Reading Is Bliss
I really struggled with this year's Man Booker Prize shortlist. Both the authors whom I thought should have made the shortlist didn't. Siri Husveldt, whose new book The Blazing World I confess I haven't read yet, and David Mitchell, whose brilliant, brilliant new novel The Bone Clocks I have devoured - and plan to re-read as soon as possible.
I have always thought of the Booker as the literary world's equivalent of the Oscars. So taking that comparison into consideration, I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that neither of those authors made it. After all, they only got around to giving Margaret Atwood a Booker for The Blind Assassin after she was shortlisted for it twice beforehand.
The Blind Assassin was, in my humble opinion, probably the Atwood novel that deserved the Booker the least. It was almost as if they felt obligated to give it to her after she missed out on the prize for The Handmaid's Tale and Alias Grace. Still, even the least of Atwood's novels is still an Atwood novel, so...
If I had my way, this year's Booker prize would have gone straight to Mitchell. It is a serious contender to replace Cloud Atlas as my favourite Mitchell novel. Despite criticism from several well-respected reviewers that it's too ambitious, or messy, or overlong, or that the fantasy sequence made no sense - The Bone Clocks is one of those stories that stays with you.
I stayed up burning the midnight (or rather, 3am) oil to finish it. The story left more unanswered questions than not, and all I felt at the end was a kind of sorrow and weariness for humanity but...bloody hell, it was a frickin' good read.
One of the best parts of writing this blog is the opportunity to meet and "interview" some of my favourite authors. I use quotation marks because really, I'm very aware that I'm just a fan girl who lucked out.
I was lucky enough to meet an author who I've been loosely stalking on Twitter for the past year or so since I read her debut novel, Daughter of Smoke and Bone. Laini Taylor - she of the rock star pink hair, and much smaller than I imagined, mini but mighty if you will, is here in NZ for mere days.
I managed to nab a quick chat with her. Before I get into that, let me talk about Laini's novel, because I LOVE Daughter of Smoke and Bone. I read it when it first came out, and could immediately imagine the story on a big Hollywood screen, which is exactly what will happen (fingers crossed).
Daughter of Smoke and Bone is the perfect fantasy novel to be made into a movie. It has it all - beautiful, historic setting (the story opens in Prague), fantastical beasts, and a feisty female lead. Oh, and there's also a very weirdly cool backstory about harvesting teeth, I'm a sucker for strange elements in stories.
I am writing this blog post while in the middle of whirlwind last-minute packing for a trip. That's right, folks, I'm off on holiday for three weeks - to exotic, hopefully book-filled shores. I've packed my Kindle, my precious preview copy of David Mitchell's The Bone Clocks (out September, but already long-listed for this year's Man Booker Prize), and a nose for hunting out good bookshops.
So today, with my trip foremost in mind, I thought I'd talk about holiday reading.
Holidays are to readers what catnip are to cats. Most avid readers are inveterately curious, which is why they often escape into the adventures of others through the pages of books. Travel also fits this category.
Getting away from it all also means that we're often left with a long stretch of time not filled by work and if we're lucky, family and other obligations. It's a golden opportunity to catch up on some much-needed reading, recharge and emerge feeling refreshed and ready to face the world again.
I don't know about you, but I tend to get restless and irritable if I don't get much reading done. It's probably the same sensation that runners get when they haven't been for their morning run in a couple of weeks. I feel as if my imagination hasn't been stretched, and my world becomes that tiny bit narrower and less colourful.
Readers are, scientifically speaking, apparently the best people to fall in love with. At least according to this article:
"...those who read fiction are capable of the most empathy and "theory of mind", which is the ability to hold opinions, beliefs and interests apart from their own."
Now I realise that not everyone reads. Nor am I making any judgments about people who don't. But keeping in mind that this is a reading blog, I do, of course, wholeheartedly embrace this idea of readers making the best romantic partners.
Admittedly the article gets a little starry-eyed about the joys of dating readers. I've met plenty of annoying, know-it-all twats with groaning bookshelves, and some very lovely people who have read maybe five books since high school.
But if we take this theory seriously for a minute, and use it to make some generalisations (for the heck of it, humour me) - the best conversations I've had have been with readers.
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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