I am aware that I have been a little quieter over the last few weeks or so and frankly I blame this all on Fiction Uncovered, in a nice way. On Thursday we are meeting for the first of the ‘whittling out the winners’ meeting (or as I harshly put it ‘the first culling’) and it has been pretty full on in the lead up reading lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of submissions. It has been really rewarding both in finding some utter corkers that I had never heard of before and getting very excited about what the list might look like, though I think there is lots more reading, rereading and discussion before we get to that stage.
On a selfish level it has been like a crash course in reading and I have learnt lots about myself and my own reading habits and prejudices (some of which we have discussed before) in a very condensed period. Though I’m aware reading as a judge is slightly different from just reading as you might normally, with the context of only having a certain not endless books to read and deadlines and the fact these books will a) win the author money and b) could make a real difference to their readership, meaning the judges can be judged on their listing. Anyway… As well as keeping lots of notes on the books themselves I have been keeping notes on what the books have taught me about my own reading and, so far, it looks like this…
- I can’t always judge a book by its cover, sometimes I really can.
- Sometimes a single short story in a collection can have as much power as a 500+ page novel.
- You can tell if a book is for you pretty quickly (probably within 70 – 100 pages) – yes there are books that have an amazing twist at the end, but if you can’t get there without wanting to cry or forcing yourself not to fall asleep then is it worth it.
- Sometimes that first paragraph really isn’t just a bumpy start, sometimes you can stop reading a ‘quite good book’ when its not giving you life… all in all sometimes Simon you’re really not as ‘Savidge’ as you should be, or savage.
- Font matters. It shouldn’t but it does.
- Sometimes I like the idea of a book, or ideas behind it, more than I like it in reality.
- There are lots of ‘very good books’ the ones you really love and want to hug to a pulp are few and far between. Note – this is not a bad thing.
- I like dark themes in books, I have my limits though.
- Some books get better with distance, others burn out.
- My Kindle still works, I still don’t like it.
- Some book covers feel funky and can put you off.
- A brilliant writer will make you enjoy subjects that you wouldn’t imagine they could – yes even horses, world wars, sports, ships etc.
- One bad sentence can kill.
- I have prose ticks and serious prose crosses.
- Ignoring a blurb can really help, a surprise joy is a real buzz. Oh and some lie.
- I clearly have a very different view on what makes a good book from what might make one for others (this might become even more apparent after the meeting this week, ha!)
- I don’t like being disturbed from a really, really good book.
- Certain terrain has been far too quarried by novelists.
- Life’s too short for books you don’t like.
- There are far too many good books going unnoticed and maybe it’s time to change the direction of the blog to look at those, after all with so many blogs out there shouldn’t I have a point of difference?
- I funking love books and reading, even when reading till my eyes might bleed.
I think we will stop there for now or I could go on all day. Of course we never stop learning about how we read and indeed our tastes change, just as they do in food, overtime. I am sure that the meeting on Thursday will enlighten me even further, I can’t wait, and I will report back after – well without giving away any secrets. I am hoping that this year might be the first year ever Fiction Uncovered announce a longlist, I am putting that up for discussion this week. I think that could be really exciting.
Anyway those are some of the things I have noticed about my reading habits in the last few weeks/months, some might just become longer posts over the next few weeks, do we share any? What have you learnt about your own reading habits; the good the bad and the ugly?
18 responses to “What I Have Learnt About Reading, So Far…”
“One bad sentence can kill.” – Oh, definitely. I’ve been pretty much convinced to drop a book on the basis of one sentence. I mean, it’s usually an accumulation of stuff, but one bad sentence can be the deciding factor. Also agree with you on font, and more generally page layout – I hate books where the text is tiny and/or all crammed together!
Font matters!! thank you for that. personally, i love a sans serif in a sensible size but hey – we all have our own quirks.
also – i can’t wait to hear what books you are referring to as “too dark”. so intrigued!
I agree with this incredibly comprehensive post. I think you’ve pretty much covered everything. I particularly like the reference to over quarrying of the same or similar material. There seem to be a lot of copycat novels out there rather like Hollywood films. So that worked, now let’s do another the same and hope they don’t notice. I also agree a lot that many good novels are overlooked, including mine, especially if they don’t have huge publicity budgets. Looking forward to your next post.
Agree with the comments – lovely post. Can you say – now or later – what those over-quarried terrains actually are? Just, you know, as a public service for authors!
“yes there are books that have an amazing twist at the end, but if you can’t get there without wanting to cry or forcing yourself not to fall asleep then is it worth it.” Yes! When you know the twist is supposedly good it’s hard, and I know I often struggle with the thought that it might get better so I’d better keep reading. And then the knowledge that no, it isn’t worth it, but still, I should keep reading… I’ve learned I’m not very good at giving up on books I don’t like if I’ve already read a fair number of pages. As much as it’s a waste of time to keep reading, giving up can feel you’ve wasted time, too.
I agree about fonts. They’re not as important as covers but as they’re there for the entire journey they can affect the way you read and feel about the content. And then you get a different copy of a book for a re-read and it just seems weird.
About half of Alice Hoffman’s The Museum of Extraordinary Things is in italics. Why oh why? It’s not the only way to alternate first- and third-person. I would have given up if it wasn’t a book club book, just because of the font.
I agree with Lindy regarding italics. Oh man! I also dislike a prologue. As I am getting older, I find I just want the author to tell it straight. No gimmicky narrative devices. It feels a bit pretentious. I used to love stream of conciousness writing (kind of like Celine), now I like a third person or omniscient (eek did I spell that correctly?) narrative. Life is short, I can’t read everything, so reading becomes even more precious to me. I choose very carefully and have no problem giving up after 50 pages if a book disappoints. Finally, Simon I agree with you about e-books. While I can understand the reasons some people swear by them, I love the physical book (smell, weight, cover) and will never give them up.
Or even just a single page in a 500 page novel can make a novel shine when overall you wouldn’t say it does.
Dawned on me as I read your enlightened post, that the bloggers I enjoy and follow have the same qualities as the authors of the books I appreciate. Books I gravitate towards are character driven, the folks have the capability of examining their actions, habits, thoughts…thereby discovering prejudices, quirks…changing some, keeping some…but all the time examining. I can trust a character or a person like that, they have their feet on the ground and can carry on a conversation and be trusted, cause they have some grasp on their own awarenesses.
So my fav bloggers have that same quality. Who knew?
So thanks once again Simon for showing me something new…the qualities i want in my bloggers…
Rock on…and thank u
“There are far too many good books going unnoticed and maybe it’s time to change the direction of the blog to look at those, after all with so many blogs out there shouldn’t I have a point of difference?”
Excellent point Simon. I think you are on to something. It would be a nice change to find the gems not many people know about. I personally avoid reading blogs that continue to talk about the same books everyone else is reviewing.
Great list here and discussion in the comments. I’m glad you, and several of your discussants, have picked up on font. I don’t want to come over as a boring old fogey (or maybe I don’t really mind) but it’s not only those heart-sink pages of italics that get me, but the size of the font (obviously I’m talking print here as this is one advantage of the e-book). But I can’t understand, when the reading demographic is predominantly middle-aged, publishers don’t seem to care about the strain on ageing eyes.
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Haha this list is wonderful. I hope there are enough great books that you’re reading to keep you going! And I totally agree on “There are far too many good books going unnoticed.” I really need to start making a point of showing off more of those books that others may not know instead of being drawn toward the shiny new books. Life is so tough.
I’m so glad that you mentioned the feel of a book cover! There are some new ones that have a strange, almost powdery/rubbery feel (I really can’t describe it) that I hate. You should like physically picking up a book as much as reading what’s inside, right? (And no, I don’t have an e-reader yet.)
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Agree with most of your points. I’m not put off by the feel of a book’s cover but I am by the wrong font, or even worse switching between multiple fonts. Horrible. I’m also very very put off spelling and grammar errors. Don’t scrimp on the copyediting, publishers!
For the record I think you’re already doing a stellar job of highlighting less well known books and authors. But you’re right that there’s a lot of great books out there not getting noticed and I’d love to hear about more of them.
Excellent point about spelling and grammar errors. I hold publishing to a very high standard and will simply not continue reading a book with distracting errors. Also – regarding font – several times I have stopped reading a paper book when the font was too small or otherwise objectionable and purchased the electronic version, where I have control over font type and size. I know Thomas and Simon aren’t keen on ereaders but I am for this reason. Also when I go on holiday I can take loads of books with me on my iPad.
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