Why I’ve stopped reading the Qur’an

Last time at Bookclub, after a rather tipsy chat about the latest ISIS atrocity, we rather drunkenly agreed it would be a great idea to read the Qur’an for next time, so that we could discover for ourselves whether it is a ‘religion of peace’.

At university, I’d done a year’s course in Islamic History. The course had taken us from the founding of the religion, including Mohammed’s flight to Jerusalem and battles in Mecca to the Ottoman empire. It highlighted the tolerant nature of the Abbasid caliphate and their scientific and linguistic achievements. I had also owned a copy of the Qur’an, which I’d glanced at, mainly to see how the main characters from the Bible were represented.

A few years ago my husband and I had visited the mosque in Edinburgh during an open day. I had an opinion that Muslims were a bit like Salvationists, (minus the music): generally good, religious people. Of course there are bad Muslims, and bad things done under the name of Islam, but surely these are the bad apples?

So I started reading the Qur’an a couple of weeks ago. And first off, I made the decision not to promote the fact I was reading it on Goodreads. This is aberrant behaviour for me. I always post everything about my reading on Goodreads, but having read some of the comments on people’s reviews on the Qur’an, I decided against it. I don’t want hassle. I want a quiet life.

At first I am making lots of notes from the Qur’an and was appalled at the view of unbelievers, Christians and Jews. But as I slowly read more and more of the book, I realised there is no point in making notes as it is the same two or three motifs repeated and repeated and repeated. Namely, that unbelievers will burn in hell, that all the prophets before Mohammed had failed in their attempts to make people follow God, and that as long as Muslims pray, believe in Gold and pay the prescribed alms; paradise will be theirs, (and they will hear the wails of the unbelievers and there is nothing the unbelievers will be able to do, come the day of Judgement, as they have swapped the glitter of this life for the flames of hell.)

I carried on reading, getting more and more depressed at the repetition and damnation until I was about 40% in. The date of our book club was postponed to allow more of us to finish it, but even so, I have made the decision to stop reading it.

Yes, I was getting bored with the lack of progression in the book, and yes, I was yearning for all the novels I could be reading instead, but I also was getting upset and depressed. I usually continue reading a book to the bitter end, no matter how much I hate the start (or middle), so this is a big deal for me. I feel like I am failing in my attempt to understand the Muslim faith, which was my initial aim, but honestly, it’s not doing me any good.

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And here’s the thing. I am lucky enough to live in a country where I am allowed not to read it, and allowed not to like it, and even allowed to express the fact that I don’t like it. So why force myself to read it?

I expressed the fact on twitter that I was finding it hard, and had a little dialogue with someone who noted that , yes, expressing anything negative about the Qur’an can lead to hassle. I replied saying that I wanted a quiet life, so I wouldn’t post anything more online.

Then I followed this person on twitter and started reading about how apostates are treated by Islam; about how dissidents in Saudi Arabia are treated and I felt shamed. There are people facing the death penalty and 50 lashes a week for expressing their thoughts and yet they still express themselves and criticise the faith. And here am I, in comfortable Cumbria, able to express myself but too chicken to incur the wrath of some folk a long way away, who can’t really do me any harm.

So I’m going to post an honest review on Goodreads. And I’ll post a link to this on Twitter. And to heck with the response. (There might not even be one. We’ll see.)

Bring on the Thrillers/ Literary Fiction/ Crime novels. I can’t wait!

My 6 top tips for sneaking-in more time for reading for those who ‘just don’t have the time’.

NB: This is written from a stay-at-home parent’s perspective and doesn’t include more obvious (and perhaps dubious) ways of upping your reading time, such as going to the bathroom whilst at work in order to read, reading in your lunch-hour and reading whilst you commute. 

Six days ago I began an online exercise where everyday, for one hundred days, I photograph something that makes me happy and document it online: #100happydays. Reading has cropped up in my pictures at least twice, and for those who know me, this will come as no surprise. Yes I love books and reading, and what with it still being January and the season for goal-setting, one of my reading goals this year is to finish those series. You know, actually complete the Harry Potter books, and Millennium, and start and complete the Hunger Games trilogy. You get the idea. Much of my free time is spent thinking about reading, rather than doing, and so I’ve been contemplating how to turn this around. 

So here are my top tips: 

1. Turn off the tv. This does seem to be an antisocial measure and one to cause unrest in the family home. The rest of my family ADORE the telly and I really can’t remember the last evening which didn’t automatically involve switching on the goggle box. So either I slope off to somewhere else (my bedroom) to read, or switch it off and incur the wrath of the boys, either way I am a baddie. I can only suggest either talking to your nearest and dearest and trying to explain and persuade what you want to achieve or else buy a set of Dr Dre’s and tune yourself into some music whilst you read. 

2. Log off from the social media. Yes, it is much easier and in a duped, immediate-gratification kinda-way it is more fun to spend hours on twitter and Facebook but it doesn’t get books read. Keep logged-in to Goodreads, though, in order to update your progress and get suggestions for future reads. 

3. Carefully choose your reading material

a) Go for books with short chapters. If you get interrupted or fall asleep, then you can pick-up from where you left-off relatively easily. Also, you feel as though you are making progress rather than getting bogged-down with text and often race through, thinking ‘just one chapter more’. I recently read ‘The Radleys’ by Matt Haig which had wonderful, short chapters. Armistead Maupin’s ‘Tales of the City’ books also have wee chapters and some others include: ‘Animal Farm’ by George Orwell, ‘High Fidelity’ by Nick Hornby and most books by Carl Hiaasen and Chuck Palahniuk. 

b) If you’re not enjoying your book then don’t be afraid to ditch it. If you join or reacquaint yourself with a local library and use this as a source of books then you won’t feel so bad about jettisoning a book that hasn’t cost you anything. 

4. Reward yourself with reading. So you’re enjoying your book and it has short chapters. Instead of a walnut whip at the end of the day, or a glass of wine after tidying the kitchen, give yourself the joy of a chapter of your book. Better for your waistline too.

5. Join a bookclub. Having a deadline is a great way to ignore distractions and sharpen your focus on the page. 

6. Change your format.

a) E-readers have their place and  I used to dig-out my Kindle from the inside pocket of my coat whilst waiting in queues for stuff, but back then I didn’t have a proper cover for it. The screen has since died and I have now made a bulky cover to try and prolong the new screen’s life. What I could do, and what I encouraged my brother to do, was to download an app that allows him to read his book on his phone. No excuses for leaving your book/ e-reader at home now. Unless you’ve left your phone at home, of course.

b) Discover audio. My circumstances have changed recently and I am finding myself doing shedloads of driving. So I’ve borrowed a playaway device from the library and I’m ploughing my way through ‘Bring up the Bodies’. I get the audiobook for three weeks; it costs me £1.50 plus the cost of a AAA battery and earphones and I can also plug it into my ancient car’s tape adaptor. Playaway is a clever format in that I don’t need to spend time downloading or messing about with computers, discs or cassette tapes. It remembers where I stopped and is easily portable. Today I went for a long walk on my own and was immersed in Tudor England for the hour or so.  Perfect. 

 

 

 

 

 

The ’72hr’ book stash

The  '72hr' book stash

My strategy for packing-up the house is taking a long time to formulate. Lots of thinking time. I’ve been thinking about boxing-up books today. Most easily packed (and weeded) are the shelves of books I’ve actually read. Then I got thinking about which books I might want to read whilst we are in rented accommodation. Of course I have a Kindle which will keep me in reading matter for a good few weeks but as this period of hiatus will most likely coincide with Christmas, I thought about other books I will want to have to hand. And most obviously (and sentimentally for me) it will be my small, battered, American copy of ‘The Night Before Christmas’. I will consult the others about their Favoured Christmas books to keep separate.

I also decided I would also like to have to hand my go-to book in times of stress: ‘Arch of Triumph’ by Erich Maria Remarque. It’s simply stunning in its nihilistic, calvados-ridden darkness. It’s so familiar to me being one of the few books I have ever read more than once, and is now a quirkily comforting read. Of course there will be times when I don’t have time or energy to read more than a page or two and for that reason I will also set to one side the anthology of poems published by Bloodaxe books called ‘Staying Alive’.

These three books will form the basis of my 72hr book stash, modelled on the newly discovered (by me at any rate) 72hr emergency kits.

Bang goes the theory that I could be a social worker.

Bang goes the theory I could be a social worker.

This morning I spent the precious two and a bit hours when my son is at preschool, sat at St Bees, finishing this book and greeting. I’d found the first half of the book so-so but the last few days I have been sneaking in as much reading time as possible. Much to the detriment of the state of my house and me and my family’s diet. I’m making amends now. Also the Kindle is out of juice, so for the sake of myself, my poor husband, (yes I did fetch it out of my coat pocket during the interval at the opera on Sunday night), and my lovely, slightly malnourished children, I am not going to recharge it until I have got a handle on my household. It will be tidy and meals, (proper meals with vegetables and everything), will be planned and bought for. Then I will plan my next read.

So what made me sink to such lows? The main answer would be the Weedon family. Not that I was modelling their lifestyle in the same way that some social commentators think that watching video nasties turns one into a serial killer, no. I think it was the glimpses into their chaotic and sad lives that hooked me in and made me worry for them and ultimately kept me reading the first few chapters of the book.

We’ve been house hunting too whilst I’ve been reading this and unsurprisingly the class issues of various villages and areas kept playing through my head a la Pagford vs The Fields as we would stumble upon a house that wasn’t ideally suited to us but was in a desirable middle-class village with, say, a group that organises coach trips to Carlisle’s classical music concerts. Someone else snapped it up. Sigh. Of relief?

So the moral of the story in ‘The Casual Vacancy’? Perhaps, I would argue, it is that politics is dangerous. But that’s not fair on Rowling. Really, the danger lies with egos and lack of concern for one another. So do fight for what you believe is right, but smile and look wide and when you think you’ve looked wide, look wider still. (B-P).

Story vs Storyteller, or the Sorry Sequel.

Book for bookclub: check.

Library book: nearly finished

Unread books on my buckling shelves: yup.

I’m fifty-two pages from the end of my current book, so as sure as a Lib Dem MP supports a disgraced colleague, my mind is chewing over what to read next. There’s plenty to choose from, including books seven and eight of Harry Potter; the penultimate and final books from the Millennium trilogy; and Mantel’s ‘Bring up the Bodies’. All this begged the question: why haven’t I tackled these sequels sooner?

I thought about this yesterday and came to the conclusion that I read in order to experience ‘slices of life’. I’m not a one-genre girl and my mantra could well be ‘So many books, so little time’, and with this in mind, why waste precious time further delving into a specific author’s specific creation? The answer of course is the story. I should want to read book two because the story of book one was so enthralling that I don’t want it to end. This very rarely happens with me. What is more likely is that if I enjoy a book, I will seek out a book by a different author in the same genre, or from the same era or same country in order to develop depth and widen my experiences: the sequel can wait. And so these poor follow-ups, as good as they no doubt are, are left on the shelf whilst whim, fancy and the joy of discovery override story and they languish on my tight shelves alongside the Hunger Games trilogy and Alexander McCall Smith.

So what WILL I read next? Perhaps I should make a final attempt to finish ‘Pickwick Papers’. Alternatively I have plenty of whimsy on my Kindle too. So many books, so many formats, so, so little time.Image