On Reading the Organized Mind

This book seems awfully scattered at times and I am sure it could have done its job in two-thirds the number of pages it takes 18693669up. I didn’t read all of it. But I did come across a review of it and wanted to share a key point:

Guard your mind. Yes, it’s cool to live in the dazzling array of electronics, but while it’s convenient that you can instantly find out how much the Empire State Building weighs that doesn’t mean you always should.

What could be more purely Islamic than the notion of guarding your mind?

Other things that speak to the same theme:

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Adventures in eReading

I’m now going to now give you the eReader spiel: what I tell nonreaderly types what the whole deal is with eBooks and eReaders.

I could throw around some numbers about Amazon’s Kindle book sales trumping printed books sales and how industry experts project the phasing out of the mass market book altogether, but in doing so I would probably be boring myself more than boring you.

So I’m going to do something slightly different. I’m going to talk about my readerly experience with my eReader. Just to offer a glimpse of what the reading life is like with my device.

I often use my mother’s iPad, I’ve read on the Kindle, and I’ve played around with the Kobo, but at the end of the day I am more than happy with my device, which is a Sony Reader Touch Edition. I was prompted to buy it a year ago when I had a summer job at an educational publisher for which the commute via public transit was very long. I was tired of lugging around two or three heavy books at a time, and it is necessary for me to carry that many books because I never know what I’m in the mood for on any given day.

I was the first of my friends and family to get a dedicated eReading device, and no one was surprised. I’m very big on going digital. My friends crack up every time I insist that they send me e-cards only, that if they draw something for me they send me a scanned version of it as well, and that I don’t really see anything “endearingly personal” about receiving a handwritten note, as I’ll simply be too guilty to throw it away and annoyed at the prospect of finding a place to store it.

So it was only a matter of time before I jumped on the eReading bandwagon. And it’s been awesome. Here are the highlights from the year I have spent eReading:

  • I love the visual element of shelves filled with books. But I also really, really like it when when I don’t have too many things cluttering and taking up space in my life. So with an eReader, I started getting more exposed to and start reading all the possibly crappy books out there, and not even be worried about shelving it or returning it to the library. This experience is reflected in studies done on eReaderly habits: that people who are eReading are not only more open to trying out different genres; they are also read more in absolute terms.
  • A lot of books on things like relationships are not books I want to be seen carrying around, so my knowledge on how to handle men has increased exponentially ever since I bought my eReader. On the same reader, mind you, I also read more than half of Remnick’s epic biography of Obama. It was only out in hardcover at the time and weighs 2.5 pounds in that format. Had I not had it on my eReader, I wouldn’t have been bothered to carry it around and read as much of it that I did.
  • I look for content that speaks for itself. You know a book is good when you forget what you’re reading it on. In a weird way, I become a better judge of what’s good.
  • There’s not very many negatives to it, but there’s one downside with eReading that I experienced. Unlike printed books, I must admit that an e-reader does let you down. My battery is great and lasts me almost a week if I read for about 2 hours every day. But if I don’t get around to charging it, I do end up having it die on me and not having anything to read on the subway ride home.
  • Library eBooks are BRILLIANT. I’ve paid an alarming amount in library fines for printed books. An eBook that expires itself not only keeps me from racking up fines–it also pushes me to finish a book before it expires.

A lot of writers and readers are very spooked by the eReader revolution and dislike eReading. I sympathize with their attachment to physical books, but can’t help but notice that their reasons for sticking to printed books are not that practical; they are more romantic. eReading, I feel, has its own way of growing on you, and even if it doesn’t compare to reading printed books, it’s a whole new experience unto itself.

So what do readers think? Am I on to something here, or has my love for all that is digital gone to pathological extremes? Do you read eBooks, and if so can you relate to the highlights I listed above? If you don’t read digitally, do you think you will make the transition sometime? Why or why not? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

On Divine Ordinances through Literature

“Tool’s music,” said a friend as we readied ourselves to chow down on our burgers, “Taught me so much about God.” I love being part of such conversations. But at the same time, I was wary.

Such statements don’t scandalize me, but I’ve always been skeptical of the notion that art is the means to a transcendence, to knowing and being in awe of that which is incomprehensibly divine. I associate such ideas with hippies engaging in the idea of free love, or creative types duping themselves into thinking they have something over the rest of the world.

But a gem of the truth shone through to me one day; a truth that stunned me because it made me think of something I usually rarely ever give thought to.

I was reading Annabel, a story about a hermaphrodite who is growing up in a remote part of Labrador in the Canadian north. At one point in the story, the child’s mother is wistfully missing St. John’s, a much larger city compared to Croydon Harbour the small town she married and settled down in. She especially misses the fact that she could lose herself and escape from her thoughts in the cinema in St. John’s, whereas there are no such distractions in Croydon Harbour. This place was founded in order to be cut off from the rest of the world. Its residents–especially the indigenous inhabitants around the area–were too absorbed in nature to need such frivolities:

. . . if you were one of the Innu or Inuit . . . you had no need of cinema. Cinema was one of the white man’s illusions to compensate for his blindness. A white man, for instance, had no idea of the life within stones. Imagine that.

I love my films and music and shows and think such mediums are eye-opening in ways that day-to-day experiences cannot always be. But because of this passage, I for the first time saw a deeply compelling case for disavowing such forms of entertainment.

What if music, films, and TV shows really are illusions for the blind ones, the ones who commit kufr not in its misconstrued, hackneyed, and demonized sense, but in terms of concealing the reality of our world and the universe?

When there is  mention in the passage above of the life within stones, I was reminded of something a shaykh told me once: that all matter is continuously in praise of Allah. And I wonder if it’s possible for us, those who literally and figuratively live in places with millions of distractions, to be in tune with nature in such a manner so that we are doing dhikr with it.

We are told that there is life within stones and that nature is worshipping God. But if we could be aware of the life within stones, within trees, within the earth, we wouldn’t need to be told so.