10 1/2 inclinations by Ben Okri

Famished Road by Ben Okri

I only came across this list a few days ago, pinned in a washroom in Nairobi. It seems that in 2006 the Royal Society of Literature asked a number of authors for the 10 books children must read, but Ben Okri decided instead to give them the following advice:

1. There is a secret trail of books meant to inspire and enlighten you. Find that trail.
2. Read outside your own nation, colour, class, gender.
3. Read the books your parents hate.
4. Read the books your parents love.
5. Have one or two authors that are important, that speak to you; and make their works your secret passion.
6. Read widely, for fun, stimulation, escape.
7. Don’t read what everyone else is reading. Check them out later, cautiously.
8. Read what you’re not supposed to read.
9. Read for your own liberation and mental freedom.
10. Books are like mirrors. Don’t just read the words. Go into the mirror. That is where the real secrets are. Inside. Behind. That’s where the gods dream, where our realities are born.
10½. Read the world. It is the most mysterious book of all.

It’s obviously not from a Christian perspective but there’s a lot of insight and sound advice there. Number ten is typical of Okri’s poetic, playful, ambiguous, dreamscape style and love for exploring the intersection of the world of the gods and spirits and the world of men. As I understand him, he’s warning us of the great danger of just seeing ourselves as we read rather than fully entering into the world of the text. John Ruskin said something similar when he described approaching great books as seeking entry to an Elysium, an underworld populated by long dead great heroes, philosophers and kings. To be worthy of their company, he argues…

You must love them, and show your love in these two following ways.
(1) First, by a true desire to be taught by them, and to enter into their thoughts. To enter into theirs, observe; not to find your own expressed by them. If the person who wrote the book is not wiser than you, you need not read it; if he be, he will think differently from you in many respects.
(2) Very ready we are to say of a book, “How good this is—that’s exactly what I think!” But the right feeling is, “How strange that is! I never thought of that before, and yet I see it is true; or if I do not now, I hope I shall, some day.” But whether thus submissively or not, at least be sure that you go to the author to get at HIS meaning, not to find yours. Judge it afterwards if you think yourself qualified to do so; but ascertain it first. And be sure, also, if the author is worth anything, that you will not get at his meaning all at once… it is the same with the physical type of wisdom, gold… you may dig long and find none; you must dig painfully to find any. (Ruskin, Sesame and Lilies, Lecture 1)

And on reading the world as mystery (in the biblical sense) see:


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