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.

Will you read more books in 2016?

08:00am 15 Jan 2016

I make the same resolution every new year - "I must read more books". Like most resolutions, this of course, never happens. Instead, it seems that every year, I read fewer and fewer books.

This could be because I'm not very good with resolutions. I always resolve to do more writing as well, but I have barely updated this blog for the past two months.

In an article in the BBC, it says that Agatha Christie read 200 books a year. Mark Zuckerberg reads one every fortnight. Harriet Klausner, a school librarian and speed reader, read up to six books a day. The article also had tips on how you can carve out chunks of time in your day for reading, or improve your reading speed so you can get through books.

But all that does for me is take all the fun out of reading. When reading starts becoming too much like work, then it gets relegated to the chores list as just another task to tick off. boy ocean of books

I remember my childhood as a long stretch of glorious, rose-tinted, golden days spent with my nose buried in a good book. Sure, that was a time before the Kindle (yes, I am that old), dial-up internet was just around the corner, and mobile phones were only for rich kids. If I wanted to make a date with a friend to meet at the library, I'd have to ring them on the cordless phone and inevitably go through one of their parents and be forced to make polite small talk. 

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Colour me surprised

09:00am 02 Nov 2015

If you haven't heard of the trend for adult colouring-in, then you've either been living under a very large rock or deliberately kept away from the news and well...society. So colouring-in, no longer just the domain of kids and frustrated parents helping to finish little Sally or Harry's homework.

I am of two minds about this trend. I was never very good with finger painting, doodling, sketching, drawing or anything to do with the visual arts in school. Stick figures were my specialty, and being an impatient child who would rather lose herself in the wonderful imaginary universes of The Magic Faraway Tree and Goosebumps books, I never did have much patience for the act of colouring in.

It all seemed so pointless to me, and a little deceitful. If you coloured in something extremely well, were your parents supposed to pin it up and claim that you were supremely "artistic" and the next Picasso? After all, someone else did the hard job of drawing it up just so you could keep within the lines. colouring pencils

But in the past few months, I've been slowly changing my mind. I like to think of my friends and acquaintances as an eclectic bunch. Most of them are liberal, at least a little cynical and actually on the whole pretty well-grounded. Yet surprisingly, the most unlikely candidates have stepped forward and admitted to having a copy of Johanna Basford's Secret Garden at home.

They say this slightly bashfully, sometimes in hurried whispers. The most daring among them will declare it in a tone that suggests death to any dissenters.  I have not yet found a man who will confess to colouring in, though I'm sure they are around. I was at a library that holds group colouring-in sessions not too long ago, and apparently the people who attend include a few hardy males

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Say #no to banning books

05:00am 11 Sep 2015

Censorship is a hot button issue. Everyone has an opinion about it. As far as societal problems go, censorship is polarising. Broadly speaking, there are two schools of thought about it. One believes that there are segments of society, such as children, who should be shielded from the dark side of humanity. The other believes that exposure is not necessarily a bad thing - and that freedom of choice is the highest of human liberties.

I fall in the latter camp. As a reader, and someone who has worked as a journalist, and a person who loves words...I don't believe that any books should be censored. I have made the point before that children are self-censoring. By virtue of their age and intellect, they will generally choose reading material that is within their comprehension. censored

All the children I know would plain refuse to read anything that made them uncomfortable. It is not within the nature of kids to continue doing something they don't like. Almost every avid reader in NZ will know why the issue of book banning and censorship is in the news this week, of course. I won't add to the debate, as it's already a well-trodden path, except to say that I am in the Ted Dawe camp.

But I think the great thing about this debate is that it shows many, many people are opposed to book censorship, and it can only be a good thing. Banning books is about censoring ideas. As a fan of the dystopian, societies that ban ideas are not just unprogressive, but downright dangerous.

In honour of #notbanningbooks, here is a list of controversial books that I have enjoyed, and why I think they should continue to be available to all.

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The link between dating and dystopias

05:00am 24 Aug 2015

I have been reading a lot of stroppy feminist writing lately, which I am rather enjoying. The latest is Rebecca Solnit's Men Explain Things to Me - the title is self-explanatory. I guess this roughly segues into today's blog topic...how dating is like dystopian fiction. 

I have not grown up* in a dating culture. Kiwis in general never used to "date". There's a simple reason for this: dating requires the skill of being able to make interesting small talk. Readers are especially bad at making small talk. We're an awkward bunch, often intensely focused on a handful of topics that involve fictional characters or obscure, unproven theories. 

online dating

Ahh dating, the tale of real-life dystopia. I ventured into the deep, dark, previously unexplored territory of online dating as a complete novice a few months ago. There was method behind my madness.

I figured that I could sit at home, surrounded by my books, cat and shoes, hoping that a younger, single version of my hero David Mitchell would fall into my lap...or I could put myself out there and be open to meeting new people. And online was where I thought other readers would be most likely to hang out.

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Books that should have won the Booker

05:00am 03 Aug 2015

So the Man Booker Prize longlist was announced just last week, and unless you've been living under a rock - you will know that Anna Smaill, none other than the NZ author of my favourite book of the year (totally true, cause The Bone Clocks was published last year), is on it!

I often get extremely frustrated when the list comes out. Mainly because I have made so many predictions about what will go on there, and am disappointed every time. In fact, I'm quietly steeling myself for IF The Chimes doesn't make it to the shortlist. I have a good feeling that it will, but one can never be too sure. anna smaill

To commemorate The Chimes (please make it to the Booker shortlist), I've decided to list all the books I thought should have been listed or won, but didn't. This is not a reflection on The Chimes at all. I don't have a crystal ball, nor am I a fly on the wall of the Booker judges' room, if there is such a thing. Good luck, Anna!

In random order, here is my list.

Oryx and Crake, Margaret Atwood
This was shortlisted for the Booker, but did not win. A little savvy googling led to the knowledge that a book called Vernon God Little - described as "a novel of postmodern gamesmanship". While I admit it sounds interesting, Oryx and Crake was brilliant! I am of the sincere belief that anything written by Atwood turns to gold. If I had the power, I would award a Booker to every single book she's written. Even her early works.

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