15 March 2016

The ingredients of books


I listened to a book review recently, the title and the author were mentioned at the beginning it was one I was sure I had read, but as I listened I became less and less sure it didn't sound like the same book at all.  It was the same with an adaptation, also on the radio, of a book I read in the 80s so my memory is faded and I was a very different person then.  I now want to reread both these books to see how I view them now.

I studied English at A Level* the class sizes were very small (around ten pupils) there was no where to hide and I dreaded being asked any questions.  I just didn't get the analysis that was going on around me.  I couldn't tell you then or now why I favour one book over another any more than I can with music.  I have often pondered this, I read books to enjoy them not to tear them apart and look for meaning.  But listening to that recent review has bought home to me something that I have often thought, that when we read we do so through ourselves, through our personal experiences.  So how we are and how we think has a bearing on what we make of a book and its narrative.

I am not usually one for choosing a book by its cover.  When I was a teenager I tried reading many books by a publisher who were redefining publishing at the time, and still do to this day.  A series of books with distinctive covers.  I can't remember why I decided to read any of them, but I suspect it had something to do with them being 'a book to be seen reading', even if, as it was in my case, you don't understand a word of them.   I am sure like everyone I am guilty of choosing books by the covers, sometimes they are good.  I recently pulled a book off the library shelves simply because it stood out.  It was a good find.  A remarkable book.  The character descriptions were wonderful, the descriptions of place were so detailed, I was drawn in to the story and felt as if I was a watching the narrative going on me.  A book I did not want to end.  I am so glad that the publisher has reissued other books by this author, I am going to seek them out.  A lucky find in this case.

I read chapter books to my children.  I choose carefully.  I have a big age gap and I want it to appeal to them both.  Cameron is more than capable of reading each of them to himself, but having a book read to you is different.  Knowing how difficult it can be to find a book you want to read I never know how my choices with be received.  I found a secondhand copy of book by an author I have read as an adult, I had no idea that he had written for children too.   I have read two, by this author, to them now, both of them thought provoking to adults and children alike.  I love how when you read and discuss a book with children they raise issues that you have never considered, these books raised more discussions than most we have read and enjoyed together.

I go through phases of struggling to find books I really want to read.  I am a mono reader, if that is such a word, I need to focus on one book at a time.  When I am dipping in an out of several different books at once, I know I am in a struggling phase.  I am doing that at the moment.  A story that I am enjoying but am not drawn into, I am an observer and not wanting to engage.  Perhaps that engagement is what makes a book a good one for me.  The writing however is sharp and descriptive, but the books I mentioned at the beginning are tempting me, given how precious my reading time is I may not make it to the end.

So what make a good book for you, do you know?

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*A Levels are exams that are taken in England and Wales at the end of your school career, usually around the age of eighteen having studied for them for the previous two years.  It is usual to study three, sometimes four subjects.

Thank you to all of you who commented on my last post, it was wonderful to read what inspires each of you to blog.  A huge variety of reasons, which is what makes blogging such a great platform for sharing.

30 comments:

  1. The books I read now are very gentle on the soul, normally village scenes if you like based in the fifties. No shocks just a calmness to help me relax at the end of the day. I remember my A'level English class having several more attendees than yours. My sons however was seriously over subscribed at the start they were three-four to a desk. Gosh I haven't read a serious book for years xx

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    1. I agree about the calmness, I need that in a book too.

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  2. that's why I despise those articles that proclaim "100" books you MUST read before you die " and it's all obscure ,life affirming, droning on and on without you having a clue what the author is on about.
    I adore books, i am a self confessed book worm, my book of the moment goes with me wherever I am , I don't have a specific genre that I like more than others, I read very much for pleasure, I don't want to read a book just because the "holier -than -thou's " think it's a literary great. I've never read war and peace, I've never read Jane Austen, or the Bronte sisters ( but I think I would like to at some point, just to see what the fuss is about) I also like a book that I can learn from, little snippets of knowledge you never knew that may come in handy in a quiz lol I also love reading about history and myths and legends
    my favorite authors are: Andy McDermott, Matthew Reilly, Lesley Pearse, Trisha Ashley, Katie Fforde, Carole Matthews and Michael Connelly (but only the Harry Bosch series)
    sorry for the long rant but it's one my favourite things to do,chattering about books haha :)

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    1. Those lists drive me mad too, in fact they positively put me off reading anything on them! I love that you take you books everywhere with you, I do that with knitting ;)

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  3. It's only the last few years that I've really got back in to reading, I think my O level English Lit class put me off, I can totally understand what you mean when you say you read books to enjoy them, not to tear them apart and find meaning. I usually read in bed before I go to sleep so I choose books which are very easy going. I'm so pleased that I got back in to reading as it's such a great way to relax.

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    1. It does put you off doesn't it, like anything that doesn't give you any pleasure.

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  4. these days I often read to escape into another world, I struggle with anything too heavy and frequently give up on books, but am left dissatisfied by bland stories... one day I will find a new author I like and read everything they've ever written x

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    1. It's a fine balance. I hear you on the bland I have found so many of those and been totally disappointed by a book that had such potential from the end pages. Perhaps they talk them up so much just to get you to buy the book, they are not seriously expecting anyone to read them!

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  5. I must say I am drawn to the cover art, or the flap overview of a new-to-me book. Once I am seriously considering it, I look up the overall rating on Goodreads and over 3.5 is a definite read for me!

    I love stories with lots of characters and dialogue and of course family drama.

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    1. I am definitely drawn to the cover art, it is what makes me pick a book up in the first place. But then I have to keep it in my hands and want to read it so it has to pull me in too.

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  6. During my university years I was reading tons and tons of books for my classes. Never ending to-read lists! I enjoyed it a lot, but there were so many of them that I didn't really have time to slow down and enjoy them. Right now I don't have that much time for reading, when I do I love reading non-fiction literature or some very good novel. What makes it good for me? I can't really explain... I get this feeling when I know the book is "mine" and I want to keep reading it.

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    1. It is difficult to explain isn't it but there is that feeling.........

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  7. I read Because of the Lockwoods last year and really enjoyed it. I find myself being very picky about what I read these days. If it doesn't hold my interest by the first 20 or so pages, I move on to something else.

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    1. It is a wonderful book isn't it, have you read any other books by her? We have so much choice that I think we can afford to be picky.

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  8. I have always been an avid reader - when I was little having read my way through the children's library, I used to borrow my Mum's library tickets to use the "grownup's" library!! I read a broad range of books, mostly these days on my Kindle, but I still go back and re-read my old favourites.

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    1. I have never been much of a re-reader but now I am finding myself drawn to many of the books on my shelves that have been read.

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  9. Oh interesting post. I miss reading. Its on my to do list of things I want to squeeze back into my life. I love reading. I always had a book on the go until I had Eli and have since really struggled to for reading into my life. So much to do and so little time. :(

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    1. I didn't read for many years whilst my children were little, I was just getting to the stage where I might have been able to fit it in but then my daughter came along! I think it was eight years of not reading for me! It is just something that has to be paused when your children are small ;)

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  10. I did A Level English too. Our teachers and class were amazing, so I have very happy memories. It really made me love books even more. I agree with you saying that you bring your own experiences to a book. I re-read one of my set books from that time and the story has new depth each time, as I move through life and take on new roles. I first read it as a daughter and sister. Now I read it as those roles, plus mother, wife and aunt. Hope you enjoy your re-read.

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    1. I am glad you enjoyed your A level english, it is wonderful when you have good inspiring teachers. I was talking about one to an old school friend not so long ago, our experiences of the same teacher were so different she couldn't and didn't seem to want to believe what I was saying about her.

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  11. Oh I do miss reading to my girls - such cosy times. We used to call our English Lit classes 'kill a book' sessions as all that in depth analysis completely took the joy out of it. xx

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    1. Kill a book, yes they are rather aren' they. I know my reading days to my children will not last for ever so I do enjoy them so much whilst they last.

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  12. "If it sounds good, it is good." (Duke Ellington). That's why I never took any English Lit. in college...I hated analyzing books to death in high school; even if you enjoyed the book in the beginning, you hated it by the time you'd addressed all of the characters' and authors' Freudian syndromes. I'm currently in a "don't feel like reading anything I have and can't find anything I want to read" phase as well...maybe it's the season, the weather. Ready for flowers to start blooming and get outside.

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    1. I go through periods of not being inspired by any books I pick up to read. They are usually just a phase and I am happy when they are passed.

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  13. I remember my 6th form with more joy, 'the colour purple' which was big at the time and other thought provoking books and a good teacher.
    When the kids were little i was down to reading 1 book a year, which was desperate, but now i read every night before bed, a real range of things but mostly non fiction. I esp love an autobiography, but it can be hard to find just the right person to read about. Many of my recent reads have come from recommendations on blogs, because the blogs are about stuff i'm into i've had some good finds.

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    1. A good teacher is so important, I agree. I don't think any of mine were on my wavelength. I read before bed too, although when it is a really good book the nights get late.......

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  14. I used to read a lot but it's been harder to find time for it since I've had my kids and I've rediscovered my love for crafting. If I'm reading a book nowadays it has to captivate and engage me from the start otherwise I'm most likely to lose patience and just and not finish it. I'm currently trying to work my way through William Boyd' s 'The Blue Afternoon'. It started well but I'm starting to get annoyed with one of the main characters. It's looking less and less likely that this one will be finished.

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    1. Small children do take your time don't they, but that time does pass. I have enjoyed some of William Boyd's books and have not been able to read others. I have not heard of the Blue Afternoon, but it doesn't sound like it would be one of his I would enjoy! Characters are so important in a good story aren't they, I don't usually enjoy books with characters I don't like.

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  15. Good question... I like meaningful to me books, meaning that a good to me book either expresses in words views/ feelings I have, or it makes me wonder on other ways to see/feel things. I find that for me it's much about the author's writing than about the story itself, but it's definitely not about striping the meaning out of the book, either it "speaks" to me or either it doesn't. So although I understand and agree with your point of view, I must confess that the "classic" books or authors tend to do it for me. I had one of those dreaded lists when I was a teenager (I think it was 100 books you should read or something) and I am really glad I got to read most of them, and I am rereading some of them with great pleasure, finding that their meaning evolves as I do.

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  16. Good post. Thank you for asking the question. I've been sitting here actually trying to figure it out for myself. I think first of all, I do not have a specific type of book, but I do love things that seem new and "never-been-done-before-ish". My big thing is I'm a very gray person when I read. I do not like the absolute good and evil, the hero and the vilain. I like books that call upon me to look deeper into the characters themselves and find both qualities and faults.

    I recently found out that ne of my favorite authors has written a myriad of childrens' books and have enjoyed rediscovering him that way. I still find his sense of wit and strange imagination in there. It's been wonderful to read his books with my kids.

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