So starting a book blog, it seems sensible to start at the very beginning. Let’s start with the very basic question ‘Why read?’
What does reading bring to your life that you can’t find any where else?
I read because I need to. I always have. From the very first days when I unlocked the mystery of print on the page I have been hopelessly devoted to the written word. For me reading is like breathing; pretty much essential to my daily life and well being.
Want to enrage me? Hide my book.
Want to soothe my soul? Let me loose in a bookshop or library. Lend me, buy me or recommend to me a book.
I read to escape the pressures and constraints of the real world. I read to educate myself, to push my boundaries, open up new worlds and go beyond my daily life. I read to relax, to revisit old friends and to seek comfort and distraction.
But mainly I read for love.
Next question…what do you read?
For me it is anything that takes my fancy. I think my tastes are pretty far reaching. My lists for the last 3 years show a leaning towards what the book world would class as ‘Modern Literary Fiction’ and probably more female authors than male. But I am always open to suggestions and recommendations. I am guilty of hiding away from Science Fiction and Fantasy, and have become increasingly disillusioned with thrillers ‘Whose twist I won’t see coming’, over the past 18 months. Historical fiction is usually a winner, can’t beat a great classic, biographies are fascinating.
The acid test of a book for me is within it’s writing. If it’s well written, well researched and accurate then I am in, regardless of genre, hype or a fancy cover. Sloppy writing and unconvincing characters make me twitchy, a great story but poorly written is ultimately disappointing (The Tattooist of Auschwitz, I might just be looking at you!) Characters that leap of the page, be they fair or foul, are a winner every time.
And yet I still find it very hard to give up on a book. No matter how frustrating and terrible I will usually persevere. Which is madness, given the sheer number of unread books littering my house and slowing down my Kindle. I can’t account for this bizarre habit, I know life is just too short, but very few books drive me to abandon them. I enjoy, however, writing a grumpy review, so be warned for future reference!
I am a member of 2 real life book groups, several online forums and follow numerous book blogs and podcasts. They all serve to take me out of my comfort zone, introduce me to brand new authors and keep me on my reading journey.
The practical side of this immersion in a lovely, book filled world is that there are currently 41 unread books piled up around my room. My Kindle tells me I have 160 (!) unread books (Damn you Kindle Daily deals!!!) And this is before there are new releases to sample… or I wander unsupervised into a bookshop… or one hidden gem of a book takes me off on a whole new voyage of discovery. All of this contributes to my regular 3am panic, the one in which I struggle to accept, yet again, that I will die with books unread. Even if I manage to live out my ‘Austen -heroine- fantasy’ of being mildly incapacitated and left to read for a significant chunk of time I would never catch up. One book would lead me in a delightfully meandering fashion on to the next and away from the books already piled up. For me reading isn’t a job you can get done. It’s an evolving journey, often undertaken with maps that change at unexpected times and in unexpected ways.
I truly believe that there is a book out there for everyone. Whether you read it in an afternoon, over a year, download it on your Kindle, listen to it on audiobook or hear it on parents knee, there is a text that will speak to even the stoniest of hearts.
We are all readers. Whether we are reading shopping lists, sauce bottles, graphic novels or War and Peace. We should all read what we want, what we like. Any number of erudite critics can recommend or tear a book down but what an individual reader brings to a book is far, far more important. One of the few DNF’s (Did Not Finish) I have encountered in recent years is Donna Tartt’s ‘The Secret History’ . This book is recommended to me at least 10 times a year, but I can’t get past the fact that the narrator is an arrogant baggage who looks down on people with less perceived learning than him. I have tried twice and will try again, but with a TBR (To Be Read) list of over 200 I fear, just this once life may really be too short.
Our personal experiences define us and as they make us unique in life, they make us unique readers.
That means that very few books can be truly universally loved, however difficult that may be for us to accept.
I was introduced to this concept very early on in my literary journey by a teacher who I will just call Mr P.
English lit A Level, embarking on the classic ‘Romeo and Juliet’, Mr P’s opening gambit was ” You all need to know, I think Romeo is an arse!” He then proceeded to point out that Romeo was a serial lover and most likely would have abandoned Juliet had events not overtaken them. Mr P taught me there is no right or wrong response to a book, you just helps if you can back it up.
All that said there are some books I would fight to the death for; classically ‘Wuthering Heights’ and ‘Rebecca’, more recently Jane Harris’ brilliant ‘Gillespie and I’ and the sublime ‘Lincoln in the Bardo’ by the genius that is George Saunders. These books have touched me so deeply in different ways that it is hard to stomach criticism, however irrational that maybe. Such is the power of the right book.
I feel that, as with most things in life, the older I get the more confident I become about expressing my own literary opinions and preferences. And this is how I have ended up at the blog. It is a way for me to expand my reading journey and do something constructive with the books I devour each month. It is an outlet for my own opinions and preferences and by default my strengths and weaknesses.
I hope very much that you will enjoy what you find here. I don’t court universal agreement but I would love to engage in debate and challenge. I believe that both books and readers grow by both.
Books mentioned in this blog
- Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
- Rebecca – Daphne du Maurier
- Gillespie and I – Jane Harris
- The Tattooist of Auschwitz – Heather Morris
- Lincoln in the Bardo – George Saunders
- Romeo and Juliet – William Shakespeare
- The Secret History – Donna Tartt