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Novel Gazing - the Literature Challenge
Member Name: IainWear
Date: 04/01/04, updated on 04/01/04 (49 review reads)
Advantages: Finally, a satisfactory category for this opinion!
Disadvantages: Longer than "War and Peace", Less useful than Delia Smith's "How to Cook Part 1"
Although I tend to write more about music these days, books were my first love. I started to read at a very young age, as my mother was a reader, and my father used to watch the TV from behind the Daily Mail most evenings. At age 2 or 3, I once picked up a book trying to imitate them (and held it upside down, I've since been told), and was then taught to read.
Wherever I am, I will have a book if there is no other distraction to be had. I rarely leave the house without something to read. If I'm going to be going somewhere on a train or bus, I'll take a book. I've missed train stops, and taken buses all the way to the terminus by getting too deeply involved in a book. I've ignored complete conversations people were having with me as I was too busy reading. Of course, I've also done all of these things by falling asleep, but that's another story.
At my last job my flatmate, who also worked there, was asked which one I was. Her description, she says was "the guy with the long hair and the book". That day's reading would always be in a prominent position on my desk, and colleagues would frequently stop and see what I was reading that day and, as I'm quite a quick reader, express surprise at how quickly I was getting through them.
Anyway, enough scene setting...
● What is your favourite genre?
At any point up until recently, I would have considered horror my favourite genre. This isn't such an easy choice at present, partly due to a change in my reading habits, but largely because the lines between horror and thriller are becoming more blurred. Both Koontz and King seem to be writing more what you might call thriller than horror novels recently, and King's last few have taken in science-fiction and fantasy elements. Christopher Fowler's most recent novel was more fantasy than anything else, and the most recent novels of Clive Barker and James Herbert could re
ally only fall into a thriller category.
Fortunately, older works by all authors previously mentioned and the relatively recent discovery of American horror writer John Saul have reinforced my love for the horror genre. Apart from a couple of novels, Graham Masterton hasn't let me down recently, either. So, horror it is, but possibly only for the time being.
● Do you read the classics, i.e., the great authors of the 18th and 19th century?
Aha, a question far easier to answer. No. For someone who holds an A-Level in English Literature, I'm perhaps surprisingly poorly read when it comes to the classics. I've never been one to enjoy something that is thrust into my hands and I am forced to read, and I found during my studies that reading something for the sole reason of taking it apart and analysing it in depth afterwards destroyed a lot of the pleasure that might otherwise be gained. Ever since, I have read purely for pleasure, and the classics have never given me a great deal of pleasure, being to my mind quite slow of pace.
I am still able to enjoy a Shakespeare play, thankfully, but D. H. Lawrence was lost to me completely in my final years at school. As for Dickens, I have always struggled with his work, even finding the TV adaptations too much for me. Lionel Bart's musical "Oliver!" is the only time I can think of that I ever really got close to enjoying the works of Dickens.
● Are you interested in thrillers?
Much to my surprise, I am, and have become more so in the last few years. I always looked down on the genre as less exciting than the horror novels I so enjoyed but have, in common with some traditional horror writers, it seems, branched into reading thrillers in recent years. It is to my great shame that I ignored Grisham as being too populist from the cover of a Stephen King novel. That said, even now the only Grisham novel on my shelves was given to me,
and still remains unopened.
I think it was the discovery, quite by chance, of Christopher Brookmyre, a somewhat humorous thriller writer that first interested me in the genre as a whole. Recommendations from the back of his novels towards Elmore Leonard and Carl Hiaasen kept me there, and the loans of Lee Child and Jonathan Kellerman novels from a friend kept me interested. More recently, a glowing recommendation for Jeffrey Deaver in these very pages led me deeper in, and a meeting with the man himself earlier this year hasn't changed my mind.
● What about horror stories?
I largely answered this above. Very much so, ever since I was lent my first Stephen King book by a school friend all those years ago. Well, I say "lent", but he hadn't liked it and didn't want it back. It's still on my shelves, as I so rarely throw books away. I didn't enjoy it a great deal first time around and it took a couple of attempts to read it. Then I tried "Christine", and I was hooked, firstly on King and then, as other horror writers were introduced into my life, on the genre as a whole.
Thinking back, though, it occurs to me that every time I started reading a new writer in the horror field, it happened largely by chance. My first Stephen King novel ("Salem's Lot") was given to me by a school friend, and my first Dean Koontz ("Night Chills") by a friend at University. I first bought a Christopher Fowler novel ("Psychoville") on impulse when I was looking for something to read, but wasn't sure what and my first taste of Graham Masterton ("The Sleepless") was left behind at work by a colleague who left suddenly and I only started reading Clive Barker after a recommendation by Marandina. John Saul was an author recommended by Sue Hoskinson and the first book of his I read ("All Fall Down") was found in a second hand bookshop some 300 miles from
my home. I've still not managed to find a new copy of any of his works in any bookshop in the UK.
● Do you read science fiction?
Very rarely, it has to be said. It's a genre that has never interested me in any form, since I stopped watching Dr. Who many years ago. However, once combined with humour, it starts to appeal to me a lot more, with "Red Dwarf" in TV terms, and Douglas Adams' "Hitchhikers" books being items I've greatly enjoyed. I was recently lent Piers Anthony's "Bio of a Space Tyrant" collection, which I was surprised to find myself enjoying, too.
● How many Harry Potter books have you read?
None and I'm proud of it! I always tend to shy away from things in any medium, not just books, that are over hyped, frequently finding them a disappointment when I do give in. In addition, I have a stubborn streak that will frequently prevent me reading, seeing or listening to something that friends constantly tell me I should. This keeps me away from Harry Potter at present, and has prevented me from reading anything of Terry Pratchett ("Good Omens" apart) over the years as well.
● Have you ever read and enjoyed biographies or autobiographies?
As if to prove I'll read pretty much anything, another yes here. In my younger days, I loved the film "Cry Freedom", which was based on Donald Wood's biography of Stephen Biko and his own autobiography. As I recall, I enjoyed the bit about his life more, as there was more action in it, which is to completely miss the point of why he wrote the original biography.
Strangely, that was my only delve into that world until a couple of years ago, when I found the first book I had ever read that I literally could not put down. That was the autobiography of the wrestler Mankind. Since then I have read a number of other biographical works, mostly of sports pers
onalities (Murray Walker, more wrestlers), writers (Stephen King's "On Writing", Neil Gaiman's biography of Douglas Adams) or comedians (Billy Connolly, Frank Skinner). Apart from a couple (The Rock's biography, and an awful book on Murray Walker by Christopher Hilton), I've enjoyed them all.
● Do you remember any of the books you read and loved as a child?
Oh, of course. I had the complete sets of Enid Blyton's Famous Five and Secret Seven collections, alongside the (seemingly) ever present Roald Dahl and CS Lewis "Chronicles of Narnia" in my early collection. I seem to recall there being some Alan Garner involved as well, alongside "Stig of the Dump", and many others I can no longer recall. As I grew older, I moved onto Willard Price's "Adventure" series, eventually collecting all 14 of those and from there to Desmond Bagley, who I never managed to complete the set of, and I suspect the ceasing of my attempts to do so marked the end of what I would consider my childhood reading.
● Have you re-read these books as a grown-up?
To my shame, largely no. I have read and continue to enjoy the Desmond Bagley novels, but they were never really children's books anyway. Every time I return to my mother's house, I intend to take with me my copies of the Narnia Chronicles so I can re-read those and this Christmas, I finally did, along with the Bagleys and the Willard Price. The remaining books listed above have long since been passed on to family friends and charity shops, I fear. Mind you, reviews of modern children's books suggest that reading new ones may well be preferable to re-reading the ones I had way back when.
● Is there a book of which you can say it has influenced you?
I would love to be able to put that Allen Carr's "Easy Way to Stop Smoking" had a profound, and the desired, effect on me.
Sadly, this isn't even close to being the truth. Apart from that, Christopher Fowler's "Soho Black" has had an obvious effect on me, being a name I use online in a number of places! Many of the titles I've listed above have inspired me to read other things by the same author or in the same genre, but that's as far as "influence" stretches with me, I think.
● Which are your favourite authors?
All of the above, really. I think that the names I've already listed cover more than half my books collection and I figure that constitutes "favourite", as I keep returning to their works, both new and old.
● Which book would you take with you on a desert island?
Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings". For the simple reason that I've never managed to read the whole thing, always stalling part way, and usually before the end of "The Fellowship of the Ring", although I do vaguely recall reaching the end of that at one point. I figure that being stuck with it and nothing else on an island would be the only way I'd get it finished!
● What is your attitude towards translations?
I'm not sure I've ever read one, or if I have, I didn't realise it. I think the closest I ever got was reading a more modern version of Chaucer's "The Canterbury Tales" when I was studying them at A-Level. Based on this very limited experience, I can only suggest that they open up broader horizons for those of us not well enough versed in the native language of the author, but can lose something in the translation.
● Do you buy your books/get them from the library/borrow them from friends/steal them?
I think I've done all of the above at some point. I've not really stolen as such, but I do have a couple of books that were not returned after I borrowed them, and I have now lost touch with
the people I borrowed them from. The reverse is also true, incidentally. Generally I will buy books, although I have been swapping books with my friend Emily (Ophelia) for some time now, and have the best part of Sue Hoskinson's John Saul collection, which I should return fairly soon, as I've finally managed to finish the last of them recently.
● When you buy books, do you prefer hardcover editions or pocket books?
If I bought hardback books, I would bankrupt myself even more swiftly than my book buying habit (addiction?) does anyway. As I read when I'm on the move, I prefer paperbacks as they're easier to carry. For my favourite writers, however, I can't wait for the paperbacks, and have to have their latest book NOW! I've not bought a Stephen King in paperback for more than 5 years!
● Have you ever tried Audio Books?
I've noticed while reading some of these challenges that the most widely read of us aren't big fans of audio books. And I am no exception, I'm afraid. Books are to be read, with the book in your hand and the print in front of your eyes. If you want to listen to something, that's what music is there for. I have a couple of Stephen King audio books, read by the author, which are dreadful, as he has very little charisma or variation of tone. I have a couple of "Red Dwarf" audio books, read by Chris Barrie, which are much better, but which rarely get listened to these days.
● Name your favourite books?
I tend to read more by author than by book, as such. However, let me try. "Back Roads" by Tawni O' Dell should be on everyone's reading list. It's the only book that has persuaded me to actively recommend it to others. Stephen King's "Christine" was a favourite from the first time I read it. Matthew Thomas' "Before and After" is totally silly and completely wonderful, a
nd the same is true of Eric Garcia's "Anonymous Rex". Neither is brilliantly written, but both are such good fun to read. Tony Hawks' "Round Ireland With a Fridge" should not be missed, either, although reading it in private is recommended, as you don't half get some funny looks laughing out loud on a crowded commuter train!
I find myself frequently returning to and constantly entranced by Douglas Adams and Mark Carwardine's "Last Chance to See", even with little interest in the subject matter. If you're a Londoner, then Neil Gaiman's "Neverwhere" and Keith Lowe's "Tunnel Vision" are great books to read, although those with little knowledge of, or interest in, the city may find them less enjoyable. "Dead Cat Bounce" by Damien Owens has one of the best titles I've ever seen, but the book wasn't really as good, I'm afraid.
The books in my collection I'm fondest of purely for their existence are some of the older ones by Christopher Fowler, long out of print, but expertly tracked down for me by Jo1l. Given that even Fowler's newer works can be difficult to find in the shops, obtaining the older ones can't have been easy and I'll be eternally grateful that she did. Particularly as I have a signed First Edition of "The Bureau of Lost Souls" on my shelf.
Well, novel length responses to essentially simple questions. How typically me!
But don't let this put you off. This challenge was originally set by MALU. Please join in, read other people's entries and pass the challenge on to another bookworm!
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