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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.

What books should make it to my 2015 list?

05:00am 23 Jan 2015

The New Year has rolled round a lot faster than I anticipated. My short break consisted of less reading than I would have liked, interspersed with many periods of sinful sloth, cat bonding, wine drinking, and watching a copious amount of Very Bad TV (Exhibit A: Marco Polo - it's so memorable that I had to go back and check the name). new years

Due to this, I have decided that my New Year's resolution should be to tackle my growing "to-read" pile. I have set myself the goal of reading two books a week. I knew it was going to be time-consuming, but I didn't realise how tough it could get until last week, when I realised I had spent almost every single night at home since I began the challenge.

I have however, managed to get through a few tomes that's been on my reading list for the past decade: Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five, Maxine Hong Kingston's sequel to The Woman Warrior, China Men and Khaled Hosseini's And The Mountains Echoed, among others. I am currently slicing my way through Germaine Greer's The Female Eunuch, and a collection of short stories called Wasteland: Stories of the Apocalypse, both of which I have to finish by the end of the long weekend.

It's been a fun challenge, and I guess I began it because life is short, and there are way too many books...but also, I feel better about the world and life in general when I'm reading. There is something about feeling like part of the human condition, a sort of togetherness with humanity that only reading can offer.

I'd like to add new books to my New Year's challenge list too, so it would be great to hear what you think I should be reading.

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What I'm grateful for as a reader

05:00am 23 Dec 2014

This is it, folks...'tis the season, the countdown is nearly at zero and Christmas (plus 2015), is just around the corner. I'm not usually a fan of gratitude lists. They feel too contrived, as if life is only worth living due to its sometimes rare moments of joy. But hey, 'tis the season.

So I thought I would do a repeat of last year, and give you my top 5 reading gratitudes of 2014.

1.     The ability to read armchair reading
Occasionally I have to kick my own butt when I'm grumbling about some book-related woe or other. There are shelves groaning with Danielle Steeles I'll never read, Booker Prize nominees (and winners) I'll never agree with, and stream-of-consciousness YA novels written by 16-year-olds "discovered" on Wattpad and poorly ghost-written. When I'm feeling like the Grinch that Ate Bookmas, I have to pause and remind myself how lucky I am to be literate, when 775 million in the world are not. Next time someone tells you they don't like reading, remind them of this fact. 

2.      Owning books/being able to amass a personal library
I'm lucky enough to have the disposable income to spend on books, when there are far too many places in the world where this would be considered a frivolity beyond words. I'm lucky to live in a society and culture where indulging in book buying is seen as a harmless past-time, where I won't get sent to prison for owning or reading the wrong type of books, and where my gender doesn't dictate the sort of literature I'm allowed to consume.

3.     Writers
This might even possibly deserve a blog post all of its own, but I'm thankful for writers. I am so grateful for the artists who have, often, sacrificed things that I myself have not in order to write that story. I'm grateful for the impoverished authors in garrets of days past, and the Hugh Howeys of today who did odd menial jobs so they could save the best of their minds and imaginations for writing the stories I love. Many of the writers I have met are some of the world's most inspiring, intelligent and fascinating people. Long may they prosper.

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Best book-to-film adaptations for 2015

06:52pm 15 Dec 2014

If I hear one more Christmas carol, I think I'll scream. Or cry. Or start bulk munching candy canes. I actually enjoy the festive season. I know it's cheesy as hell and over-commercialised, but the five-year-old in me delights at the thought of midnight mall openings, Christmas lights and plastic reindeer outside houses, tinsel, fir trees and presents. Carols are another thing though. Christmas carols should be banned until Christmas Eve, but that's just age speaking.

Reflecting back on my reading year, I haven't read anywhere near as many books as I would have liked. It's not time for New Year resolutions yet, but I can see that my top reading resolution will be to carve out more time to read.

As a treat, I thought I would check out some of the books that are being turned into movies for 2015. There are some interesting titles out there - many that I haven't heard of, others that I have heard of but haven't read, and so on. None of these titles have come out as yet as of publication.

The Martian, Andy Weir Fifty Shades
This originally self-published novel came out in 2012 and was pretty much an instant hit. It hasn't garnered quite the same level of popularity as Hugh Howey's Wool, but it HAS been snapped up and turned into a film starring...dum da dum...Matt Damon! Who doesn't like Matt Damon? It's also being directed by Ridley Scott. I am excited about this one, and will make it a priority to read this book over the Christmas break. Apparent Weir, the author, has a background in computer science and is the son of a particle physicist, so I'm looking forward to some stimulating science fiction here.

The Price of Salt, Patricia Highsmith
I enjoyed The Talented Mr Ripley immensely when it first came out, though perhaps still being in high school had something to do with it. Poor Mr Ripley, he just wanted to be loved? By the same author comes this novel, which was apparently the inspiration for Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita. Err.  The book was originally written under a pseudonym, and classified as romance. I think largely because it was first published in 1952 and had lesbian content. It's moments like these that makes me glad I live in the era that we now do, because many things could be so much worse. Anyway, the story is about the affair between a younger and older woman. I won't reveal more.

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Christmas books for readers 2014

11:35am 05 Dec 2014

There was a bit of an uproar last year when I suggested that people shouldn't give specific books to readers as gifts, unless they know beforehand that it's a title they want. This year, I'm exercising my human prerogative to change my mind and revising my opinion a little.

If you happen to know the genre, favourite author or have similar tastes to the reader you are buying for - then by all means, feel free to give them a book! Book vouchers can feel impersonal, especially if it's a close friend or family member, so give away.

I'm even making up a list of suggested titles you can buy for the different people in your life, just for some fun. Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments.

For lovers of anything Murakami/Japanese

I regret not keeping up with my high school Japanese for one simple reason - and that's Haruki Murakami. I haven't read all his books, but have hugely enjoyed most of the ones I have. Murakami books are actually perfect gifts because the covers are so beautifully designed.book gift

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The ingredients to a great novel

09:10am 28 Nov 2014

I have been struggling to find good books to read this year. My total reading for the year sits at perhaps around a dozen (such a failure) - and out of that, I've had one mind-blowing read, one great read and the rest ranged from "ok" to "dear god" abysmal failures. It's to my sorrow that I haven't found a fantastic new author to obsess over, though realistically, that hasn't happened for a number of years, not since I discovered David Mitchell.

So as I was pondering over what to write...and my apologies for the silent last few weeks, a lot has happened in my life, but things are taking a breather now...the perfect topic struck me in the face like a wet fish. That's a saying, right?

How do you determine what is a good story? More specifically, what has made you want to keep reading a book?

The ingredients that go into a great novel can seem almost magical. It's a pinch of this, a dusting of that, a sprinkling of the other. It's almost impossible to classify what makes an un-put-downable read, apart from ascribing it to some kind of innate talent or gift. But of course, it's never as simple as this.

Dig into the lives of the greats, the ones whom most readers will generally agree are born storytellers, and you'll often find the same base ingredients. The somewhat lonely childhood spent surrounded by more books than kindred spirits, a slight nerdishness that largely results in bullying, and parents or caregivers who either valued education and reading, or was emotionally absent.

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