January 1, 2014
Reading for pleasure - one of those things that I lost...
I've just finished reading The House Guest by New Zealand writer, Barbara Anderson. A good literary detective story with a sure sense of character and place, as well as a theme of bereavement. For my taste the style is a bit too narrative, evoking the long, drawling - and rambling - speech of an older generation of New Zealanders. It is effective in veiling tension with mundanity, but I found the style distracting. However this is only the second novel I have read in three years, and the first that I have actively wanted to return to, even staying in bed to read on. It feels like a minor triumph.
I've always read. Before I started school I was reading grocery cartons and cereal packets. My voracious reading defined me in childhood. "Bookworm," everyone called me and I concurred. There were plenty of books at home, but the ones I remember and which lead me on, were the library books my father brought home like The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings in their early, hard cover, colour-plated and richly-mapped editions. The bookcase of a Library at Ashley School was my favourite corner of the classroom. Small it may have been, but there was always anticipation when a new supply of books arrived from the National Library - what a remarkable service - only really appreciated when I look back on my tiny country-school education. I know I had read Jules Verne by the time I was eight, because I rewrote Journey to the Centre of the Earth in Standard One (I hadn't heard of plagiarism then). Just as children now crave every next sequel in a series, I read all Helen Clare's Five Dolls in a House books, delved into British history with Geoffrey Trease and ticked off every single Willard Price Adventure I could lay hands on. My favourite childhood author, William Mayne, introduced me to writing beyond narrative, capturing acutely the business of being a child, as well as the indiscriminate beauty of the natural world.
His books still rank amongst my all time favourites but have been withdrawn in disgrace from libraries and bookshops around the world. In my teens I was gripped by Science Fiction, moving from my father's interest in Wells, Clarke and Asimov to the worlds of Larry Niven, Terry Brooks, Anne McCaffrey, and Ursula Le Guin.
Secondary school introduced me to literary fiction and critical analysis, but didn't dampen enthusiasm and I remember particularly the mentoring - rather than teaching - by one of my sixth form English teachers over books such as Mrs Dalloway and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.
As I studied and moved around, books have more and more become attached to places and events in time. Jeanette Winterson's The Passion was an absorption, read while ensconced in our curtained narrow-boat bed, and followed by three days of weeping over the ending. I read The Seven Pillars of Wisdom as we travelled on an overland adventure tour into the territory T.E. Lawrence describes in his book. More weeping as I read Fiona Kidman's Book of Secrets, while I lay feeding my new baby. And later, high on a cloud-wreathed hill, surrounded by suburban anonymity, I read everything I could lay my hands on to keep the Black Dog at bay - William Mayne, Mary Wesley, Geraldine McCaughrean, Lady Barker on settler life in Canterbury, NZ... But, because the black dog did get a grip, I could read Markus Zusak's The Bookthief, while a friend's marriage fell apart around me.
And then reading books for pleasure stopped for me. How odd that Depression fed the need for it, but bereavement and earthquakes quelled my appetite. I didn't stop reading altogether. School newsletters, Earthquake Commission correspondence, and anything to do with Earthquake recovery, all these were necessary to carry on functioning. More indulgently I discovered the blogosphere and how to research on the Net. But I didn't completely give up on books. Somehow that pleasure in the tangible book has proved a bridge, a way of keeping in touch with the printed word (of course I don't have an e-reader!).
tantalising title pages;
frontispieces, faithful or not;
and gripping graphics.
have all kept me engaged in books.
The business of choosing, preparing and listing books for my Etsy shop, Dunedin Street, means fossicking in junk shop boxes for likely stock, studying a book from cover to cover, photographing its faults - and its delights - and then setting up a listing. Fellow Etsy seller Josiah Booknoodle and his accompanying blog Adventures of Professor Booknoodle have been an entertainment and a help, but I have to resist the temptation to write a review for every old favourite I come across in my research.
I'm drawn to the quirky and the classic,
educational theory of the past,
and almost anything with a New Zealand flavour.
Visual design is something I especially look for as a complement to content.
But when it comes down to it I am a woman of words - thanks for the reminder Lady Mondegreen - and I am relieved and grateful that my synapses are re-connecting. The other novel that I struggled through but certainly enjoyed, probably more than The House Guest, was Barbara Kingsolver's The Bean Trees. But another writer has kept me nourished and reading fiction over the last couple of years: Claire Steele has an advantage because she is both friend and blogger. Over at The Prodigal, where she posts the lyrical back story to her novel-in-progress, I read her brief passages more like morsels of poetry, absorbing her delicious imagery without having to commit to completion any time soon.
But complete I must, especially as some of the books below are required reading for the Diploma in Editing course I have embarked upon.
I feel that before this lot though, I ought to follow Claire's recommendation and read Eleanor Catton's The Luminaries.
I guess that's a New Year's resolution!