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Books, crime, Journalism, Media, Writing

There's a serious lack of fiction in my diet

My bookshelf

My bookshelf fiction... or at least some of it

Over the past couple of years I’ve worked quite hard to expand my taste when it comes to reading. No longer reaching for the blood, gore and investigative mystery most crime fiction offers, I now touch on the literary, the romantic, the fairytale, the adventure and, most importantly of all, the recommended. I’ve now started to trust the recommendations of friends.

It’s not only expanded my reading list, but also my ability to talk about books, genres, styles of writing and ideas. Good writers have to be good readers too.

But with that said, for the last month I have ditched novels altogether. The start of my Masters signalled the end of my fiction feast, at least for now. I am reading more often that I ever have, at least more regularly – not only because I have to but because I’m enjoying the reading list so far. But I’m reading a different sort of book now: non fiction, educational, informative, historic, technological, eye-opening.

My favourite so far has been What Would Google Do by Jeff Jarvis, which I quote on a semi-regular basis, and I feel like my current read – Journalism Next by Mark Briggs – should be a permanent fixture in my handbag, a mini guide to my career.

But I am starting to miss fiction, immersing myself into other characters’ lives, problems and stories and taking myself off, completely, to another place; an armchair traveller. And I’m not sure when there’ll be time for fiction because I struggle to read more than one book at a time, like it’s a kind of infidelity to start one before finishing with the other. And it’s such a pleasure to get lost in another world for a few chapters and put the stresses of the day behind me.

The reading for the MA is a permanent reminder of the work I do (good and bad) and sparks a trail of ideas which pour from my brain to my hand to my notebook to my computer, an endless stream of things I want to do, follow up or achieve. And it’s a tad exhausting, an educational reading journey rather than a relaxing escapism.

But I’m not surprised, it’s what I expected really. So, when the Christmas break comes around I’m going to treat myself to a fiction novel and revel in it. Merry Christmas to me!

Anyone got any recommendations?

Books, crime, Just stuff, reviews, what I think, Writing

On expanding my literary horizons…

Until recently I’ve been pretty disappointed with some of the reading choices I’ve made. It makes me cross to invest hours only to be utterly disappointed 80,000 words. There’s some real pap out there, which makes me wonder in a competitive market how it ever made it into print. Last year I decided I needed to pull myself away from the crime fiction I love and expand my reading horizons. What else is out there that I’m missing? And I found it hard to have literary conversations with my writer buddies as my own reading list’s so restricted. And if a crime were to happen on my estate I’d be the prime suspect. Save for notes in the margins and highlighted passages of kill scenes, my bookshelves probably paint a picture of a twisted crime fanatic. Er… yeah, that’s me.

My bookshelf

My bookshelf... or at least some of it

So, not only was I going to try new genres I was also going to try new authors; it’s a habit of mine to find an author I like, read everything they’ve ever written, find another author I love and repeat. So my bookshelf is limited and my knowledge needed growing, especially if I’m to pursue my own hope of one day being a published author. And I don’t think the poem I had featured on page 187 of a poetry compendium really counts, does it?

But this year my reading choices were poor, or at least for me they were. It’s all subjective isn’t it but, for me, I like books like I like my movies; they need to have a point and be believable.

I read some bad chick lit, so bad I couldn’t bring myself to review it (research for my own novel, a genre I have a love-hate relationship with); and some ropey crime-type stuff (I couldn’t help myself  with the crime but the untried authors thing didn’t work for me. Even Patricia Cornwell’s latest, an old fave of mine from years ago, left me disappointed and a little bit angry.

But the last three books I’ve read have left me in awe. Amazing storytelling ability with an emotional depth that not only tugged at my heart strings, it pulled them tort to the brink of snapping.

And I came to realise that books, the ones that are really, really good, aren’t the ones that keep me turning pages because I want to find out whodunnit, or who the serial killer’s next victim is, or what that little bit of evidence is likely to reveal, but the ones that connect with me emotionally, striking a match in me, a warmth, a glow; something that makes me look into my soul and see my life from the inside out. Deep huh? Yeah, sorry, I don’t know what came over me, but these books move me, sometimes to tears, with their true-to-life characters and the stories that unravel around them.

The books I’m talking about – and I’m lucky to have read them back to back – are Before I Go To Sleep by SJ Watson, Afterwards by Rosamund Lupton and The Making of Us by Lisa Jewell.

All three were completely amazing and two of them, the latter, forced tears from my eyes which is a tad embarrassing when reading on a crowded beach. Thank God for sunglasses! The former moved me in another way, in the realisation that the things we take for granted, like our memory, make us incredibly vulnerable if we were ever to lose them. Who could we trust if we lost everything? Who’d have our back?

Anyway, reviews of the above are all in my book review section on this blog but I just felt it worthy of giving them an extra mention.

And am I pleased to be stepping away from the old forensic pathologist/detective with a ‘tude style novels? I’ll always be a crime lover and continue to try new authors and support the ones I love, but it’s been refreshing to read something different and experience new ways of writing and expression. I hope my own writing with improve because I’m better read. After all, variety is the spice of life… and I do like spicy.

Next up on my reading list is Hunter by Tom Wood, The Hating Game by Talli Roland (reading on kindle app and been meaning to get round to for an age) and this Platform Book Club choice, A Balance To Survive by Lisa W.B.

Books, Just stuff, Technology, topical, what I think

How do you read yours?

I feel guilty.  I feel guilty because I’m currently reading The Snowman by Jo Nesbo (supposedly the next best thing to Steig Larsson). I feel guilty because I’m reading it on a kindle and not in paperback. And I feel even more guilty because I’m enjoying reading it this way.

I never thought I’d be able to abandon the good old paperback for an eBook. Reading on an electronic device just never appealed and can’t replace the real thing, the smell of a new book, the dog ears as you create as you work your way through it (yes, a bad habit but I like my books to look read) and placing it on the bookshelf when you’re done, creating another addition to your own personal library. I’m proud of my bookshelf, it’s a history of what I’ve read and says a lot about me.

With eBooks there is no smell, no dog ears and when you’re finished no one need know. But it’s not all bad.  Certainly not for Amazon who report selling more Kindles than paperbacks during the backend of 2010.

So, a couple of weeks ago I downloaded the Amazon Kindle app to my iPad and bought The Snowman. It cost me all of £2.92, a tiny saving of around 50p on the current listing price for the paperback version but it was available to read within a few minutes; no going to a bookshop, no waiting for an Amazon delivery. I could start reading straight away. I began reading in bed and find it much easier to hold an iPad comfortably than a book; in fact I can read it one handed (no traditional page turning required) so can snuggle further under the duvet when it’s nippy.

Whether I bookmark my page or not, the Kindle remembers the last page I was reading from so there’s no ‘I’ve dropped the book, shit, which page was I on’ business and I can change the font size for ease of reading. As old age encroaches (I’m all f 31 you know) I find really small type off-putting so making it bigger is a bonus. I can change the screen brightness so I don’t get bedazzled and I can make notes if I want to (good for research when I get back on the novel-writing trail) or link straight to an online dictionary if I want to look things up. I can also pop it in my bag, along with my emails, favourite social media tools, my blog and the wider web, all in one device. And I can see it will be really handy on holidays – no more packing three heavy hardbacks and lugging them around an airport, I can pop them on the Kindle and if I run out of books to read I just download another one without even needing to move from the poolside.

All that said, I do feel guilty. I love books, I love book shops and I love adding to my little library of literature and hope one day to have a home office lined with  shelves housing all the books I’ve read. So to say goodbye to books, the real thing at least, is a bit sad.

I’m far from saying I’m ditching paperbacks altogether but I’m going to give this Kindle business a try. I’ve yet to finish The Snowman and, in fact, have no idea how close to the end I am because I have no dog-eared marker to tell me as I would with a proper book. But technologies move on, times change and I’d like to be at least trying to keep up.  My main concern was that I’d want a break from staring at a screen all day but so far, this hasn’t bothered me; time will tell, I’m still only on my first eBook.

As I said in my last post, I think library closures are a sad but probably necessary thing in these cash-strapped times, but I’d be incredibly sad to think I might read to my children  (if/when they appear) stories off an iPad. I want them to experience real books, to carry them to school in their backpacks and keep their favourite ones on their bedside table.

Are we looking at a future without books as we know them? What do you think? Vote in the poll:

[polldaddy poll=4471527]

Books, Media, Technology, topical, what I think

Is it The End for libraries?

We all know 2011 is the year of cuts, cuts and more cuts; we hear about it on the news approximately five times a day. To be honest, the news is so depressing at the moment it’s a wonder we haven’t all topped ourselves.

Anyhoo, less about death, more about libraries… the public sector is facing some touch choices as the money pots dry up and one such service under threat is that of pubic libraries. Stony Stratford Library, for example, is being targeted for closure and members have made their mark by each withdrawing 15 books and literally emptying the shelves in the Wot No Books campaign. A wicked way to get your point across! There’s also a petition in our local chippy against the closure of what would be my local library, if we used it.                                                

Now then. I’m a huge fan of books and reading and think it’s important for anyone and everyone to have access to them. And libraries, most of them, now offer more than just a free read – DVD rental, computer and printing services, research archives, children’s storybook sessions, crafts etc. But these are all things we can get elsewhere. Are they a “crucial service“? I think not.

I remember visiting the library with my mum when I was a kid and getting so excited that we could choose books and take them home for free as long as we promised to bring them back. And I liked the eery quietness of the place. Fast forward 20 years and I was using the library again, this time in Coalville, Leicestershire. I lived over the road from the library and with no phone line or internet connection in my flat I used the library a lot to conduct my online affairs. I browsed the books and DVDs while I was there and generally liked the peaceful atmosphere.

Another five years later and I haven’t stepped foot in a library for all that time. I have internet connection at home, access to films through BT Vision or I pick them up dead cheap in Asda, there are so many places offering copying and printing services and books I buy via Amazon, either in paperback or eBooks, or I borrow them from my friends. Charity shops are also brilliant for picking up books by top authors for as little as 10p per copy.

So, while libraries offer a great service and one I’d like to think we still need, we actually don’t. They don’t offer anything we can’t get elsewhere. And with most of us already accessing these things via the internet, for those who don’t and can’t – I’m thinking young children and the elderly here – charity shops, car boot sales or fetes offer a great way of picking up books and movies dirt cheap. Not free, but cheap.

And what about starting a book swap scheme in your local area? I have so many books on my shelf and I’ll never throw them out, it’s a record of pretty much everything I’ve ever read and I want it on show. But I’d be more than happy for people to borrow them or swap for books I haven’t read. And for those who need internet access to look for jobs etc, libraries do come in handy, but there are internet cafes out there too.

The country is facing some tough times and deep cuts – as we’re told over and over – have to be made. But I’d rather my taxpayers’ money went on services we really do need and use, like healthcare, support for parents of disabled children, improving public transport etc; not on providing a service that most of us could find somewhere else.

Don’t get me wrong, seeing libraries disappear will be a sad, sad thing, the end of an era. But times are changing and we have to accept that as we move on in life, the services we use and need to use will change too.

Picture of empty bookshelves by Andy Roberts