Reading Is Bliss

Karen Tay is a confirmed book junkie and armchair critic. She’ll read anything, from literary classics to popular fiction, short stories, poetry - even the safety instructions in the back pocket of aeroplane seats. She dreams of one day owning the world’s most amazing library.

Is skipping to the end of a book cheating?

11:21am 10 Oct 2014

Out of all the literary confessions I've made on this blog, this one shames me the deepest: I sometimes skip to the back of the book and read the ending of a story before I've finished.

Argh! It's an awful thing for a reader to admit to. It feels a bit like cheating. I mean, one of the rewards of sticking with a book is being able to savour a rightfully-earned ending, right? And I would have never said anything, except that once, on a travel junket back when I was a real journalist, I saw someone else in the group do the same thing. I was completely amazed, to say the least - I had thought I was the only one, and would have to carry my dirty secret with me to the grave. 

monster the end

I skip to the end of books, not necessarily because I don't love the stories, but sometimes because I love the story so much that I can't wait to find out what happens next. After all, I can only read so fast, and I need to know NOW dammit. It's immediate gratification.

Other times, I might encounter something, usually a character or plot point that frustrates me so much I'm on the verge of giving up, and figure I might as well read the ending so the entire thing is not a wasted effort. As a positive, the ending might be so intriguing or mysterious that it prompts me to go back and pick up where I left off.

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Would you date a non-reader?

05:00am 26 Sep 2014

My lovely reader friend Rohani, who keeps up an amazing amount of reading considering that she's busy running around after two little ones and freelances at the same time, wrote a post a couple of years ago about being married to a non-reader.

Now I'm not married, nor am I dating a non-reader, but I have been in a serious relationship with one in the past and thought that enough time has passed for us to revisit this fascinating topic. reading sexy

The non-reader in a relationship can, of course, be the wife or female partner - but as women tend to read for leisure more than men, and as I'm a heterosexual female, I can only speak from personal experience, though I'd dearly love to hear the opinions of others.

In my romantic relationships with non-readers, including the long term, serious, living-together, contemplating-marriage-and-babies one, I have noticed a general trend: the non-reader will start off all enthusiastic about wanting to read more, which as any serious reader knows, is the biggest aphrodisiac of all ("someone wants to hear me rant about books...ZOMG").

This will result in the non-reader being suddenly hit with giant flying lists of Every. Single. Book. In. The. World. The reader part of the couple being suddenly convinced that if they could just find that one perfect story, they can convert the non-reader and they will hold hands in bed while reading books/matching Kindles, gazing lovingly at each other every now and then across the pages. Real life, of course, is nothing like fiction (or Instagram).

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Books about the surveillance state

02:27pm 19 Sep 2014

Everywhere in New Zealand this week, talk has turned to the general election. All this palaver has given me the golden opportunity to talk about something related to both the current political climate and books - the surveillance state.

So in the spirit of the election tomorrow (don't forget to vote!), here are some insightful novels about surveillance/totalitarian regimes. Feel free to make your own recommendations below!

1984, George Orwell
Sales of this novel apparently skyrocketed in the wake of the NSA scandal - you know, when one Edward Snowden heroically gave up his freedom, probably for life, to expose mass surveillance and government deception. This is the grandfather of anti-surveillance books, the one that coined the term Big Brother and other fantastic, self-explanatory terms like: "thinkspeak", "newspeak" and "doublethink". It's a great book to read if you want to avoid being an "unperson". a scanner darkly

The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood

In some ways, the broader brushstrokes of Atwood's story is similar to 1984, if it only applied to women, which seems scarily like a very real prospect for certain parts of the US (or NZ if the Conservative Party has its way). The tale of Offred, "of Fred" - geddit? - is a warning that we cannot get too complacent. How the surveillance state gets you is to erode your freedoms chip by chip; starting with something small, like perhaps a law change, which enables them to one day take over your bank accounts, your job and eventually your entire way of life.

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Musings about the 2014 Booker shortlist

05:00am 12 Sep 2014

I really struggled with this year's Man Booker Prize shortlist. Both the authors whom I thought should have made the shortlist didn't. Siri Husveldt, whose new book The Blazing World I confess I haven't read yet, and David Mitchell, whose brilliant, brilliant new novel The Bone Clocks I have devoured - and plan to re-read as soon as possible.

I have always thought of the Booker as the literary world's equivalent of the Oscars. So taking that comparison into consideration, I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that neither of those authors made it. After all, they only got around to giving Margaret Atwood a Booker for The Blind Assassin after she was shortlisted for it twice beforehand.

The Blind Assassin was, in my humble opinion, probably the Atwood novel that deserved the Booker the least. It was almost as if they felt obligated to give it to her after she missed out on the prize for The Handmaid's Tale and Alias Grace. Still, even the least of Atwood's novels is still an Atwood novel, so...

If I had my way, this year's Booker prize would have gone straight to Mitchell. It is a serious contender to replace Cloud Atlas as my favourite Mitchell novel. Despite criticism from several well-respected reviewers that it's too ambitious, or messy, or overlong, or that the fantasy sequence made no sense - The Bone Clocks is one of those stories that stays with you. 

I stayed up burning the midnight (or rather, 3am) oil to finish it. The story left more unanswered questions than not, and all I felt at the end was a kind of sorrow and weariness for humanity but...bloody hell, it was a frickin' good read.

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Trafficking teeth and other cool things

10:42am 28 Aug 2014

One of the best parts of writing this blog is the opportunity to meet and "interview" some of my favourite authors. I use quotation marks because really, I'm very aware that I'm just a fan girl who lucked out.

I was lucky enough to meet an author who I've been loosely stalking on Twitter for the past year or so since I read her debut novel, Daughter of Smoke and Bone. Laini Taylor - she of the rock star pink hair, and much smaller than I imagined, mini but mighty if you will, is here in NZ for mere days. 


I managed to nab a quick chat with her. Before I get into that, let me talk about Laini's novel, because I LOVE Daughter of Smoke and Bone. I read it when it first came out, and could immediately imagine the story on a big Hollywood screen, which is exactly what will happen (fingers crossed).   

Daughter of Smoke and Bone is the perfect fantasy novel to be made into a movie. It has it all - beautiful, historic setting (the story opens in Prague), fantastical beasts, and a feisty female lead. Oh, and there's also a very weirdly cool backstory about harvesting teeth, I'm a sucker for strange elements in stories.

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