Yellowing sedatives

There is a tension between the idea of reading for change and the action of reading to prepare oneself for sleep.

They share the notion that sleep is itself a changed state, but the intention underpinning my attempts at Reading For Change is much grander, requiring long-term shifts in attitude and/or actions.

I think I’m reading at the wrong time to make that work.

Why read at all anymore?

A quick internet search suggests that reading dates back to 3500-3000 BCE, whereas moving pictures are a relatively recent incursion. The first commerical film was screened in 1895 and it appeared so real as to create a panic. Not easily repeatable today.

24-hour TV has only been around since 1988, and with the introduction of the first smartphone in 2000 and the iPhone in 2007, screens are now everywhere.

Today, I can watch a full length movie on my phone while it is propped up on the other side of the kitchen sink. That’s an extreme example. Rarely does it take that long to do to the washing up. And it’s more likely to be a documentary or a 30-minute comedy.

The brain will change in response to this shift from letters-on-a-page to images-on-a-screen, but it’s too early to tell what will become of us. It’s a shift from actively building imaginative neural networks to simply triggering the pleasure centres of the brain. Maybe wisdom will win the day and the page will again be supreme.

In the meantime, we with our ‘traditional’ brains still need to read because that’s what it was designed to do.

Reading to sleep

It starts at a very young age. Perhaps it shouldn’t.

If we want children to grow up to be readers, perhaps we shouldn’t read to them in bed!

I find a book before bed very useful if it implants some sedate images that quiet the mind.

So, let’s talk about …

Anne Summers’ ‘Unfettered and Alive’

I’m up to page 15. There are 444 pages, excluding the index (It has an index!), plus notes and acknowledgement sections.

It only takes a couple of pages to sedate me. That’s impressive.

Even the colour of the pages has a part to play. They are so very yellowish in tone, the exact opposite of that disruptive blue light we are supposed to avoid an hour or so before bed.

I’d seen Anne Summers on TV often enough during my younger years. She was a rare female face in the world of men’s journalism. I’d since heard she was quite an intellect (confirmed on page 15 with the fact she won a Walkley Award in her FIRST year of journalism). So, she might have an interesting perspective on some of the big events and changes I’d only seen from this side of a TV screen.

But I also presumed this book would be less ego-centric than the Geoffery Robertson I read last year. My rosy ‘women-are-nice’ glasses must have slipped down from my forehead when I pulled Unfettered from the bookshelf and pottered off to the counter with money in hand.

It’s perhaps too early to tell but at two pages a time it’s difficult to glean much. My access to the heart of this book may be limited by the yellow pages, long paragraphs and my chosen time and place of reading.

But some small vignettes stick, probably because of the vivid differences to today’s experiences – like the windowless workroom with lino floor and manual typewriters tilted onto their backs to make room on the desk.

Do authors write their books with a picture in mind of the reader and the locale in which they are reading?

The publisher certainly didn’t when it chose the page colour!


References and related articles

Summers, Anne. Unfettered and Alive. Published 2018. Allen & Unwin

Robertson, Geoffrey. Rather His Own Man: Reliable Memoirs. Published 2018. Penguin Random House.

BBC Culture, The Story of Handwriting in 12 Objects. Published 26 April 2019.

SBS News. A dark consensus about screens and kids begins to emerge in Silicon Valley. Published 3 October 2018.

The Guardian. Study links high levels of screen time to slower child development (results are disputed). Published 28 January 2019.


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