Several years ago I attended the wedding of a friend. At the table I was chatting to one of the guests and the topic of reading came up. I was flabbergasted when she asked ‘why would you read a book?’ She simply did not see the point. For someone for whom books have been central for most of my life it was like being transported to a foreign planet where I had to try to understand the aliens. Bookshelves, libraries, the comfort of being tucked up with a book, the feeling of never wanting a book to end, stories, lives, places, all these feelings a book engenders. At the time I stumbled over an answer to the woman’s question, I was so taken aback. So I want to ask you. What would YOU answer this woman? To make it interesting I will offer a signed copy of Housewife with a Half-Life and a Ten pound Amazon gift voucher to a winner I choose. Entries in by July 19th. Just add your thoughts to the comments.
Also interesting is this article on how reading helps with anxiety. I certainly find reading great for gathering together my overactive thoughts and it gives me a feeling of relaxation and comfort.
Update: Dear Readers Heather Walker has won the Amazon voucher (more reading!) and complimentary copy of the alternate worlds comedy Housewife with a Half-Life. Thanks for all your comments and congratulations to Heather!
Are you looking for something in our Fiction store? the email asks. Actually I’m doing everything I can to stop looking in your fiction store because there are so many books I want to read that I’ll soon own enough books to build a house of books and the walls will hold me up and sustain me for many lives to come.
I want to read everything my favorite authors ever wrote and then, accidentally I hear about another author who sounds just my thing and then I’m standing in the bookshop and there the book is right in front of me on a special table and even though I spent far too much on books last week I can’t help picking it up. And if you want to know why I’m in the bookshop at all then it’s because I’m helping out with my daughter’s class while they’re attending a reading from a ‘real author’.
And the feeling I get when I pick up a book is all ‘ooh’ and ‘what is it going to be like’ and ‘this could be amazing’ and ‘I think this just might tally with how I see the world’ and then I’m going to have to read all this guy’s books too and ‘look, oh no, there’s another one he’s written that looks brilliant and the cover is lovely’,
In the postbox, packages from a literary journal I’ve re-subscribed to and another book I ordered from the online fiction store, Beside my bed the two books I had to buy from the real bookshop when I brought my 5 year old to use his voucher for which he paid for a book from one of his favourite author/illustrator team who brought him the Gruffalo and now he wants to read everything they’ve done.
On the way home from the book shop my daughter’s friend said ‘and they didn’t know you were a real author too’ (I gave a talk in her class) and my own book was in the bookshop from which I can’t help picking up books and either buying them or putting them down again and feeling like I’ve abandoned something very important and precious, left a piece of myself behind.
Beside my bed is one of the books I couldn’t help picking up and it IS amazing and it DOES speak in a way that makes sense to me, reflects how I see the world not just on the surface but underneath in a very heartfelt almost ‘in love’ way. And I’m only a little way through and I’ll be sad when this brand new experience, this new lovely connection with the first reading of this book ends.
‘Oh I never knew you felt this way too’.
‘Why would someone read a book?’ I was once asked at a wedding years ago. The seismic shock of this question on my psyche is still reverberating today…
Possible answers: Entertainment, Fun, To pass the time.
Other possible answers: There are other worlds in there, weird, lovely and true.
YES! The answer is YES! It’s the same reason that I must now dash off and write. I want to live in many possible worlds, to be moved, entertained, to love (and wring my hands at) the world and the way people are in it.
YES! I am ALWAYS looking for something in your fiction store!
Laughter is in. There is laughter yoga,and laughter therapy there is the plain old fashioned laughing and banter with friends. It makes us feel better, it makes us breath more, promotes endorphins, those happy hormones, it can surprise us out of our lethargy.
Psychologists have had difficultly in pinning down humour and what makes a joke work but the consensus is that a joke results from the juxtaposition of two incongruous thoughts which causes a new connection to be made, resuliting in laughter. This new connection that allies things that should not go together is the joke trigger. A joke is usually quick fire, requiring us to make an instant assimilation of the material. In that way it fits very well with the creative mindset of these posts.
For some reason (boredom perhaps!) when I was a teenager my sister and I memorized the definition of To laugh from the dictionary. It went thus “The facial distortion, shaking of the sides etcetera which form an instinctive expression of mirth, amusement, sense of the ludicrous, scorn etc.
Reciting that was enough to make us laugh. (We had very sheltered lives!)
Comedy in itself is creative art, seeing things in new ways, often requiring the stand up comedian to get into free flow and sometimes requiring improvisation.
Since it’s the weekend I’m not going to get any more academic about it. I am just going to invite you to share your favourite comedy moments, shows and in particular books (since there is a serious dearth of fun books about.
I love watching 8 out of ten cats, Have I got news for you and Mock the Week – where the panelists have to come up with witty commentary on the news items of the day. I also love Big Bang Theory, The IT Crowd and Father Ted and really enjoyed Mark Haddon’s ‘A spot of bother‘ among others. While a lot of what I write is serious, it meant a lot to me at the time I wrote Housewife with a Half-Life (some difficult family events had just occurred) to fill it with humour and lightness. I love Zoolander and The Life of Brian among many others.
Let me know your book, TV and film recommendations as well as your favourite comedians and what you do to chill and have a laugh.
2012 was the year that I took the plunge and self-published by own debut novel Housewife with a Half-Life as A.B. Wells as well as some small short collections as Alison Wells. I’m looking forward to submitting my literary books as Alison Wells to agents in 2013.
But as well as writing I’ve enjoyed making more time to read this year. I’m in a book club and I’ve followed up many recommendations from others on the books they have enjoyed throughout the year including great finds from lesser known authors too.
Among my very favourite books this year have been:
the fabulous City of Bohane by Kevin Barry. Amazing language, every line a joy.
the China Factory – a short story collection by Mary Costello. Mary writes like the greats like William Trevor and John Banville, small touches of cleverness, instinct and sharp observation.
Middlesex by Jeffrey Euginedes (a recommendation I’m happy to have followed up. This was a big, accomplished, endlessly interesting and well written novel.
The Cowards Tale by Vanessa Gebbie. I loved this beautifully written book that was part fascinating vignettes on the story of individual townspeople affected by an old tragedy but also gave a broad sweep over the whole town and the power of storytelling and the storyteller.
In non-fiction I’m reading the excellent The Story of Modern Art by Norbert Lynton.
I’ve also really enjoyed The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell, Hawthorn and Child by Keith Ridgway, Painting by Numbers by Tom Gillespie and Red Ribbons by Louise Phillips.
I’ve just started The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey, it’s poetic and enchanting and I’m already in love with it.
I’m really excited in particular about the prospect of reading these books currently tottering on my bedside locker
Bloodmining by Laura Wilkinson
I capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
The Whirlpool by Jane Urquart (one of my absolutely favourite authors)
The Ilustrated Man by Ray Bradbury (another of my absolutely favourite authors)
The Big Music by Kirsty Gunn (an intriguing novel of music, something like we’ve never read before. (I saw an interview about this on the Culture Show).
Others still on the way due to a book voucher or on Kindle are Marc Nash’s Time after Time, Tania Hershman’s My Mother was an Upright Piano (flash fiction), Carys Bray’s Sweet Home (short stories), The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce (heard so many recommendations about this!), From this moment on by Colette Caddle, Florence and Giles by John Harding (a girl speaks in her own made up language).
What are the books that have moved and thrilled you this year? What can you recommend, what did not live up to expectations? Have you discovered someone from below the hype radar whose books changed your life or fascinated you for several well spent hours?
I’ve just been having an interesting conversation on Twitter about books we’ve thrown at the end of the bed either during or at the end of the reading process. Of course there are many reasons why we might be frustrated with a book. Much of the time it just didn’t live up to the expectation we had of it or was simply substandard in some way in our estimation. But there are other potential reasons. Perhaps the material was too close to the bone. Perhaps it was very similar to the amazing novel we wrote five years ago and never had the courage to send out.
So which novels spring to mind? I’ve had some interesting answers so far: Lessing’s Good Terrorist, Miller’s “Demo”, Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code and The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters. Perhaps the individuals who gave me those answers might visit and tell us why in the comments. My own examples are ‘One Day’ by David Nichols, The ‘Terrorist’ by John Updike and ‘The Unconsoled’ by Kasuo Ishiguro. My husband also threw the much lauded The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen at the end of the bed. It was ‘too much’ for him.
With ‘One Day’ ( A book I’m almost afraid to criticise because of the hype and exaltation around it) I was not moved in the way I expected to be, I didn’t warm to the characters over time, I felt it all quite superficial and the ending (which I won’t reveal) was just a bit let down. Particularly with film, I try particularly hard not to hear too much before I see a film because I don’t want to know what it’s about or how amazing it’s meant to be. I think I suffered with One Day with expecting something extraordinary due to the hype surrounding the book. The premise was great enough for me to buy it but ultimately I didn’t enjoy it.
With The Terrorist I was put off again by the superficiality of character and lack of real insight into the character’s motivations but also by the unnecessary misogyny evidenced more by the writer himself than the main character.
With the Unconsoled it was a far more complex reaction. The reaction was visceral, physiological. The book engages from the off but then continues it’s narration over the long book in the manner of our dreams, endlessly truncated journeys and quests, a push towards a climax that ultimately dissolves. Sometimes I physically could not stand reading the book. I threw it to the end of the bed but retrieved it just to find out what happened. One of the quotes on the jacket says that it it ‘probably a masterpiece’. An apt description. Despite my difficulties reading the book, it has never left me. It’s dreamlike qualities have infiltrated my brain as if he spoke the very language of consciousness. And perhaps we, the readers are the ultimately ‘Unconsoled.’
So tell me, which books have you thrown at the end of the bed, and why?
Books I always thought I would read before I died: War and Peace, Rembrance of things Past, Ulysses.
Then they told me I was going to die.
How long does it take to read a book? I wondered.
I tried to read Ulysses once but I found I couldn’t. There had been too much hype and I couldn’t see through it. I wish I had found it years ago when my brain was elastic and plastic. I wish I had found it before I knew, on some train station bench, dog eared and lovingly thumbed. I would have put it in my bag and gone home and laid down on my stomach on my single bed and forgotton to eat. Ate of lexicon’s bread. But as a young man it might have been beyond me, now it’s far behind.
It’s in middle age that death catches up with you, taps you on the shoulder. It’s not that you ignore it before, it just doesn’t occur to you in your twenties, in your thirties you catch it in the periphery but there’s plenty else to distract you, the trajetory of your career, of your clothes in a black bag after the affair has been found out and in your forties it is at your side, after that it stares you in the face from behind the mirror.
Forget Ulysses, life itself is a stream of consciousness if you ever have time to get out of the stream and take a look at it. And there’s nothing that gets you out of the stream like a short sharp shock. They gave me six months, then they said it could be any day from now. There’s nothing like a death sentence to make you want to be a character out of a Marquez novel. Like that dubious protagonist out of Memories of my Melancholy Whores, he wants to ravish a sixteen year old girl and then cannot out of tenderness. Sexual congress with youth as an elixir is a cliche as old as they make them and I cannot sign up to lazy living.
Sitting is as good as doing as long as the sun is out. Watching footsteps of light tap forward and back on the living room floor, watching plant’s chlorophyllic heaving, listening to the wash of traffic on the nearby arterial, turning the pages of a novel that took three years to write and a day, like this, to read, all that time crammed in. So in the sweet acrid pages is the smell of optimism, rage and decline, the hush of crushed leaves, the spill of endeavour. And the man found the spiritual in Steinbeck’s ‘To a God Unknown’ in the cathedral vaults of that ancient, ubiquitous forest, light in beams like a UFO enthusiasts dream. Steinbeck and Spielburg juxtaposed in the elevations of the soul. Or if I could go like Howard’s elderly folk in the movie ‘Cocoon’ to the alien world of the neverending. Or if I could sit by the rockpools of my youth and search for anenomes, prise limpets and cockles off the black rocks, trail seaweed along the long strand, leap along the cliff edges. If I could stay out between breakfast and supper and fold time into those little ridges that you see at the shore where the sand is wet before my mother called me in for tea. If I could shake her out of the blanket she used to tuck me in with, she never seems gone far. If my life was still unknowable like a great ocean like it is when you look forward from the start. If I could set out on Lewis’ Dawn Treader to the world’s end and come to something. I make a quiet ending. I could bungee jump into oblivion. I could visit the remaining wonders of the world before they fade. I could gaze upon Machu Picchu or the Old Mountain and I could gasp, as I will gasp my last. I could shout out loud.
But instead I will make a honeycomb of my humanity. Everything inside, in my head, time, love, memory interlocking. I will not do, I will read. I will read until my eyes fade and through resonance will recollect everything I loved about being alive. I am deciduous. I will tear out the lines that speak to me, sing and scatter them about my failing feet and fade into the whispers of books.
I will never be a literary critic. I say Wow. I say Yes. I feel a resonance inside, a plucked guitar string, light shifting, I find myself holding my breath. I feel a flicker of an idea, consciousness swirling, a pulse of feeling, a glimpse of memory that sets me ready to try to say…..something, something that might in turn touch and inspire others or provide them with a reflection of their emotions, or show them a new way of looking at the world.
Who are the writer’s that refill the well for you?
The last decade for me has been a decade of what I call ‘mud’. Not in a negative sense but in a hands-on, practical, prosaic, down in the thick of things kind of way. I have given birth to and raised four children with all the nappies and puree and wiping down and tidying up and cajoling and physical helping and emotional steering that that entailed. Something has to give, sometimes its ‘air’, what’s up there, the things that take us out of ourselves, music, words, exercise, theatre, new places, silence. The children are older now, the tiny baby stage has passed. I am about to start a new decade in age too. I want to begin to refuel in all the other things that I haven’t been able to get to. I still have the physical, the hugs, the squeaky noses, the lifting, the holding, the toddler insisting he can only be happy lying cheek to cheek with me but I want the breath as well, a little bit more than before.
This means catching up on old music videos I have never seen, bands that I hear fleetingly in the car between pickups but never hear the name of. It means, perhaps DVD box sets or catching re-runs of shows I missed like Madmen, The Mighty Boosh, The West Wing. It means getting to more music shows, more theatre, more galleries. (Even if its only 1 more!). And it means books and authors.
These are the books currently on my bedside table or in a tall pile beside it.
They are by writers who were recommended to me by others or are people that I have enjoyed in the past and want to continue to become more familiar with their work. In particular since I have begun to write so many short stories I have also become a voracious reader of short story collections.
Hanif Kureshami: The Body (Already in awe!)
J.G. Ballard: Kingdom Come
A.S Byatt: Possession
Gabriel Garcia Marquez: Memories of My Melancholy Whores
Nabokov: Collected stories (His work is a wonderful revelation!)
Jeannette Winterson: The Stone Gods
Annie Proulx: Brokeback Mountain and Other Stories
Adam Foulds The Quickening Maze
Virginia Woolf: The Waves, To the Lighthouse
John Steinbeck: The Pearl, Sweet Thursday, The Wayward Bus
Ivy Bannister: The Magician (short stories)
Paul Durkan: Life is a Dream: 40 years reading poetry – 1967-2007
Sylvia Plath’s: Collected Poems
These are books I have enjoyed most in the past few years and highly recommend.
What was Lost: Catherine O’ Flynn
The Accidental and Hotel World: Ali Smith
One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera: Gabriel Garcia Marquez
To a God Unknown, Grapes of Wrath: John Steinbeck
The Gathering: Anne Enright
Postcards, The Shipping News: Annie Proulx
Map of Glass: Jane Urquart
The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet by Reif Larsen (An event of a book, great illustrations, notes in the margins. Beautiful to hold.)
How to Breathe Underwater: Julie Orringer
Constitutional: Helen Simpson
Lorrie Moore: The Collected Stories
A.S. Byatt: Little Black Book of Stories
I also hope to become acquainted with the stories of Raymond Carver and to read the first two available stories from The Chaos Walking Trilogy (teen fiction) by Patrick Ness The Knife of Never Letting Go and The Ask and the Answer.
Help me with my re-education, my filling up of the soul and the well of inspiration.
Who are your favourite authors? What are your favourite books? Do you have any recommendations for us of authors we should become acquainted with? Are you an author we should become acquainted with? Let me know in the comments. Add in your favourite band and TV show too if you feel it deserves attention. Hopefully we can share some gems.