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.

Why we must keep literary fiction alive

02:02am 11 Jul 2014

I can't hide it any longer. I read literary novels. Not only that, I love many literary novels. It's taken me a couple of years to get round to this confession, mainly because I'm also a fan of genre fiction (the two are not unrelated, more on this later).

That's because it seems to me that in the age of fast churn fiction, when all the publishers are baying for the blood of YA authors...any YA writer, like vampires spying a tasty human from twenty paces, and you read stories about a young YA author from Wattpad who got offered a "mid six-figure" publishing contract - with the press release confessing that they'll need to "edit it down to get to the core of the story" (translation: we'll hire a ghost writer)...well, us literary readers need to make a stand. We need to start coming out of the woodwork.

We need to start defending our right to enjoy writing that is challenging, that makes us think, that toys with convention, that takes glee from playing around with novel structure, that have plots that ramble and frustrate, that needs a second or even third reading, that don't have neat endings tied up with a bow.

Why, you ask? Because that is how fiction grows. That's how we originally got writers like Kurt Vonnegut, Margaret Atwood, Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou (R.I.P), Salman Rushdie, Douglas Adams, David Mitchell.

These are the authors who looked at literature and the way stories have "always" been told, with a beginning, middle and end and a Mr Darcy and an Elizabeth Bennet, and decided to light a fuse and blow it all up. And that's why I consider them literary. You may have a different interpretation of the term, and that's ok too.

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What I haven't learned from reading

11:00am 04 Jul 2014


During the Great Car Debacle of a few weeks ago, I got to talking to a friend on Facebook. To be totally clear, I know nothing at all about cars. Zero. I've always relied on the kindness of petrol station attendants to help me pump the tyres, and AA mechanics to change my oil and do whatever else that keeps the car going on the road.

My friend also knows next to nothing about cars, and she's an avid reader. Coincidence? Actually, probably, but let's take these two stories and call them anecdotal evidence. Woman fixing car

Because I've spent a great deal of my life immersed in books, to the point where I can be quite antisocial if I have a novel I'm really dying to get back into waiting at home, there are a lot of other skills that I have sacrificed at the altar of literature.

It's not just cars I don't have a clue about. I am also quite useless at the traditional womanly arts like knitting, sewing and oh...I don't know, flower arranging. I can cook quite well, but I would have no idea how to hang stuff on the wall, paint a room, repair a broken kettle or change a tyre.

I have wondered of late if all the time I've spent reading has been perhaps a little mis-spent? Have I let life pass me by because of books? Am I a reader-holic?

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A big question for all readers

02:46pm 20 Jun 2014

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)? lots of books

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.

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What's on my to-read list

12:09pm 23 May 2014

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

reading listIt 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!

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The lone wolves of fiction

10:49am 16 May 2014

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! lone wolf

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.

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