Reading Is Bliss
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.
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.
I re-read Anne of Green Gables the other day. It was more a quick skim read than a leisurely thumbing of the pages, but it was enough to make me recall why I had loved the whole "Anne" series so much as a child
Nowadays, with the jaded eyes of an adult who has read it all (just kidding, no-one can read it all, but you get the idea), the book struck me as, well...immature. Was Anne always this preachy and annoying? Was Gilbert always this stultifyingly boring? As a kid, I had found Anne's quirks adorable, and imagined that we were "kindred spirits", especially as I too, was often admonished for talking rather than paying attention in class.
Gilbert, wonderful white knight Gilbert, whose love for the dreamy ginger girl proved that a woman's looks weren't everything - well, he did not stand up to the test of time. I found him sexist and quite frankly, a little too straitlaced and conservative for me.
I can be a fickle reader, and by that, I mean that I don't have a hell of a lot of patience for stories that don't grab my attention. I get that there are some books that are a slow burn, but if there isn't something that captures my interest in the first chapter or so - a character, an intriguing plot point, effervescent language...if it's missing that mystical, magical literary fairy dust - I'm gone, like a trophy wife the minute the divorce papers are signed.
That's why lately, I have thought that to save time and get through my goal of reading at least a book a week, I should perhaps read more than one book at a time. Now hear me out. I realise the idea is sacrilegious to many. For one, how do you keep the different stories straight in your head?
But I have a couple of reader friends who do it, and it doesn't seem to affect their enjoyment or understanding of a book. I will admit to being averse to the idea initially, in my younger and less ideologically flexible days. It was a bit too polygamous for my tastes - fine for others, but something I couldn't picture myself doing.
There are immediate advantages that I can see in being more free and easy with my reading favours. I'm no mathematician, but theoretically (at least in my own head), reading multiple storylines increases efficiency, so I can get reject more unsuitable books out of hand to get to the golden grail of the ones that I do want to read.
If I happen to come across two or more books that I love and want to keep on reading, then great! I can continue reading them, in tandem or individually, and have more to add to my growing to-read pile. Having a stockpile of books I know I want to read is the ultimate gift for a literary geek.
Out of all the literary confessions I've made on this blog, this one shames me the deepest: I sometimes skip to the back of the book and read the ending of a story before I've finished.
Argh! It's an awful thing for a reader to admit to. It feels a bit like cheating. I mean, one of the rewards of sticking with a book is being able to savour a rightfully-earned ending, right? And I would have never said anything, except that once, on a travel junket back when I was a real journalist, I saw someone else in the group do the same thing. I was completely amazed, to say the least - I had thought I was the only one, and would have to carry my dirty secret with me to the grave.
I skip to the end of books, not necessarily because I don't love the stories, but sometimes because I love the story so much that I can't wait to find out what happens next. After all, I can only read so fast, and I need to know NOW dammit. It's immediate gratification.
Other times, I might encounter something, usually a character or plot point that frustrates me so much I'm on the verge of giving up, and figure I might as well read the ending so the entire thing is not a wasted effort. As a positive, the ending might be so intriguing or mysterious that it prompts me to go back and pick up where I left off.
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