Reading Is Bliss
I read book reviews on a regular basis, and I mostly read reviews by authors. Ursula Le Guin over at The Guardian is a particular favourite of mine. In a review of Embassytown by China Mieville, she writes: "only the trash forms of science fiction are undemanding and predictable; the good stuff, like all good fiction, is not for lazy minds".
In the March 2003 edition of Believer magazine, book reviewer Heidi Julavits laments that the way we use book reviews has changed as "the book's cultural status has diminished".
People read reviews for numerous reasons, not least of all because books are a rather expensive past-time. Even using deep discount book websites like Fishpond and Book Depository, the cost of the average book still hovers around the $20 mark, and the average avid reader will look at shelling out at least a few hundred dollars a year just on purchasing books.
So readers, therefore, are more likely to buy books that come with a good endorsement from a trusted reviewer. Julavits in her article recounts a PR person telling her that "glossies don't sell books - dailies do".
She talks this up as a positive point, taking it as an indication that, because newspapers have more column inches to spare (this article was written in 2003, at the golden era of the newspaper, before ads started eating into editorial in alarming swathes), that it means there's a certain type of reader who are eager to use reviews as a way to engage books on a critical level.That's not to mention all the usual accoutrements that accompany reading, like attending writers festivals or free reading events at the library, which still has the hidden cost of petrol and commuting time.
There are books that you can read at any age from 18 to 80, and sigh at how beguiling and beautiful and true the stories still are. Then there are other books. Those that you loved at age 20, but will seem shallow and trite by the time you turn 35 and are saddled with two young children, a spouse just as overworked and overtired as you, and burgeoning debt.
I'm not usually in the business of "should", but I am rather a fan of lists, especially ones that are quirky and interesting. So I thought over the next few weeks, I'd compile a list of recommended reading for different ages...starting with, of course, the 20s - a decade all of us are only way too familiar with - after all, everyone passes by it on the way to increasing decrepitude.
Here is a list of books you should try to read in your 20s. Feel free to post your own suggestions below.
Cat's Eye, Margaret Atwood
The 20s is an odd period of your life, and what better way to reflect on the recent past than with a novel that's about transitions? This tale of childhood bullying will give particular insight into the group dynamics among girls - how they interact, and the sly methods they use to keep each other in place. Its wisdom is chilling and frighteningly accurate.
Abigail Tarttelin is one of those fierce young up-and-coming authors who make anyone *coughcough* who has ever aspired to make a living as a writer of fiction fall into a pit of despondency so deep and so dark that not even Dr Seuss can pull you out. British-born Tarttelin is only 25, and is already being hailed for her writing, especially with her latest novel, Golden Boy.
While I won't give too much away, suffice it to say that Golden Boy is about the keeping of secrets, and that her prose is mature, her writing style nuanced and her characters like layers of an onion - as befits a book that turns gender itself into a question mark. She kindly answered a few questions about the book and writing in general.
I did make the comparison between Golden Boy, which has an intersex character, and Jeffrey Euginides' brilliant book, Middlesex, and she replied in a way which suggests a seasoned and humble interviewee.
Are you a fan of Jeffrey Euginides' Middlesex? If so, how much do you think this has influenced and/or informed your writing of the character of Max in Golden Boy?
I absolutely adored Middlesex. I think it's a beautifully written book and such an intriguing story. I did, however, read it a year after I started Golden Boy, and shortly after the final big edit of the manuscript with my editors Arzu Tahsin and Sarah Branham. This was intentional, so that the reading did not inform the writing of Golden Boy, but I do think the books are different and the stories complement each other. Middlesex is an almost myth-like story about the many strange coincidences and accidents that lead to the creation of an extraordinary outsider; Golden Boy is perhaps a quieter story, set in an "average" community, where a seemingly ordinary high school student must hide a secret to remain an insider in their quaint little town.
Probably the most obvious question of all - but what inspired you to write about an intersex person?
I was thinking more than ever about how living as one gender or another defines us, and I began to believe that the differences between us are less biological and more to do with how we are treated by each other, and what treatment we accept. Having seen XXY in 2009, an Argentinian film featuring an intersex protagonist, I began to wonder how someone who was brought up as a male might feel to suddenly find their body insisting on its womanhood, and if approaching questions about gender from this perspective could indeed highlight the realisation many women have upon reaching adolescence - that their gender does make a huge difference in how they live, particularly in terms of their physical vulnerability.
Are there such things as "guy books" and "girl books"?
My oldest sister has two kids - a boy and a girl, the perfect pigeon pair, and being the nosy bookworm auntie that I am, I regularly browse through their bookshelves to supervise their reading material.
I find it disheartening because, inevitably, I'll get kinda pissed off that my niece reads pink fairy books full of fluffy tales about girls who are helpful and sweet and kind-hearted, whereas my nephew gets to read about dinosaurs and dragons and brave boys who slay them.
What's more, this sort of pink-and-blue divide when it comes to reading doesn't stop when we leave the land of recess and school uniforms. No, it carries over into adulthood, like some kind of neverending hangover.
Young-adult author Maureen Johnson, writing for The Huffington Post, rants in her column about how "female fiction" is perceived 95 per cent of the time as being "trashy", labelled with pejorative terms like "light", "fluffy", "breezy" and "beach read". She goes on to say that she spent most of her college career taking entire papers that revolved around male writers, and makes the strong case that "for much of history, women read the works of men".
GUEST BLOG BY ROHANI ALEXANDER
Guest blog: It's everywhere. The advice. The pressure. "What do you mean your three-year-old can't read yet?" As a parent, I have several major fears - choking, drowning, driveways, poisoning and anti-reading. Not just my offspring being unable to read - but not enjoying reading. As much as you try not to, and you know it's terrible, sometimes you just can't help mental comparisons.
We have a nephew, three months younger than his boisterous cousin. While she's happy to recite her favourite books as we turn the pages, he is able to sit alone with any book and read each letter aloud. He can identify, read and sign the alphabet. Comparison alert! His parents are of the flash card type - although not too intensely - but they sort of have to be. They're deaf, and the boys are hearing, so written language acquisition is crucial.
I spend a small but tragic amount of time calculating my kids' genetic chances of loving books. Mummy was reading at four, demanding "chapter books" at five and can't even eat breakfast without something to read. Daddy is a competent reader but would probably rather have a dental procedure than retire with the written word. In his defence, I think he would prefer his girls to be more like Mummy in the reading department, which surely stacks the odds a little more in favour of bookwormery.
Celebrated Australian children's author Mem Fox says in her book Reading Magic to just read three stories aloud for 10 minutes a day to your child from infancy. Even if it's the same books every day, she says they'll learn to read before school. I like this approach. Minimum angst, zero phonics, promised results.
Our daily reading routine is thus - after bath, before bed, our two-year-old chooses two books from her collection. Daddy (yay Daddy!) reads them with her, then she takes them to "read" on her own, before putting them away and heading to bed. I realised recently the baby, already eight months old and so far without regular book time of her own, is missing out on this and I felt awash with fear and guilt. Madness.
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