There has been another gaping hole in my life recently, to go along with the lack of blog entries.
Little or no reading has been partaken in for the past month.

Still, I am now attempting to remedy that situation and while at the library the other night picked up a few Booknotes, the quarterly journal of the New Zealand Book Council. I was hoping to find some inspiration for my ongoing reading, but what I got was a series of interesting articles about writing, reading, reviewing and things to do with creative written arts in general. Included is a section called “The School Library”, which will turn out to be quite handy for Miss Oh Waily’s next possible reading entertainment.

What I actually wanted to share with you were one or two opinions from the first issue that passed over my bedside table.

The first paragraph, from Linley Boniface’s essay A Wall of Books Around The Borders Of My Bed, stirred up a good deal of conflict for me.  Regular readers will know that I have set myself the challenge of reading all of the Booker and Pulitzer prize-winning novels as well as the BBC Top 200.  Known around the OhWaily blog as the Booklitzer Challenge 200.  And as I have bemoaned in some of the reviews of these books, I have found more than one to be hard work and more a labour of persistence than of love.  Here’s the quote for you to consider:

I am an unashamedly unadventurous and intolerant reader: if a writer fails to deliver immediately, there are no second chances.  Friends will give a book 30 or even 100 pages to prove itself, which strikes me as madness.  Why plough doggedly through an indifferent book, when you know you’ll die leaving so many great books unread?

The emphasis on the last question is mine.  And the cause of my conflict.  Should I ‘plough doggedly’ through the Booklitzer 200 because someone, somewhere thought they were the best books to be read in that given year?  Should I just give in and chuck them back on the pile having given them their 30 or 100 pages of grace?

How do I know, like reading The Siege of Krishnapur, that it may take half the book to get to the really interesting and gripping bit?  How do I expand my taste and understanding of the wide world of literature if I don’t plough through some of these harder works?  Or am I just fooling myself and wasting my minimal free time on indifferent books?

The second excerpt is from Tim Corballis’ piece The Writing We Don’t Hear.  Most of this went over my head as it is a comparative piece about how we understand and ‘listen’ to music versus how we do the equivalent ‘listening’ to what we are reading.  Eventually this led to ideas on …the possibilities of  ‘contrapuntal’ writing
But the crucial point in this essay is a section of the penultimate paragraph.

To think in terms of structure is to forget, for a time, the reader’s need to understand – either that or to count on another sort of understanding.  It is to require more and different work from the reader.  Are readers allergic to such work – to literary difficulty itself?  If so, then this is a counterproductive allergy, and one that I think writers should be brave enough to challenge.

So, here we find the alternative view.  Different structural approaches to writing a novel should not be off-putting to the reader, if the reader wishes to be challenged by literature.

Is this a little high-minded?  Or is the other view a little too low-brow?  Personally I don’t mind the odd challenge, but sometimes it feels like surviving the challenge brings no real reward.

Feedback on this issue is most welcome.  In the meantime, I have another two Booker winners piled up on the bedside table, so I haven’t caved in immediately.

2 thoughts on “Booknotes

  1. Interesting quotes. Re the first I guess it depends why you read. If you read in order to proclaim you went cover-to-cover through every book on List X then endure, even if the experience is not pleasurable. If you read from a list to discover to what extent your tastes match those of literary critics, or where your limits of interest lie, then I see no merit in reading beyond the number of pages that answer this.

    Re the second quote, I read either to understand or to escape. I listen to music to feel. I don’t think it would work the other way around for me so I guess this plays a large part in what reading/ listening choices I make.

    Why should reading a book be different from taking a photograph? You see a scene (like a book cover), look through the viewfinder to get a feel for it (read the blurb, a few pages), and if there is no emotion don’t push the trigger (put down the book).


  2. You’ve hit the nail on the head.
    I guess I have to redefine my purpose for reading. Is it different for non-Booklitzer 200 books?
    I think it is.

    I certainly don’t want to and don’t waste time on other books if I find them boring or difficult.
    Booklitzer 200 was supposed to be a way of expanding what I read, and not just to an occasional new author but to a whole different genre or setting.
    So, I suppose I answer my own questions by saying that life is too short to read boring books, but there is a time and a place to challenge that notion. I guess I just have to suffer through and realise that sometimes there is no reward at the end other than to decide not to read anything by a particular author again, no matter the hype surrounding them.


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