Today I learned a new word. It’s on the second page of a novel I started reading on a rainy day. The library wants it back and, although it is by one of my favourite authors, I have only just picked it up. There are 18 reservations waiting. My hand is forced.
I spend most days encouraging girls to read. Most are reluctant. Their attention is turned elsewhere. Those that struggle the most, find writing even harder. It’s not just the unfamiliar words, or the challenges of dyslexia, girls who do not read lack the confidence to write. They can make lists. They can copy and paste. But the magic that exists beyond the surface of words is obscure and arcane.
That said, I am opening their eyes. Writing a poem is not hard. It is fun. See? Poetry means play. Forget the slog, play with words. Not sure what a word means? Don’t peep through the blinkered funnel of your phone. Use a dictionary. Here’s how it works. Flick through the pages. You never know what you’ll discover.
Engaging with the unfamiliar is daunting. Scary. Most students I work with prefer to engage with things tailored to their perceived interests. They have been avatar-ed by multinationals into discreet bubbles of attention that define their hopes and fears better than anyone.
The result is a loss of curiosity. A belligerent ignorance that defiantly meets anything not reflected back at them from their device. Why should I pay attention if it’s not on my feed? If I haven’t heard of it, it’s not worth knowing.
Their phones are an extension of the curated self; they define identity. You see it in resulting anxiety and aggression at the thought of separation.
Reading books leads you places you don’t expect. It fills you with things you don’t know you’re learning. Cadences, musicality and meaning. Empathy. You get to look through the eyes of people who are not you.
Books do not watch you and turn you into a package to be sold off.
They do not demand your attention, unless they are good.
This book, Elizabeth Finch, is good. It is about a middle-aged lecturer. I suspect nothing exciting will happen. It is the voice, the quality of writing, that has me hooked.
On page 1 she talks to the students for the first time. On page 2 she is described by a student.
Her clothes. Let’s start at ground level.
We move up from her brogues, reaching the unfamiliar word halfway down the page.
Occasionally a brooch, always small and, as they say, discreet, yet somehow refulgent.
I read for two more pages before I had to look that word up. I didn’t want to leave the story, but my mind was fizzing with all I have just written.
A good song makes you want to sing. Good writing makes you want to write.
It’s a long time since I’ve written anything. What’s the point? Why add to the stultifying pile of unseen words in a world suffocating under unread words.
The tower of babble casts a long shadow. But there is light beyond the darkness. It is the spark I found on the page.
Refulgent means resplendent, shining; casting a bright light. Elizabeth Finch occasionally wears a discreet brooch that shines beyond its size.
I doubt I will drop this unfamiliar word into any casual conversation. It would land with a dull clang instead of the appropriate radiance.