5 Tips to Alleviate the Dense

There are those tomes that try as we might to read with some semblance of speed and agility, our progress remains nearly stationary when set against the larger page count. I don’t know about you, but the prospect of finishing a thousand plus page book in a society that’s becoming known for an attention span of less-than-30-second vine clips makes me cringe.

That said, is it futile to push on? Never. Set your goals for reading the bigger books high, and live up to those expectations, for the worth in finishing the dense books that many have tried and few have conquered can become some of the most meaningful experiences of your life. Here are a few tips to get you going:

1. Set a Schedule: This is by far the most important element in succeeding whenever reading a book that could easily suffice as a car seat for a toddler. Set a specific page goal for the day and stick to it. Through thick and thin it’s most often when we’re in the throes of the monstrous–wallowing away four hundred pages into a book and not even being halfway–that we tend to toss in the towel fifteen-twenty pages too soon. On days when I don’t work, I mandate one-hundred pages from myself. On work days–50. Whatever yours may be, set it and stick to it.

2. Read Summaries: This is an aspect of reading a large, difficult book that many people deem cheating. But, if you’re like me and pride yourself in tackling those books others shy away from because of difficulty and length, reading summaries alongside some of the more difficult chapters of a dense Dostoevsky or Dumas novel will alleviate some of the stresses of gleaning plot from antiquated and nuanced language. Certainly every word has its place, but grasping a loose understanding of the plot either before or after reading a section of a larger novel can be an essential tool necessary to pull you through to the end.

3. Find Your Quiet Space: I’m a bit of a hermit when it comes to reading, and anyone who knows me will tell you that I value my peace and quiet–to the point that the faint hum of the refrigerator can sometimes be distracting. Thus, I read on my couch, away from distraction, screens and computers, the accoutrements of a culture hell-bent on switching attention every thirty seconds. I need silence to read, and thus I seek it out wherever I can get it–I suggest you do the same.

4. Persevere: Common sense has never been so simple. In order to wrestle your way through the Don Quixote‘s in the world one must be willing to stomach the boring, the passive, the antiquated, and the frustrating in order to extract those bits of truth we hungrily vie for whenever we set our sights on one of the denser classics.

5. Self-talk: This might just be me, but often when reading something particularly difficult and dense, there’s always that moment when the world sort of screams for you to quit. That little voice can be the bane of trudging through the marshy waters of dense literature, and thus, I need to personally remind myself that I can read thisIt’s worth it. Just like long-distance running, the prize is often awaiting you at the very end. The exhaustion and clear-headedness of finishing something others deem too difficult is reward in and of itself.

So the next time you set your sights high and feel your diligence and perseverance wavering under the pressure of the dense, remember the above strategies for making it through those books that are worth it–and, believe me, they are.

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Escapism: A Discussion

As an avid reader, escapism seems to be the name of the game. I read for a number of hours a day without fail, without remorse, without reservation. I long for the experiences of others. I long for thoughts and actions of the greatest minds of our kind so that I might be able to make some sort of sense out of my own.

To some extent, books are the instruction manuals for how to live a life–for better or worse.

But as much as I try, I can’t get past the thought that inherent in the act of reading is the act of escapism. That in order to experience the lives and actions of others we must break outside our own present–which to me strikes a harsh chord against the idea of “presence” in life.

The sad (maybe?) part of it all is the truth that we’re all escapists.

No matter what our poison, be it books, movies, television, music, we’re all longing for that clean, well-lit place that Hemingway so beautifully penned in the 1930’s and people like Tolkien and Lewis made fantastical for even further gratification.

We’re all longing for a sense of home in the things we experience, when for most of us, the very act of sitting down to consume whatever media we’ve got is the essence of home. Our media (books included) has become a perverse sort of hearth we gather around for our own sense of appeasement.

But is this a good thing? As hard as this is to admit: what’s the difference between escaping into the pages of a book vs. the pixelated glow of a screen? Obviously one is more linguistically advanced than the other, but the idea is the still the same. Regardless of media or format, we’re still diverging from the present for the seemingly greener pastures of the other.

Is escapism a good thing or a bad thing? What are your thoughts?

The Turkey Chronicle: Sultanahmet and the End

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We’ve made it. I’ve been to the Turkish interior, gotten lost in the bazaar, had tea (and wonderful conversations) with complete strangers who understood little/no English, eaten like a local–and I couldn’t be happier.

Progressing from the Greco-Roman/Byzantium kingdom of the west to the inherently and historically “Turkish” segments of Istanbul known as the Old City–I’m beside myself in awe.

IMG_1429Pull images of Istanbul from any search engine, and this is what you’ll see. Over three thousand years of keys forcefully changing hands from the Byzantium Empire all the way to today’s democratic (semi) system.

Those action scenes from Taken 2? Yeah, those were all shot here in the gorgeous quarters of Sultanahmet, home to the elegant Buokoleon Palace, the Süleymaniye Mosque, and the absolutely stunning Gülhane park. This is history.

I won’t bog everyone down with the minutiae of touring through the mosques and exploring the ancient sights and sounds of a city I’ve long since dreamed of traveling to–you want suggestions of the best restaurants and activities go pick up a guide book.

I’ll leave you with a single lasting memory:

My last day in Istanbul was my birthday. Per a suggestion from our host, we toured the Istanbul Modern–home to some of the most intriguing pieces of modern art viewable today, before spoiling ourselves with a luscious dinner of seabass, aubergine puree, honeydew melon, calamari (this stuff’s as fresh as it gets out here), salad, raki, and beer.

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We took in the unrivaled views of the Bosphorus and watched the boats sail in and out. The salt air, the crash of waves against the coastline, the haunting and booming voice of the nautical horns notifying passing ships of their place in the current, the jabber of locals and fishermen reeling in the last of the day’s catch–all set to the haunting and stunning calls to prayer by every mosque in the city. I won’t get too sappy, but it was downright magical. Idyllic. Something I’ll never forget.

Nearly three weeks in foreign cities has brought nothing but love for a people and culture I knew nothing about. After nearly three weeks abroad, my stomach is full, my head is overwrought with the fascinations and experiences of tea with locals, the hustle of the bazaars, and the feeling of sweat on my skin after walking directionless for unforeseen miles.

Go see Turkey. Ignore the warnings, get over that fear, and book the ticket.

The Turkey Chronicle: Pamukkale

IMG_1214[1]After three lovely days in coastal Selçuk via Izmir, we took a three hour bus ride inland toward central Turkey and Capadoccia to visit Pamukkale–one of the most unique geological areas I’ve had the pleasure to witness.

Recently declared a World Heritage Site, Pamukkale proper is a series of travertines or terraces of carbonite minerals that collect and solidify into a beautiful white-silt. The pools themselves have been an attraction for centuries as both a place of spiritual and physical healing. They lock into the hillside and form a watery precipice breathtaking in elevation.

We entered the city around noon and took a short shuttle ride up to the north gate of the grounds–home to the ancient Greco-Roman/Byzantine city of Hieropolis. The ruins proved one of the most magical experiences of my life. Situated on top of a hillside, they offer one of the most breathtaking views of interior Turkey I’ve seen thus far. Wildflowers grew inside tombs, the decay and consternation of a city left to rot for inhabitants had become a playground for the living.

The best part, and certainly most perplexing about the whole endeavor was the fact that we were nearly alone the entire time. The Necropolis and central gates of Hieropolis were unattended barring myself and my girlfriend. Nothing but the love of my life, sunshine, wildflowers, and the glorious remnants of a civilization long gone. Absolutely beautiful.

IMG_1238[1]From there, we made our way into the hot springs and travertines. Although exceedingly crowded, the pools were beautiful and the environment was exceptional. If you’re ever in central Turkey in need of an afternoon activity, I cannot recommend Pamukkale enough–it’s one of a kind.

The Turkey Chronicle: Izmir

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There are those moments where surroundings become so foreign and tumultuous that the only way to maintain sanity is to simply let the world wash over you. Although, ocean waves are often deceptive. What normally seems to be the colossus of currents ends up being nothing more than a buoy of a breaker.

Such was the case with Izmir. It’s Turkey’s 3rd largest city and home to it’s 2nd largest bazaar. Right off the train we were welcomed to the sight of two men beating another. For what, we would have loved to know. Needless to say, it was an interesting welcome to a city we were thrilled to explore for an afternoon. Whatever the case, the rest of the day was nothing short of extraordinary, both in its surprises and its fulfillment of expectation.

Off the train we ate at a local Turkish place that featured a dozen or so authentic Turkish dishes ranging in simplicity from the basic kidney bean stew to the more extravagant leg of lamb wrapped in eggplant and grape leaf. By far one of our best meals thus far.

We walked the coast for a few hours, which featured a wonderful park-esque path where locals snacked, drank, and smoked in the blissful coastal air.

And then we got lost in the Grand Bazaar. Looking for something delicious we lost ourselves amidst people, shops, sights, smells, and imagery unlike anything I’ve ever encountered. I’ve been to the regular marketplaces, but this was another beast entirely. More people gathered than any I’ve seen before to the tune of honking horns, shouting that would stifle the most verbose Wall Street sharks, and smells ranging from the putrid to the intoxicating.

But in the throes of chaos there’s always a light. Exhausted, we sat down at an outdoor table (not a cafe, just a table in front of a restaurant) and were greeted by a man named Hassan. He asked if we wanted something to drink which we both accepted, and before we knew it, we were sipping tea of the roof-terrace of the restaurant listening to a him (local carpet-salesman–it was his friend’s restaurant) discuss wares and his experiences as a Turk.

It’s moments like these that are why travel is singularly something intangible. The lessons we learn about fear, trust, perseverance and bravado are unquantifiable in their value. And in the throes of chaos, a simple deep breath can be enough to reassure you that home is what makes you comfortable is often as unexpected as a strange outstretched hand beckoning you to come have a cup of tea.

The Turkey Chronicle: Selçuk and Ephesus

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I’ve spent a full 24 hours in travel.

Denver to Detroit, Detroit to Paris, Paris to Istanbul, Istanbul to Izmir, all of which followed by a train ride where the right gust of wind would fill the train with the putrid scent of urine.

But alas, I’m in Selçuk, Turkey with a smile a mile wide and a belly full of kebab. Life couldn’t be sweeter.

Not to be confused with Ephesus itself (the Ancient Roman riuns), Selçuk is a homely tourist destination with a beautifully quaint main avenue of restaurants and shops and a population that couldn’t be friendlier.

Today has been wonderful, and I pray that the remainder of my days in this wonderful country can follow suit. After an idyllic breakfast of Turkish coffee and bread with butter and jam on the terrace of our hotel, we did a bit of sightseeing and feasted on more kebab.

One recurring thought I’ve had throughout this trip over others has been that of empathy and understanding. Were there screaming children on every flight we took out here? you betcha. Did the train stink of nausea inducing urine? absolutely. Do I care? nope! I’m in Turkey, and those are the experiences that widen the eyes and open the soul to the world of others.

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In life we must remind ourselves that education is ever-pervasive, expansive, and oftentimes the most difficult and uncomfortable of places are those where we learn the most about ourselves. Not to say that Turkey is particularly difficult or uncomfortable–more that travel in and of itself is difficult.

But beneath it all lies the collective sense of spirit. That we are all members of a species founded on joy and ecstasy. Tap in and live.

I leave you with the words of Rumi (I’m reading his collected poetry on this particular trip)

There is a community of the spirit.
Join it, and feel the delight
of walking in the noisy street,
and being the noise.

-Rumi – A Community of the Spirit

The Turkey Chronicle: Awaiting Departure

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This is the first of what will become a sort of travel log of my time spent in Turkey. Book Guy Reviews will be taking a relative hiatus from the standard “musings and reviews” and transition for the next three weeks into a travel blog.

My girlfriend and I are officially en route to Istanbul and could not be more excited.

I’m sitting a hard-pack leather seat in gate C-36 awaiting what I’m sure will be yet another phenomenal trip to exotic lands and climes. What awaits is the unexpected, the unexplored (at least by me), and the inexperienced (again, by me). Travel is something that is entirely different from what is normally the standard vacation.

Vacation is the pool replete with cocktails, sunshine, and the comforts of conditions that are normally not experienced during home-life. There’s a sort of estimable luxury behind vacation that is nice for a brief stint. Nice at least until excess gets the best of us and we recognize our sloth.

Travel on the other hand is something far more mysterious–something unforeseen and fortuitous that cannot be expected, nor necessarily planned for. It is oftentimes difficult, but as I’ve posted about numerous times before, life is best lived in the middle ground–that wonderful liminal space between the positive and the negative–the ground that levels out between the highs and lows.

I’m thrilled to know that what comes is uncertainty, and there’s something special about that.

Expect a chronicle of life off the relatively beaten path and something that I hope will prove insouciant and insightful. Check back regularly for wonderful updates and insights as I experience another side of the globe!