Wednesday, 13 May 2015

BEDM Day 13 - Top Tips

Well this one is a tricky one and no mistake!

I sat and thought about anything that I had any sort of expertise in and drew a big fat blank. I have no special skills or talents that I could share; I'm a not a success at anything so I have no insider knowledge I can pass on; I don't have any insights on how to get on as a blogger, shopper or writer. So what's left?

In a previous incarnation I was a Teacher of English so I guess I have some knowledge of English Language and Literature. I always have at least one book on the go and love nothing more than the chance to chat to someone about what I'm reading. I don't belong to a book club at the moment - all the local ones are full at the moment - but it is an obvious thing for me to do in the future. So I thought I'd share a few things about reading and books. Hope you enjoy and maybe learn something useful.

I have an ever changing list of favourite authors. Among the ones that I can return to again and again are Thomas Hardy, Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, Jo Nesbo, Arnaldur Indridason. The reasons I enjoy their books is because they are full of compelling characters and interesting plots. For example, my favourite Hardy novel is Tess of the D'Urbervilles. I first read it when I was a teenager and had a serious crush on Angel Clare. When I read it again several years later I thought Angel was a real wimp and Tess could do so much better. Now when I read it I see that Tess had an idealised view of Angel as her saviour and that's why she was drawn to him. The book still makes me cry for the tragedy that is Tess's life. She makes some  poor decisions and some things happen that are out of her control yet shape her destiny; she truly is a tragic heroine.  For me a book needs to have strong characters. If I can't imagine them as real people then I very quickly lose interest in what happens to them. I don't have to like them but it is essential that I believe in them.

Some characters from literature feel like real people to me and I have them living in my head long after I've finished reading about them. That's not meant to sound creepy - I'm not talking hearing voices! - but I think about them after the story has ended, wondering what happens to them next. Some characters live for much longer than others and some have become life companions. I have soft spots for Scout from To Kill A Mockingbird, Winston Smith from 1984, Pip from Great Expectations, Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights. They are characters whose existence in reality I can totally believe in, they live beyond the pages of the books they inhabit.

I have often wondered what would be my Desert Island book. I usually say Wuthering Heights as its the book I've read and re-read most. It's a giving book - the tale bears retelling and the characters are endlessly fascinating; I cannot foresee the day when I start to read it and put it aside unfinished. This is the mark of a great novel, in my opinion. I also find myself considering other books to take on a desert island - lots of Hardy and Dickens, Scandi murder mysteries ( a guilty pleasure!), The Miniaturist (a recent read which is demanding a re-read soon) and The Night Circus which I adored and am planning to read again some time. But I find myself returning to Heathcliff and Cathy's tragic love story. It's so important to me that I've constantly refused to watch a film or TV adaptation in case they get the characters wrong.      

I'm really bad at reading non fiction. I like to escape into another world when I'm reading so non fiction doesn't really tick the right boxes for me. However I've been trying to read a bit now and again and am currently reading a biography of Jonathan Swift that is enjoyable. I think that I'm enjoying it because it's far away in time from me that it feels like a different world and I can immerse myself in something 'alien'. I'm sure that's why I've struggled with the celebrity autobiographies that so many people enjoy - the world is too close to my own, without the money, fame etc of course!

I'm also a fan of poetry. I don't read as much as I should but do enjoy dipping in every now and then. Poets whose work I admire include Yeats, Keats, Shelley, TS Eliot, Wendy Cope, John Cooper Clark, Dr Seuss, Edward Lear, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Wilfred Owen - I could go on and on...I know many people find poetry difficult and have been put off by all the study they did at school (hope I didn't out anyone off when I was teaching!) but I think if you find a poet who is a good communicator and has a real talent with words then any poetry is accessible. Reading it out loud helps, as does forgetting about the line breaks and using the punctuation to create the natural pauses in the poem. Don't forget that song lyrics are poetry set to music so there's bound to be something out there to love. 

Finally, life is too short to struggle on with a book which isn't doing it for you. I hate giving up on a book but sometimes it's the only thing to do. I abandoned Captain Corelli's Mandolin after reading about a quarter - I hated the characters and didn't care at all about them, the plot didn't interest me and I wasn't drawn into the story. So I dumped it. And I don't regret doing that, even when other people rave about it. I recently dumped Dusty Answer as it was a real slog - again I couldn't get the characters to live, in fact I kept getting their names muddled up as they were so paper thin I couldn't see them as real people. It doesn't matter that it's supposed to be a forgotten classic, as far as I'm concerned it can stay forgotten!

So there you go, a few thoughts about books and reading. Hope you enjoyed it and I hope it has encouraged you to pick up a book and lose yourself for a while.

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