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Archive for June, 2010

I recently read a piece on http://shelflove.wordpress.com called Sunday Salon: Why We Dislike What We Dislike, the piece focused on why we dislike certain books and why we don’t even attempt to read others.  Are they just bad or are we biased or trying to read them at the wrong time?

This set me thinking about how the choices I make when it comes to the books I read.  Why do I pick up the books I do?

I think the first reason has to be favourite authors.  For example I’ve read every Jack Reacher novel by Lee Child and I’ll certainly be reading the next one.  The same goes for JD Robb’s ‘In death’ series, John Sandford’s ‘Lucas Davenport’ and Linda Fairstein’s ‘Alex Cooper’.  I pick these books up as they’ve all ready proven their entertainment value to me and I trust they will deliver again.  But why did I start to read these books in the first place?  I think this brings me to the second, and probably primary, reason for choosing books…

Favourite genres.  I am a fan of thrillers and crime/detective fiction so I’ll often browse that section of my local library and take a chance on authors I’ve not read before.  I also use sites like fantasticfiction.co.uk where you can look up authors and find links to other similar authors.  But I’ve noticed that I do discriminate within this genre.  For example I prefer not to read books set in the UK.  I think this is because I live in the UK and I don’t want to be able to identify the location of a murder, it can add a sense of reality that I’m not looking for, I read this genre for escapism, not realism.

I also like classic literature such as Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, and Alexandre Dumas, to name a few.  So generally I’ll be more likely to pick up a piece of classic literature rather than a work of modern fiction.  Perhaps because the classic is still around it’s proven that it can last the test of time and is therefore more likely to be worth reading.

So generally I think there’s a lot of prejudice and bias that goes in to choosing whether or not to read a book.  I’ve often told people a book didn’t sound ‘like the sort of thing I’d like’ after only the briefest of descriptions.  But I recognise that I do this and a few years ago I decided to try and broaden my literary horizons and diminish my preconceived notions.

It all started with the BBC Big Read, which I’ve previously mentioned in an earlier post.  When I first looked at the list of 100 books I immediately discounted some as books I wouldn’t want to read.  Why?  Simply because they didn’t fall into the categories of favourite authors or genres.  So I decided to finish the entire list whether I liked the book or not.

This has broadened my reading hugely, I always thought I was pretty well read but now I realise how I had limited the scope of books I read by dismissing so many genres/authors because of preconceptions.  I probably would never have read Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series if there hadn’t been some of these books on the list, and now I’m huge fan.  It turns out I love a bit of science fiction!

I’ve also discovered a love of historical fiction too.  Then there are the authors like Salman Rushdie who I wouldn’t have read if he hadn’t been on the list but I probably won’t read again!  As well as broadening my choices I also confirmed a few dislikes too.  But now I can say I don’t like these books and I can back my decision up because I did give them a go, I’m basing my decision on fact not ignorant prejudice.

And then there are those stand alone books that are simply just a good read, it might be due to a fantastic story, engaging characters or a setting/situation that the reader can relate to but generally none of these are good enough to make a book stand out on their own.  I believe the one constant across all good books has to be good writing, it doesn’t matter if it’s simplistic, descriptive or emotive but whatever style it has to suit the characters and story and engage the reader.  No matter what the genre, good writing should stand out.

I think that overall I’m much more willing to give any book a go and not just dismiss books willy-nilly.  As well as reading the BBC Big Read list I also asked friends to nominate a book each that I should read and that was a great way to find new books and learn what my friends liked.  I’d encourage others to get outside their comfort zone occasionally and try something new, you never know where it might lead.

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I’ve read a number of books recently that I categorise as the literary equivalent of TV’s CSI or Numbers. These TV programmes are easy to watch, the characters are familiar and the good guys win. To sit and watch these programmes is pure escapism with a bit of morality, emotion, drama, tension and humour mixed in. So what are the books I’ve been reading that fit this category?

They are Vince Flynn’s Term Limits, Robert Crais’ The First Rule, Harlan Coben’s Promise Me, JD Robb’s Fantasy in Death, and James Patterson’s Worst Case.

I’ve enjoyed them all and as I’ve read most of the author’s previous work it was like visiting with old friends; comfortable and familiar.

But that’s not to say the books don’t have literary merit. Despite my familiarity with these characters I still want to be drawn in to the story and engage with the characters. Just as you can easily switch channels if you’re not enjoying a programme, you need a reason to stay with a book. What I love about this type of book however is that you kind of know what you’re getting. You don’t need entirely realistic characters; you can leave realism behind at the first page and just go along for the ride. You want the characters to be larger than life, able to withstand beatings or the derision of others, you also want them to have fantastic insight into the criminal mind and although they may tread a fine line in terms of the law, they’re still solidly in the good guy’s camp.

For example, I also recently read Lee Child’s 61 Hours. Brilliant! I’m a big fan of the Jack Reacher series and this was one of the best. Quite often, with a book based on a character you’re familiar with, you might be tempted to skim over some of the descriptive elements of the book or feel like you know what’s going to happen.  But Lee Child created a story that captivated me and kept me involved until the final pages.  And the best part, I didn’t expect the ending.  It was excellent, there were a few surprises which kept me on the edge of my seat and left me wanting more.

This is definitely a book I would recommend and I really can’t wait until September for the next instalment! I think I’m going to have to go back and re-read some of the early Jack Reacher books.

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In 2003 the BBC launched the Big Read, which aimed to discover the nation’s favourite books by getting members of the public to vote. You can see the list here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/bigread/top100.shtml

When the list was first released I’d read about 33 of the top 100, so I decided to read the rest. But I didn’t really put much effort into it, mainly cause there seemed to be a lot of books on the list that I ddn’t want to read! But last year I decided that I’d complete the list and by December 2009 I had read 99 of the books. I was well chuffed with myself. So I only had 1 to go – not a problem I figured. Except that the book I’d left till last was Ulysses by James Joyce.

I started it in December, I read a 100 pages or so and then I got distracted by other books. I put Ulysses down in mid-December and I didn’t pick it up again until March, when I read another 70 pages or so.  But I’ve decided it’s time to finally finish the list. So as much as I may not want to, I am going to finish this book!

I must say that whilst reading the list I came across a number of books I would never have picked up normally but that I really enjoyed. This includes the Terry Prachett Discworld series which I’ve loved. The humor, sarcasm and satire is brilliantly written. I also finally read Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. I tried reading this 2 or 3 times previously but I just couldn’t get into it, this time round – no problem at all. Maybe I’d forced myself to read such rubbish that I realised it really wasn’t that bad and actually quite enjoyed it.

Some of the books I struggled with included Love in a Time of Cholera, Crime and Punishment and Midnight’s Children. But I’ve now read them so I’m allowed to slate them as much as I like! Whereas previously when people asked why I’d never read these books I didn’t have a suitable answer, I’d just say they didn’t seem like my type of book and I was right!

But I can’t use that argument to not read a book again as I was often proved wrong. So if anyone is looking to expand their literary horizons, you could do worse than taking a book or two from the list.

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A reading meme

I first saw a reading meme on Bookish NYC’s blog and I thought it might be a good way to introduce myself.

Do you snack while you read?
Yes –I can almost guarantee I’ll eat something while I’m reading.  Plus I always read if I’m eating out by myself.  If so, what is your favorite reading snack?  Wee buns, more commonly known as cupcakes.
What is your favorite drink while reading?
Tea.
Do you tend to mark your books while you read, or does the idea of writing in books horrify you?
Never, it horrifies me!  I even hate it when someone gives me a book as a gift and they’ve written in the front of it.  Books should be read and thought about not written in.
How do you keep your place while reading a book? Bookmark? Dog-ears? Laying the book open flat?
I have lots of ‘proper’ bookmarks that I’ve bought at various museums and bookshops and I do use them but I also use tickets from the theatre, concerts, sporting events and museums.  In a pinch I’ll use anything as a bookmark, I would never bend a page to mark it.
Fiction, nonfiction, or both?
Both but I probably read much more fiction than non-fiction.  That’s probably because fiction tends to take less time.
Are you a person who tends to read to the end of a chapter, or can you stop anywhere?
I can stop anywhere when I have to, if I need to get off a bus for example but I much prefer to read to a natural break.
Are you the type of person to throw a book across the room or on the floor if the author irritates you?
I believe I may have thrown a book once, I think it was something I was forced to read in school.  Certainly it’s not a habit!
If you come across an unfamiliar word, do you stop and look it up right away?
No, I try to guess what it means but if it sticks in my head I’ll look it up later.
What are you currently reading?
Ulysses by James Joyce.  Though I’ve been reading it for approximately 6 months!
I’m also reading The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop by Lewis Buzbee and The Empress File by John Sandford.
What is the last book you bought?
I recently went a bit nuts in Waterstones and bought 10 books, including Wigs on the Green by Nancy Mitford, The Inimitable Jeeves by PG Wodehouse, The White Queen by Philippa Gregory, Operation Mincemeat by Ben MacIntyre,  La Dame aux Camelias by Alexandre Dumas and Lady Susan, The Watsons and Sanditon by Jane Austen.
Do you have a favorite time/place to read?
I love to curl up on a comfy chair with a cup of tea and read for hours, it doesn’t actually matter where that chair is!  I’ll happily read anywhere; tube, bus, pub, beach etc!
Do you prefer series books or stand-alones?
I don’t have a preference but once I find an author I like I’ll quite often go and find more books by that author, whether it’s a series or more stand-alones.
Is there a specific book or author you find yourself recommending over and over?
It depends who making the recommendation to and why.  If someone is looking to expand their reading habits I’ll try and recommend new genres.  For science fiction I’ll recommend Feist and Pratchett.  For classics I’ll recommend Austen, Dickens, Dumas and Collins.  For crime and thrillers I’ll recommend Lee Child, John Sandford, Agatha Christie, Linda Fairstein and Sara Paretsky.  And I’d recommend To Kill a Mockingbird to anyone.
How do you organize your books (by genre, title, author’s last name, etc.)?
They’re ordered by basic genre and author but I’ve not divided fiction into sub-genres.
Do you prefer to read with background noise or silence?
I really don’t mind too much.  If I’ve set up the perfect ambience with tea, cake and a comfy chair I’ll probably have some music on in the background, maybe some Frank Sinatra or Dean Martin.

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Hello world!

So this is the first posting of my new blog!  I’ve no illusions that this will be the most interesting post – things can only get better!  Firstly I must confess that I did steal and paraphrase a John Keats quote for the header of my blog, Keats actually said; 

“Give me books, fruit, French wine and fine weather and a little music out of doors, played by someone I do not know.” John Keats

I think that sums up my attitude to reading, it should be relaxed and enjoyable and preferably accompanied by cake!

I plan on using this blog to comment on the books I’ve been reading and plan to read but I doubt I’ll be sticking to just commenting on books.

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