reading is a well-covered topic. This week I was brought back to my pre-dawn reading sessions when I encountered a post by Sam Jordison on the Guardian’s Books blog. Much of the article concerned how we can battle ‘aural sludge’ – distracting and loud daily noises -when reading.

I find it difficult, if not impossible, to deep read amidst loud noise – even custom-made soundtracks are unlikely to help me.

But the article led to me to ask: what other music worked like Selected Ambient Works, Volume II did, as a reading aid?

In the 12 years since those night shift days I’ve encountered only a few: a Naxos collection of Chopin’s piano works, Brian Eno’s Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks and, perhaps, Miles Davis’ In A Silent Way.

The ‘x’ factor in each of these recordings is hard to pin down. Perhaps the tidal feel of the music in each set of recordings is the key; or perhaps the absence or mere suggestion of a beat which, when present, is no faster than my resting heart rate.

Whatever their key is they all work to break ground, coming through silence to open my ear and eye and mind to absorb the words.

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Time to raise the unread

Feels like one...

Feels like one…

I WILL read 756 books before I die.

That’s presuming that I’ll be reading right up to the fatal moment, at the same rate as I read now, that I don’t re-read anything and that I make 78 – the life expectancy of the Irish male.

It also presumes that I avoid the Russians, or Ulysses, or anything not in English. And that I don’t develop pernicious habits, like gardening or golf.

756 books. It sounds like a lot. But it’s not, of course. Every time I enter a bookstore I spot another dozen books I stick on the mental must-read list.

Add those to the many already on my ‘I’II have to get round to that one’ list, or titles recommended, or ones found browsing online, or classics.

Suddenly 756 doesn’t sound like too many. John Updike’s novels and short stories account for 39 books alone.

You’d therefore be inclined to think that I’ve refined book purchasing to a precise art, buying only what I really, really want to read.

Of course not. Our home is littered with purchases which seemed like a good idea at the time. Some of them are buried away, sources of shame, dead wood (in every respect).

Others have been placed on top of piles, as my better nature tries to remind my actual nature that they deserve a shot. Will they ever get it? Unlikely.

And this is before we get to the boxes in storage elsewhere, containing selections so dubious, or turgid, that they were never read. And never will be.

Dostoevsky’s The Idiot? Not a hope. Not even if I found myself transported to 1860s St Petersburg with nothing else to read.

Cogito Eco sum: I proscrastinate therefore I am.

Cogito Eco sum: I procrastinate therefore I am.

Eco’s The Island Of The Day Before? I made it to page 151 a few years ago. Pathetically, I can’t bring myself to remove the bookmark. On the plus side the cover looks good.

Steinbeck’s East Of Eden? I’ve even visited its setting – the Salinas Valley – in the years since I bought this one, but I’ve haven’t started into it.

Turns out I’m not alone when it comes to such procrastination.

Half of the books on the shelves in every homes are unread, according to a survey released to mark World Book Day last week.

These titles were no doubt bought with the best of intentions – like my own were.

It’s one thing lamenting the situation but what should I do about it?

As my wife – reading this –  is now about to ask: will I ever get rid of these unread books?

And here’s where the second part of the survey comes into play: two thirds of people hoard books because they’re emotionally attached to them, it seems.

Which explains my battered Penguin copy of The Odyssey, a title I’ve hopefully hauled from bookcase to bookcase since I bought it more than 20 years ago.

Like the others above its spine remains uncracked.

Not to worry. I have 756 chances to raise the unread, beginning today.

Page one of The Idiot sounds like a good place to start.

The Great Unread - a selection.

The Great Unread – a small selection.

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