Why Having Ideas Is Like Chasing Butterflies

ButterflyI’m making good progress on my book challenge. Three months into the project means I’m a quarter of the way through, which is slightly scary: I’ve gone through 50 years of literature in what seems like no time.

It’s been incredibly illuminating. As I mention in my rationale for the challenge, my aim is not to write standard book reviews; it’s to see what immediate, practical changes I can make to my life as a direct result of reading each book. I’m trying to catch myself right at ‘The End’ and reflect on what has stayed with me; to ask myself each time, “in what way am I now a different person?”

I’m finding that, for every thought that stays with me, there are hundreds more that simply fizzle out. By the time I reach that final page, I know that, drifting out there in the universe of unfinished things and unformed plans, are the wraith-like remnants of once-important flashes of meaning that, ultimately, didn’t have the stamina to make it through and fix themselves in my brain.

For me, this is part of the fascination of my project. I’m aware, as I’m reading, that every page holds some new wonder, some new connection, some new insight into life – and yet, I also know that the human brain is only capable of retaining a certain amount of information at any one time.

I’ve deliberately set out to make this a ‘real-life’ rather than an academic scenario. No matter what crops up that I might want to remember in future, I’m not making notes; I did enough of that at university, and the point of this challenge is to get me up to speed with simply reading again. Not over-thinking, not sucking every last nuance out of a sentence before moving on to the next: just reading, enjoying the story, and moving on.

And yet this isn’t proving to be as easy as I’d hoped.

The problem is rather unexpected. It isn’t that I spend time mulling over the meaning of a bunch of words. It’s the fact that practically every paragraph gives me a gaggle of new ideas of my own that I want to run off and pursue.

Imagine doing the gardening: pruning, weeding, planting, all according to plan, all in tune with the seasons. Now imagine being distracted, every time you bow your head to the soil, by a flight of rare butterflies, colours blazing, wings a-shimmering, sailing past your head and somehow, all as one, breathing a tantalising melody that hints at the strange, far-off places they inhabit – and which you too, if only you put down your tools, can find if you follow them into the wild blue yonder…

Yes. This is what it’s like inside my head when I’m reading. And I can’t believe I’d forgotten that this is what books do to me. They transport me to all sorts of strange places by means of my own creativity, which takes what I’ve just read, feeds on it, and rebirths it in my mind as something new and totally unique to me.

And these newborn babes of my imagination, they scream and they cry and they wail for my attention – and how can I not give it to them? I may not write down notes on what I’ve learned, for I can always read the book again to pick up the sense of it. But I can’t ignore the calling of my inspiration, for she is an erratic little madam and, if neglected, may well choose not to grace me with her unique revelations again.

And so I am not making the progress with my reading speed that I’d hoped – but it is not for the reasons I might have assumed. I am giving in to the lure of the ideas and letting them take wing – much like those imaginary butterflies – and I am following them wherever they might lead.

The last ‘practical change’ I made to my life as a result of reading a book was not something serious or worthy. It was to open a new vein of creativity, specifically with regard to my cat’s blog. It wasn’t what I was expecting, and I’m certain it won’t be what others were expecting either.

That’s the joy of reading. Books can take us to places we never even dreamed of. I’m only three months in to my book challenge, and already I’m beginning to notice a difference, to see the world that is opening up both within my head and without. I can’t begin to envisage where I might find myself come December.

But I am feeling very excited at the prospect.

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2 Comments

  1. Wow! Your challenge sounds amazing Gwyneth! And as an ex-insatiable reader you make me want to put down my phone and pick up a book again… It’s been a while…

    • Thanks Lotte! It’s a weird one, isn’t it – loving reading but not being able to get stuck in like you used to? So many ‘life things’ getting in the way… Would love to know what book you decide to pick up!

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