Reading Is Bliss
GUEST BLOG BY ROHANI ALEXANDER
I know I talked about my birthday last time. But as birthdays go, it was an unusually good one, because my Beloved Non-Reader got me a Kindle. As I confided to Facebook, he doesn't always do presents, but when he does, they're freaking good ones.
I've ummed and aahed for a couple of years about whether I actually wanted an e-reader. I didn't (and still don't) know much about them. I'm one of those people who like to own and hold a real thing. I still use CDs, DVDs and of course, books. But over Christmas, when the BN-R and I got a rare chance to go shopping together, I ended up hefting a couple in my hands and discussing their possible merits with him.
It was still a shock to open one up on my birthday morning. It's not the latest bells and whistles, touch screen, backlit, it's really a tablet, Kindle Fire job. It's pretty basic. But I love it. I think about it all day. A whole new world has opened up.
I actually agonised over what to get first. Something I wouldn't normally prioritise, but should read. Something I wouldn't go to the trouble of getting from the library, borrowing from a friend or buying a hard copy of. Of course, something I don't already own. I ended up getting Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything. I read the first paragraph to see if the screen annoyed me. It didn't.
As a little girl, I was often the funny kid in the corner who nearly grew cross-eyed from reading too much.
I was never a cool teenager. That is, I didn't experiment with cigarettes, wag school (much, only on one occasion and I got caught...of course) or even drink alcohol. Even at uni, my worst sins were missing lectures, drinking too much cheap beer, and spending my pitiful part-time wages on things like awful clothes and occasionally, when I was feeling rebellious, pretty tame recreational drugs.
All the above is a roundabout way of saying that I'm an introvert. Sure, I can be chatty and outgoing when need be. I work in a field that requires me to speak to other people and be personable. But my dream is to hide behind the anonymity of the computer screen.
I sneak away from social and after-work gatherings at grandma hours, enjoy nothing better than an early night in with a good book, and my favourite activity during weekends is to laze in bed surrounded by a pile of books and maybe some snacks and wine. From anecdotal experience, many dedicated readers feel the same way I do.
Which begs the question: is there something about reading that encourages people to be introverts?
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.
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.
"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".
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.
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.
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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