Reading Is Bliss
First of all, my apologies for the extended leave of absence from blogging. Several things happened in my life, the most major of which was my car blowing up on the motorway (ok, a tad dramatic...the radiator and head gasket went), so I had to get a new car.
This was no easy feat because it involved paying for a rental car so I could continue going to work and not get fired - which was crucial because I needed a salary in order to afford my new car. Tis a vicious cycle that entraps all us wage slaves.
Anyway...back to all things literary. I will have to declare my self-interest in this issue, as I write on the side, but how do you find books nowadays? In today's world of self-publishing, will you as a reader take a punt on a self-published book (in the genre you're interested in, of course), or do you stick to the ones put out by one of the major traditional publishing houses (Hachette, Harpercollins, et al)?
Good writing is good writing, one can argue, but it still stands to reason that one must have a way of finding that good writing initially. So if you stumble upon a book by an unknown author on Amazon, will you buy it if you like the look of the cover and blurb? Would you buy it over a book that you like the look of equally well, but from a traditional "Big 5" publisher?
I am not a literary snob, in the sense that I read across all genres, and have previously bought self-published books before. I started reading Hugh Howey about three to four years ago, when no-one knew his name and you could pick up Kindle versions of his book for .99 cents.
I've been so busy lately that I'm finding it difficult to carve out time to read. I do want to, not because I feel like living up to some impossible label of "reader", but because I'm a better person, much more pleasant in general to be around, if I have had time to read. Just like some people hit the gym or basketball court, and others strum the guitar, and still others take long, soulful trips to foreign countries to re-energise - reading is my soul food
It is frustrating feeling like there are not enough hours in the day to achieve what I want to do, work so I can pay the bills, write creatively at night, and still leave time for that most pleasurable of activities...reading. So in order to motivate myself, I've decided to list all the books I have in my current "to read" pile. My goal is to have all of these done and dusted in the next couple of months, while still keeping up with life.
Dear Leader by Jang Jin-Sung
I've been really looking forward to this long-anticipated memoir by Kim Jong-Il's former poet laureate. Yes, you read it right, he was North Korea's State Poet Laureate. I can only imagine the kind of delicious insight he'll give into the inner workings of one of the world's most mysterious places. And why did Kim Jong-Il need a poet laureate? To write propaganda poems? To stir some emotion into his cold, dead heart? The mind boggles.
Sand by Hugh Howey
I was a big fan of the Wool trilogy, so I'm very much looking forward to reading this new series by Howey. It's another post-apocalyptic one (my favourite genre!), this time set in a time when the old world has been buried underneath a bunch of sand dunes, and people live on top of the forgotten cities. People salvage for goods by diving underneath the sand. It already raises a lot of questions in my mind, so I'll just have to read on to find out if they're answered.
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
Stephen King cites this as one of his writing influences, so I have to check out this classic horror for myself. I've been told to sleep with one eye open and keep all the lights on after reading this one. To give you a glimpse of how scary I'm anticipating it will be, the first line reads: "No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream." Hold me!
I can be a bit of a loner. So I was immediately drawn to this story on The Guardian about the top 10 loners in fiction. I only recognise a few of them, a constant reminder of how few books I've ever read in the greater scheme of literature - I'm resigned that I'll die with a huge unfinished backlist of books that I meant to get to someday.
So in that spirit, I've decided to make my own list of literary loners. The Guardian story says of loners that they can be "dangerous, caring, happy, desperate or none of these things", so in other words, they're human, which fits in with my criteria too!
But in all seriousness, I think literary loners are not always so by choice. Sometimes loneliness can be imposed upon them. At other times, it's part of their nature. It's interesting going to parties or being around large crowds in a room, because you can always pick out the loners. They're the ones with a drink, standing conspicuously in the corner, either unable to or unwilling to mingle.
Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Nick is the biggest literary loner I can think of, perhaps a subconscious reflection of Fitzgerald himself. He goes to all these parties, and speaks to all these people, and sort-of befriends Gatsby (a fellow loner, but I thought he was too obvious), yet he stands apart from them all. It's what actually makes him such a great narrator for the novel, because he's not in the belly of the beast, so to speak. It allows him to be flawed, yet sympathetic, and I'll always maintain that he was a little in love with Gatsby.
There's a social media campaign going on at the moment called #weneeddiversebooks - which is being run in protest at the lack of representation by when it comes to authors of colour and female writers at some of the biggest book conventions in America (you can google the hashtag and read more about the debate yourself).
While I agree whole-heartedly with the idea of diversity in literature, I also think we need to go even further. We need books by people of different ethnicities, books by LGBT authors, genre books, books about niche interests like raising bonsai kittens on farms, heck...the more diversity the better.
I realise this wasn't the original intention of the #weneeddiversebooks campaign, but literature needs a diversity of voices and backgrounds. People read to think, to learn and sometimes to escape. What better way to do this than through a character, setting or point of view radically different than your own?
It doesn't mean you have to agree with everything being said, but the best sort of books push the envelope and helps you form your own opinion about different topics.
I think there is a need to be cautious about pigeon-holing authors during this campaign too - for sure, I'd love to read writers of colour, but not all African-American authors, for example, should feel that they have to be the next Toni Morrison or Alice Walker. Not all Chinese-American authors should feel like they need to live up to Amy Tan or Lisa See.
My first real "book-fatuation" (I know it's not exactly a sexy made-up word, but bear with me here), was for that childhood gem, Charlotte's Web.
I had flirted with Roald Dahl and Enid Blyton before this. Had a passing affair with Anne of Green Gables. But Charlotte's Web was the first book to really crawl under my skin. I was sad, mad, shocked and then a quivering mess at the injustice of it all.
Fast forward a few years, and The Stand became my new favourite book, introducing me to what would become one of my most treasured genres: post-apocalyptic fiction.
Other books came and went. There were the Steinbeck years, when I became obsessed with first The Grapes of Wrath, then East of Eden, that remained for the longest time, my best-loved book.
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