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it's educational!

PenguinHording W1.JPG

i've recently developed a greater love affair with words. i've always loved them. while my sister would be playing with dolls and making up dances, i would be reading the 51st enid blyton book of the series, or playing scrabble or lego. [some things never change i guess.]

but over the last month or so, i've been reading some amazing things - books, mostly, that have really enlightened my understanding of history and the state of the world, in a way that i've not had before.

although i had heard a little of the spanish civil war and the republican fight against franco fascism, through the lives and works of frida kahlo, pablo picasso and george owell, i never really had any kind of knowledge or comprehension of what the hell was going on. so i started reading For Whom The Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway as a way to enjoy his writing and gain some perspective on the experience of that time. Not only was it an enjoyable book, but i now have a much more vivid and empirical understanding of the conditions, the motives and the details of guerilla/rebel warfare in Spain in the 1930s.

after i had finished that, i picked up a book which my mother had lent me and hounding me to read. i thought it was going to be fluffy oprah-bookclub material and thankfully i was wrong. The Book Thief is an amazing book about a bright young girl, fostered out during the reign of the Third Reich, to a family near Münich - Hitler Heartland. In the way it is written, narrated by death (or 'the taker of souls') with a combination of depth and humour, i felt like i learned more about Nazi Germany than I had from the thousands of books, films and art I had seen up until now. Similarly - it's the conditions, the motives and the details of the characters and the plot which provide a clarity. the emotional involvement i had with the story gave me a clarity which i'll never be able to remove. (i cried when liesel kissed rudy near the river)

and just when i thought i had enough of heart-wrenching stories, i decided to read the copy of dave eggers' what is the what, which i had bought months ago, second hand. it's the transliteration of an oral story about a south-sudanese (dinka) refugee and his walk across sudan, into ethiopia and kenya - and 10 years of camp-life. while the facts have been provided by valentino achak deng, the story is written by eggers, who is an amazing writer. again with the motives, the detail, the conditions, i learned a whole lot about sudan and east africa, of which i am ashamed to say i knew nothing and have a greater understanding of the complexity of human interaction.

as well as being enjoyable and educational books, the importance of these words has been what happened after i read them.

i went to wikipedia. i know, it's to be taken with a pinch of salt, but as a post-dead-tree-novel knowledge chaser, it was perfect. i was able to see the smaller picture through the eyes of a character, then zoom out on the wider historical and cultural context. general and specific. detail and vista. a big picture. and this is the power of wikipedia - as an encyclopedia, minus the heaviness and drudgery of dead-tree funk'n'wagnel tomes.

i know that i'm about 2 years behind everyone in gushing about this, but the combination of [single-voice narrative] books and [open-source info] technology excites me greatly right now. for the first time i feel like i'm getting the hang of education, in its broadest definition and i'm enjoying learning about things that matter. not just to extend my mind (although that's equally important), but to extend my civic and political heart. so that i can be a member of The Public in terms of knowledge.


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