Tag Archives: reading

Never say never (almost)

13186868_sA long time ago now, I spotted a post on Twitter from a bookseller who had overheard a male customer saying “I would never read a book by a woman”. It struck us as an odd thing to say. Why cut yourself off from half the books in the world, regardless of quailty or subject, because of the (apparent) gender of the writer?

Another contributor to the discussion added the amusing story of a man who said who never read fantasy by women but only by men – men like Robin Hobbs.

Oh, how we laughed and laughed.

The discussion moved on, however, to declarations of the books we ourselves might never read, and some fairly blanket terms came up, culminating in: “I’d never read a book by a footballer!”

I thought about this. I’m not very interested in sport, and might have declared I’d never read a book about football – but I had enjoyed Angela Pippos’s Goddess Advantage – One Year in the Life of a Football Worshipper. It was funny, clever, insightful and, yes, about football, but much more about family and community and one person’s life. But it also made me quite like football, through her eyes.

Would I refuse ever to read a book by a footballer, I wondered? I couldn’t imagine what they might have to say that would interest me, but that was just about being selective about what I read in my limited reading time.

I had decided a while back that I wouldn’t read books by certain authors because I found aspects of their very vocal opinions (one a rampant homophobe, another a convicted violent criminal) so repugnant that I was reluctant to contribute to even the price of a cup of coffee for them from my purchase. But there are maybe three writers on that list.

But that’s not a blanket ban on a type of person or on any particular subject. There’s always the chance that a good writer, or a good story, can come from anywhere.

So… as an experiment, I tried to find a book written by a footballer that I might like to read. My call for assistance ended in a friend lending me a copy of Jason McCartney’s After Bali (co-written by Ben Collins, who is credited in the fly-leaf, though not with his specific role in the creation of the book).

That was maybe two years ago. I’ve been putting off reading it in favour of books I was much more committed to reading, in my relatively limited reading hours.

This weekend, I finally opened it and gave it a whirl.

The book is written interview-style, with Jason McCartney’s story of being caught up in the bomb blasts in Bali in October 2002, his injuries and recovery, interspersed with quotes from family, friends, medical staff and others.

I tried and tried and tried to like it.

Half way through, I gave up. I just don’t have the time to keep reading books I’m not enjoying.

I feel bad about it. McCartney endured much, suffered much, achieved much, and it’s a rude of me to want the account of his experiences to be more articulate or more insightful or more… something. But the truth is, I found the writing awkward, repetetive and ultimately a bit dull. I wish him and his well, I do, and I feel awful that I was not sufficiently ‘engaged’. But I wasn’t.

What do I conclude from this experiment?

It isn’t that I will never read a book by a footballer. It isn’t that I will never read a book about personal suffering and endurance, or one about football, or any of those things.

I conclude mainly that not every writer or every subject or every writing style is my cup of tea, and that’s okay. I may choose not to continue a book, or not to read particular authors because I don’t particularly enjoy their work (or their personal politics) or because there are just so many other books that engage me much more at the time.

Never say never, or at least almost never, is what I conclude. I don’t want to close myself off from books and ideas that may be unexpected and brilliant, or at least educational.

But I’ll continue to be discerning in my choices, because I only have so much time, and there is ever so much in the world to read!

Narrelle M Harris is a Melbourne-based writer. Find out more about her books, smartphone apps, public speaking and other activities at www.narrellemharris.com.

[Image by ponsuwan at 123RF.com)

Five by five by all the books

Reading paper books over breakfast can be problematic.

I was having the usual ‘physical books versus e-books’ discussion with someone on the weekend, and I came to my usual conclusion: that the worst book in the world cannot be made better by being made of paper, and the best book in the world isn’t diminished by being electronic. I think I always end up sounding like I don’t like regular ol’ books, when I’m really very fond of them. It’s just that I also like e-books. I’m fond of them, too. They suit aspects of my life admirably, moreso than ink and dead trees. Yet. Ink and dead trees can be SO LOVELY.

So here’s my top 5 reasons for loving e-books; and my top 5 reasons for loving paper books.

Traditional papery paper books with shiny covers? I’ll give you five reasons why you make my heart go pitter-pat.

  1. SHINY COVERS. Not all covers are lovely of course, but oh, those little artists’ impressions of what your innards are like? I adore them. I like to look at you and guess if I’m going to love you from your wrapping. Or if you’re going to disappoint me terribly. Or if you’re going to be an ugly ducking that grows up, by page 87, to be the bestest, most beautiful swan in the ‘verse. You’re tricky, cover art, but I love you.
  2. THICK PAPER. Some books, usually those with hard covers, have gloriously thick paper. It’s lush. It’s gorgeously tactile. I love the feel of turning a page of thick, textured paper. It takes reading from an intellectual and emotional exercise to one of physical sensation as well. Most books don’t have really lovely paper like this, but those that do… it’s a sensual experience. Even when the book sucks (which is a bit like fancying someone who dresses beautifully but turns out to be an arse, sadly).
  3. I CAN SPY ON WHAT YOU’RE READING. I confess, I’m a snoop. My husband tells me it’s perfectly natural, because I’m a writer. He sometimes threatens to make me a License To Be Nosy to flash around on the tram. Maybe I could use it to find out what people are reading on their sneaky e-readers. Hilarious erotica, possibly. I like peeking at what people are reading, though, either at the cover or, if I’m well positioned on the tram, over their shoulder to see what’s in the header. Maybe a couple of paragraphs. Yes, I know. I’m creepy. But I love how paper books conspire with me in public places like that.
  4. TANGIBLE PROGRESS. It’s quite nice to see my bookmark moving along the pages in that steadfast, inexorable fashion. My e-reader shows me a little dotted line; sometimes a percentage. Doesn’t seem quite so satisfying, somehow. Which leads me on to…
  5. BOOKMARKS! I have a nice little selection of bookmarks. Some of them I’ve had for years. Some of them I even remember to USE, instead of the bus tickets, cafe receipts, chopsticks wrappers and occasional bits of torn envelope.

E-books, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways!

  1. I CAN READ YOU WHILE EATING. I can open you to a page and pick up my knife and fork and you will not flow determinedly shut from the force of your excellent binding. You will allow me to rend my eggs and bacon into bite-sized pieces and simultaneously get on with the awesomeness of the story I am currently so steeped in that frankly, it’s lucky I remembered I need to eat. And I can change pages with a press of a button that only takes one finger! No more having to lay down arms, move the glasses case/travel guide/brick/cat I’ve been using to hold the pages down so I can either see the obscured paragraph or turn the page!
  2. YOU ARE SPLASH RESISTANT! And no sauce stains on The Hunger Games, or the Return of Sherlock Holmes, or anything by Lois McMaster Bujold, because I can wipe away the evidence of my grubbiness.  Take that, inability to eat tidily!
  3. DICTIONARY! So that when I’m reading, and there’s a new word, I can just highlight you (or tap on you if I’m reading on my iPhone) and my vocabulary E-X-P-A-N-D-S with hardly any effort. Ah, little e-book, whisper brand new words into my ear as often as you like. I can’t get enough of you. I sometimes find myself tapping at words on a printed page in vain, and then I get pouty. Paper books should have inbuilt dictionaries too. *sulk*
  4. E-BOOKS, LIKE GOD, ARE EVERYWHERE AT ONCE! I start reading a book on my Kindle at home! The battery goes flat while I’m out, OH NOES! but hello there, little iPhone, with your synchronised Kindle cloud, remembering where I am up to! Bless you! When I’ve recharged my Kindle, LO! the synch has spoken to you and you take me to the right place again. And if I give up on both of you and turn on my computer – WELL HELLO KINDLE APP ON MY DESKTOP.  So versatile.
  5. A HUNDRED BOOKS WEIGH THE SAME AS ONE. When I travel, I can take every book I want to read. EVERY SINGLE ONE. Even though I only ever travel with a small backback and a handbag. Because all the books fit into my one, petite, handy-dandy, purple-case-wrapped lovely little Kindle. I love you, compact little Kindle!

Got any loves of your own, for either format? Share the delight!

Narrelle M Harris is a Melbourne-based writer. Find out more about her books, iPhone apps, public speaking and other activities at www.narrellemharris.com.