I read almost anything.
I was thinking about this statement as a way of writing my first post for this blog (the only thing more daunting than that first post is that first sentence) and actually there are quite a few things that I don’t tend to read.
- Non-fiction. This is a shameful to admit to, and I hope to correct this year. I’m drawn towards biography (Lives Like Loaded Guns, Lyndall Gordon’s biography of Emily Dickinson looks very interesting) and narrative non-fiction. I’ve also downloaded Bad Science and The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England from Audible. Neither of these are what I’d call narrative non-fiction, but they look interesting nonetheless.
- Memoir. Classing this as separate to biography. Perhaps I avoid as I find the author too close to the subject matter?
- Poetry. This is utterly, utterly shameful of me. I must admit to a bit of a reverse snobbery about this – there’s something about poetry that seems to me to be both pretentious and confessional, and if a memoirist is, for me, too close to the subject matter then I find a poet doubly so. But then I read ‘Twenty-Sixth Winter’ by John Dofflemyer (Guardian, 8 Feb 2010), which is powerful and stark, and – despite its brevity – conveying, somehow, the whole of a working life and the relationship between man and animal. And it made me cry.
- Books with spaceships on the front cover. But I don’t avoid science-fiction altogether (see below).
- Books with swords, dragons, or other fantasy paraphernalia on the front cover. But I don’t avoid fantasy altogether (again see below).
- Big, chunky airport novels where the type is really big, and the margins really large, to make it seem as if that doorstopper of a book has the content to match.
- ‘Cosy’ crime/mysteries. Surely an oxymoron?
- Young adult novels. Again, there may be a bit of snobbery on my part here. I have read ‘crossover’ YA fiction – Philip Pullman, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime; The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas – but as I’m not the market for YA fiction, I don’t seek it out.
So what do I read? Literary fiction, definitely – favourite authors include Iris Murdoch, Haruki Murakami, Margaret Atwood, Michael Chabon, Angela Carter, Muriel Spark; Classics (Wilkie Collins, Charles Dickens, the Brontës, Jane Austen, Samuel Richardson, George Eliot, Anthony Trollope to name just a few); Crime, especially psychological crime (Denise Mina, Nicci French, Sophie Hannah); and I enjoy authors that are sometimes classed as science-fiction or fantasy writers, but whose books are a reflection and commentary on modern reality rather than an imaginative exploration of unknown worlds. These authors include Neal Stephenson, Neil Gaiman and China Miéville. I’m also a sucker for anything with a supernatural bent; I like to be a bit scared or creeped out. Nothing too gory though.
I like novels that make me cry (The Time Traveler’s Wife), that make me think (The Name of the Rose), that teach me about lives in other countries (The Memory of Love), that are totally indulgent (Cold Comfort Farm), that make me laugh (The Confederacy of Dunces, A Fraction of the Whole), that deal with personal and family relationships (Anne Tyler, The Ghost at the Table), that amaze me with the beauty of the language and the depth of the author’s imagination (Cloud Atlas, The Sea The Sea, pretty much everything by Angela Carter). But above all, I want to be entertained and engaged. Much like every other reader.
So that, in a nutshell (a pretty big nutshell, a nutshell as big as the Ritz), sums up my reading life. I’ve enjoyed so much reading other people’s blogs – I hope that I can make a contribution to such an interesting, varied, intelligent and, erm, well-read community.