Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.
I skipped over last week’s TTT because I am an utter philistine are rarely use anything that might be considered a bookmark in civilised society! Scraps of paper, receipts, socks, post it notes… and yes I do turn over pages and break spines!
So how have my reading habits changed…? Since when, is a question that crops up!
I got my first ereader – a Sony device – perhaps fifteen years ago? I was suspicious. I was doubtful. I downloaded a few books and was non-plussed.
But time wore on and I think the technology improved markedly and I discovered Calibre as an ebook management system. And – as an English teacher – the capacity to carry around complete works of Dickens, Shakespeare, Austen, Chaucer… Oh and the search function! Yes I am now a convert and read probably 85% of my reading material electronically. Currently on the Kindle Paperwhite which is lovely – oh the integrated lights! – although part of me is troubled by being part of the Amazon hegemony….
I do miss the feel, weight, texture and smell of a paper book and I do on occasion treat myself… but the convenience and weight issues are the key for me.
Perhaps eight years ago, I was living in Devon whilst working in Dorset and had an hour’s commute in each direction. That was the stimulus to signing up to Audible – oh yes, another Amazon product and equally troublesome.
And my first purchase was perhaps now the most logical: 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami which I purchased for no better reason than its length. As a long book, it was a greater value, pound for minute, than other options! It did not feel like a book that lent itself to the audiobook format in hindsight.
The best books that did lend themselves to the format – or possibly had the better narrators? Room by Emma Donoghue was fantastic, World War Z by Max Brooks worked very well with its multiple voices and, for me, The Rehearsal by Eleanor Catton was exceptional.
Back in the mists of time when I was a wee whipper-snapper trying to avoid talking to my parents, I devoured fantasy. I still remember fondly The Dragons of Autumn Twilight and the DragonLance series by Margaret Weiss and Tracy Hickman – according to Wikipedia, this was released in 1984 when I was a mere eleven years old – and still recall the draconians alongside Raistlin and Caramon – as well as The Belgariad by Eddings and, inevitably Tolkien. I did make the mistake of trying to re-read Dragons of Autumn Twilight a couple of years ago and found it surprisingly familiar still even recalling specific wordings! But also rather juvenile and very much formulaic which is not surprising as it is essentially a Dungeons and Dragons game. Perhaps some memory lanes should be left overgrown!
I still love fantasy, as the blog is testament to, but it has dropped down in my priorities, tempered more than a little by other genres and more subtle magic realist and mythic tales. But I still love my fantasy!
Whilst I have always enjoyed crime, it was as light relief, really. Fairly unchallenging. The equivalent of a Sunday Night drama on television. Nothing great.
I do recall a lecturer at university who was convinced that crime fiction was the next big literary phenomenon but never really felt, back in 1995, that that promise ever panned out. Some great literary crime novels are out there: Les Gommes by Alain Robbe-Grillet, The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco.
In the last few years, though, a number of exceptional writers have piqued my interest including Pierre Lemaitre, Malcolm Mackay, Tana French, Antonia Hodgson, Graeme Macrae Burnet, Gunnar Staalesen… So, I’d say that I am reading more crime and that the writing of crime fiction has become significantly more powerful and thoughtful. And I’d have said a much higher percentage of my reading is crime now.
And dare I suggest that my own ambition to turn my hand to writing led me into the crime genre fairly naturally.
Alas, this is a grievous thing: those days when I could settle into a whole day of reading or devour a book in a sitting are now long gone. Primarily, this is due to work and the demands of a beautiful and wonderful – but definitely demanding – child!
Again, with an eye on the effect of a six-year old, I have started reading many more children’s books and picture books!
And some are wonderful! A Child of Books, Nibbles the Book Monster, The Fox and the Star, The Wolves in the Walls… these are all gorgeous, clever, beautiful and moving books! And Michael Rosen’s Sad Book was heartbreaking!
Classics versus Contemporary
As time has progressed, my reading has become increasingly – perhaps almost exclusively contemporary after an intensive diet of the classics. There are still huge holes in my classic reading, don’t get me wrong, but these authors keep putting out exciting and beautiful and gorgeous new books! It’s so unfair!
Being an incredible book geek, I also have a little spreadsheet that I have been recording my reading on this year and which also makes little graphs for me like this one.
This is a relatively new and novel experience for me and I still feel hugely privileged when NetGalley, or even more so the publisher directly, allows me to read and review an ARC. Especially a paper physical ARC.
Sometimes I look at the one or two lines of “review” on NetGalley and I feel a sense of sadness that other readers don’t feel that the authors deserve a full, considered review. But perhaps that is just me being grumpy!
Another huge regret.
I love poetry. I have to say, I do have a soft spot especially for the Romantics – with all the caveats that that involves reading lots of white middle aged middle class privileged male views! I love the condensed vividness of poetry, the intensity of it.
But poetry has slipped from my reading habits recently. I’ll still head back to those classics like Yeats, Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Coleridge and the more modern classics of Larkin and Armitage, but I feel nowhere near as up to date with poetry as I am with prose and novels. I am trying. I really am. I try to follow the T. S. Eliot and the Forward Prizes … but somehow it keeps slipping.
Poetry is a little harder to get hold of easily perhaps. A little more niche… Or maybe that it just an excuse. I have got my hands on Vertigo & Ghost by Fiona Benson which won the Forward and is shortlisted for the Eliot Prize.
Violence hangs over this book like an electric storm. Beginning with a poem about the teenage dawning of sexuality, Vertigo & Ghost pitches quickly into a long sequence of graphic, stunning pieces about Zeus as a serial rapist, for whom woman are prey and sex is weaponised. These are frank, brilliant, devastating poems of vulnerability and rage, and as Zeus is confronted with aggressions both personal and historical, his house comes crumbling down. A disturbing contemporary world is exposed, in which violent acts against women continue to be perpetrated on a daily – hourly – basis.
The book shifts, in its second half, to an intimate and lyrical document of depression and family life. It sounds out the complex and ambivalent terrain of early motherhood – its anxieties and claustrophobias as well as its gifts of tenderness and love – reclaiming the sanctuary of domestic private life, and the right to raise children in peace and safety.
Vertigo & Ghost is an important, necessary book, hugely impressive in its range and risk, and dramatic in its currency: a collection that speaks out with clarity, grace and bravery against the abuse of power.
If we are looking back to the olden golden days of my Literature MA at Cambridge University, the biggest change in my reading has probably come from the increasing diversity of the authors and settings. My English Literature degree did tend to focus on the canonical and therefore generally white and British writers. Salman Rushdie was perhaps one of the rare exceptions, and I did choose to do a dissertation of Wole Soyinka – which generated a love for Nigerian culture, or perhaps more accurately cultures.
Nowadays, my reading is populated with Indian, Syrian, Russian, Nigerian, Vietnamese, Malaysian writers, alongside the white and British and American. But, looking at the map below, there is still so much of the world in white, so many stories and voices still to discover…
I think I have always been fairly even handed in my reading between male and female writers, without thinking about it consciously. And a reflection of the developing world we life in and write about, the issues surrounding gender and sex and identity and society are increasingly potent. This year, my reading diet has been as follows
- November 12: Favorite Bookmarks
- November 19: Changes In My Reading Life (Maybe you like different genres or topics, maybe you read faster than you used to, maybe you only like standalones now)
- November 26: Thankful Freebie
- December 3: Holiday Reads (Books you love reading during the holiday season.)
- December 10: Freebie
- December 17: Winter TBR
- December 24: Books I Hope to Find Under My Tree
- December 31: Favorite Books I Read In 2019