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.

Guest post: Do bookworms beget little bookworms?

11:54am 19 Feb 2014


My Mum made me satay for my birthday.  While this is, a) of no interest to you, and b) nothing to do with the Bliss of Reading, I am coming to a point.  Mum's satay is special.  She hardly ever makes it.  It's time consuming, full of love and made from scratch, with all the extras.  I have never learned how to make it.  Why should I? I'll never make it as well as Mum does.

My best friend reads to her children (three, five and seven) and has done so devotedly since the day her first was born.  They love it.  All kinds of books.  Old favourites, chapter books, classics, the works.  But the oldest in particular, hates reading.  Like, really hates reading.  My friend, an insatiable reader, is beside herself at the prospect of her kids not sharing a love of reading.  She's frantically fighting a battle between trying to change this before it's too late, and giving it up and getting to grips with the awful notion that Bookworms Do Not Necessarily Beget Bookworms.  It got me thinking after we had a discussion about it recently. kids reading

Yeah, if you read to your kids, a love of reading is apparently meant to take root and flourish.  But what if you do it so well they've no motivation to learn to do it themselves?  Like Mum's satay?  (There it is.)  Is there a wibbly, indistinct, moveable line between establishing a love of books and inadvertently creating a storytelling comfort zone with your voice? 

It seems here is yet another example of best laid parenting plans turning around to bite you in the butt and provide another bottomless wellspring of child-rearing guilt.  Damned if you do, damned if you don't, and all that. 

I don't know what my friend's own personal apocalypse looks like to her if it turns out none of her kids take joy from the written word.  But I sure know what mine looks like.  It's a hideous vision in which my children merely dispose of my books upon my death.  Just, (gasp) give them away.  To strangers.  Or worse, chuck them in the skip along with the other outdated relics of my life.  Including the recipe for Mum's satay.

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Should YA fiction be written by actual adults?

09:01pm 12 Feb 2014

"I have been thinking about YA fiction lately, which seems apt considering that I've just finished John Green's millennial cult classic, The Fault In Our Stars.

NY Times Magazine recently published an excellent article about YA fiction called Our Young Adult Dystopia. In it, the writer refers to Veronica Roth's Divergent series as "hastily assembled" and "cynically marketed". She compares the series to J.K Rowlings' Harry Potter and Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games, and finds it seriously lacking - calling it "the kind of flat that made me angry as I read it". young adult

A few days after reading the above piece, I came across an interview with John Green from last year, where he said what he valued about writing YA fiction was that the "business" side of it was not as cut-throat as adult fiction. He speaks against what he calls "the emphasis on blockbusters; the refusal to allow a writer's career to develop over many books", which doesn't happen as often in the YA world.

It would appear from the NY Times article that this may no longer be the case. Publishing houses now seek young authors, the younger the better, so they can aggressively market their youth. As the writer of the article says "Roth was 21 when she sold the book...I could not help noticing how Roth's case echoed in another over the summer: Samantha Shannon's. She was a 21-year-old Oxford student when her first novel, The Bone Season, was declared The Next Big Thing last August".

The point she was trying to get to, is that though the genre is YA, publishers and marketing departments seem to be blurring the line between fiction written for young adults, with the actual age of the authors.

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What are you reading right now?

12:36pm 05 Feb 2014

Back in the day, when there used to be more decent bookshops around to browse through (R.I.P Borders), I managed to read more diversely - gleaning gems from the staff picks, discreetly stalking other readers to see what captured their interest on the shelves, sipping a hot chocolate while I read the first chapter before deciding whether to buy the book...

Nowadays, you could say that my reading has become far more selective. In fact, I have come to the uncomfortable realisation that it's perhaps now way too selective. I get a lot of new "must-reads" from publishers, which is cool, and also from blogs and other book reviews. And while I've read a lot of interesting, emotional, occasionally fiercely intelligent fiction this way, something is missing.

That spark, the frisson that you get when you pick up a little-known book or author, go home, read it, and it changes your life. Most of the books I read now are by well-known or "hyped" writers. In other words, the 1 per cent that gets through the publishing bottleneck and are lucky enough to get their works reviewed and pushed out to the reading masses. the fault in our stars

While these are all worthy books too, I want to recapture the magic of falling in love with something fresh and new that comes to me through sheer word-of-mouth. 

I want all the crazy, mad, bad, good, gory, whatever-else stories that rock your world. I am currently reading three books: The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks (the story is rather genius, but not one for the weak of stomach...or fanatical dog lovers), The Fault In Our Stars (of which more later) and The Gospel of Loki (Joanne Harris' first adult fantasy novel, out this month).

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Re-gifting books: yes or no?

09:20pm 29 Jan 2014

Today's topic could potentially open up a can of worms. A can of literary worms, but still...wriggly worms.

How do you feel about "re-gifting" books? Despite having previously waxed lyrical about how giving people books as gifts can be a bad idea, unless you know the person well, I have been guilty of gifting books in the past. What can I say? I'm a hypocrite. A hypocrite, I tell you! 

I have also committed perhaps what is the cardinal sin for readers, that of re-gifting previously read books. Now, I am actually a very tidy reader. I don't dog-ear pages, I don't use books as impromptu drink coasters, I flick the pages carefully rather than blitz through like a reading tornado, and I lovingly dust the covers and edges when I remember to.

The result is that most of my books are in mint condition. They almost always look the same as the day I got them, apart from a few shameful little incidents. I'm looking at you, orange juice of doom.

So in the interest of a full confession, which I have been slowly waddling towards, I have to admit this: I have re-gifted books before. Feel free to come at me with your anvils of judgment!

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Internet killed the book star

09:53am 21 Jan 2014

I stumbled upon this piece about whether the internet has "killed books". It has made me reflect upon my own relationship to reading, and whether my attachment to books as a form is a force of habit.

I suspect it is. Us readers can be a grinchy lot. We hold our belief systems and favourite reading objects near and dear to our hearts. I am a diehard, incurable book girl. Put another way, they'll have to pry my books out of my cold, dead fingers with a crowbar.

I have reluctantly embraced the Kindle and tablet apps for reading. While I find them wonderful inventions in some ways, nothing excites me more than delicately fanning open the covers of a new paper book. People like me are probably the reason why the Amazon rainforest will become extinct soon (I kid, but...) reading tablets

But the ending of this article both moved and provoked me, if only because I simultaneously agreed and disagreed with it.

"Screen culture isn't replacing book culture, what we're experiencing now is simply a multiplying of the ways we organise information. On an object level, books are becoming more beautiful and experimental. On a subject level, writers as well - never before have we heard from so many different kinds of voices."

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