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April 2015

La torre dei libri - The tower of books (c) Andrea Mucelli

La torre dei libri – The tower of books (c) Andrea Mucelli/Flickr


Join in the Read Watch Play discussion this month about #reflectread. We’ll be focused on ideas and reading about physical reflections, and things that make you think, give a new or different perspective on life, the world around us, others and ourselves.

Philosophers invite us to look at the world from different viewpoints, examining the structure and interaction of societies from a particular angle of interest. Do you see the world as Confucius, Simone de Beauvoir, Karl Marx, or Mary Wollstonecraft did? Or maybe Alain de Botton’s reflections on everyday life in the modern world are more accessible to you.

Periods of change in our lives often provide us with times of reflection. They may be difficult times for us, such as ill-health or death and grief and we reflect to help us cope. The End of Your Life Book Club (Will Schwalbe) focuses on book discussions a man has with his mother as she waits for her chemotherapy treatment to begin. In Michael Rosen’s Sad Book he shares his own real-life experience of grief, whereas The Lovely Bones is told from the perspective of the child who is being grieved over. Grief is often partly a process of reflection too, prompting memories of the person’s past life and how it impacted upon our own. The Bucket List’s approach to dying focuses on all the things a couple of terminally ill patients want to do before they die – living life fully until the end.

There are other times in our lives that might make us think about who we are, what we are doing and where we are heading. It could be the transition from child to teenager, or teenager to adult; changes in career; marriage; divorce; having children, or any of the other many changes in our daily lives that impact upon us. They can all cause us to reflect on our situation. As with The Bucket List they might spur us on with wish lists of new things to try.

During difficult times self-help guides can teach us how to reflect on what we are doing, provide guidance and support to improve our situation, as well as promoting good health & well-being, prompting a change in ourselves that we need or wanted to make. For some this self-help might be in the form of meditation, mindfulness, or the soothing sounds on a relaxation CD.

Other people receive support and guidance from their faith or religion, with prayers and periods of reflection and contemplation assisting them. Memoirs written by people with a strong faith aspect to their lives help us understand people with different religions and faith.

We can also share in the lives of others and gain an understanding of them via their own words and thoughts. Memoirs and autobiographies of famous people offer insightful reflecting reads about their lives. Fly-on-the-wall documentaries, such as The Osbournes also give us the opportunity to share the lives of the famous when they are supposedly out of the limelight. An interesting biography doesn’t have to be about a famous person. There are documentaries and fly-on-the-wall television shows about ordinary lives in a situation different to our own that generate just as much interest as a celebrity biography. Jodi Picoult’s fiction also allows us to watch everyday characters in modern relationships and confront life-changing decisions from the perspective of those involved, showing us what things might be like if we were put in the same situation.

Travelogues such as those written or presented by Michael Palin allow us to reflect on the similarities and differences of the world’s cultures without leaving home. Reading about cultures different from our own also help us reflect on the situations of others and foster understanding. Try I am Malala, A Thousand Splendid Suns, Follow the Rabbit Proof Fence, or Heaven on Earth. Cultures can be also far removed from our own by time as well as distance, and both historical fiction and non-fiction can help us reflect on the past and gain an understanding of the world before we were born.

The Anzac Day commemorations held on 25th April are also an appropriate time for reflection. This year is especially significant as it marks the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli campaign from which Anzac Day traditions originated.

As well as the past we can also reflect on what the future might bring us. What will happen to ourselves and the planet? Questions around sustainability concern us. Are the ice-caps melting? Science-fiction often portrays our future planet with a society that has regressed (The Hunger Games; Idiocracy; The Time Machine; the comic world of 2000AD; the game world of Half-Life 2), but Utopia might be waiting for us in the future instead. The time-travelling Dr Who gives us the chance to view an alternate history of our own world – one that could have been home to so many alien species in the past and could be in the future too.

Fantastic and mythological tales have sometimes made use of a person’s reflection as a key feature of the story. Narcissus’ undoing was his vanity as he paused to look at his own reflection in the water and fell in love with it. Again vanity is the queen’s downfall in Snow White, as she ask her mirror “Who is the fairest of them all?” and is not pleased by the reply that it is Snow White (Mirror Mirror). The gaze of Medusa is so frightening that she is turned to stone when Perseus holds up a mirror to her. All of these characters are impacted on by their own reflection in some way, whereas Dracula and vampires in general show their true self by having no reflection at all.

Though it is not a physical reflection, Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray sees his painted portrait become a mirror of his soul – a reflection of his true self – aging and crumbling as Dorian pursues his hedonistic lifestyle and remains youthful himself.

When Lewis Carroll’s Alice steps through the looking glass she enters a world that is often the reverse of what she would normally expect.

Beauty is often measured by how we view ourselves in the mirror, what we think of that reflection and whether it matches our definition of beauty. But how is beauty defined and how does that definition sit with the promotion of positive, but not conforming body images?

Charles Mackay’s Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds prompts us to reflect on the phenomenon of mass-delusion and hysteria in the 19th century, questioning why these situations occurred and wondering how they are mirrored in today’s modern world?

Additionally, through films like Planet of the Apes, The Day the Earth Stood Still, District 9 and books such as Watership Down, Bambi and The Borrowers we can also imagine how we as humans appear to others – reflecting a different world view back on ourselves.

Moving away from books, optical illusions, magic eye images and op art often confuse us with the images they present. These anamorphic illusions based on reflection are fun as well as confusing. MC Escher also achieves a similar sense of confusion in his drawn constructions – from one perspective they make sense, but on reflection they must be impossible.

While you are reading, playing or watching your #reflectread this month, you might like to tweet about it using hashtags #reflectread #rwpchat so that other people can have a conversation with you about it. You can add to the discussion on Pinterest too. You might like to post your photographs to Instagram or Flickr and use #reflectread #rwpchat so others can share in your reading, watching and playing.

The Twitter discussion takes place on 28 April, starting at 8.00pm Australian Eastern Standard Time. 9.00pm New Zealand Time, 6.00pm Singapore Standard Time, 12.00 noon Central European Summer Time, 8am – 10.30am, 2pm – 4pm GMT. Note this is a staggered discussion.

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