Tag Archives: R.J. Palacio

The Assumptions We Make About Books & Authors…

Last week when the lovely Thomas and I were thinking about subjects to talk about on the latest episode of The Readers Podcast he came up with the idea that we should discuss ‘bookish assumptions’. I was horrified, how dare Thomas suggest that I made assumptions about books. I mean I don’t have any, well, apart from the fact I don’t like books set on boats, set around sports (a new one), set on another planet or with a horse in them or on the cover… Oh! The thing is the more I thought about it the more I realised I do it.

Judging for Fiction Uncovered is underway, and I am reading like a little book machine. When the first batch of book arrived I was filled with excitement, so much so that I put it off for a few hours. Upon opening them I took the books out one by one and instantly started making assumptions about them. I can’t talk about what the books are, as I have sworn to secrecy, but I can say I was basing my thoughts on the following; the cover, what I had heard about the author from other readers if I recognised their name, the blurb/premise. Shameful. This was judging before I should even be judging and so I set the books on a shelf in alphabetical order by title and that is how I have been reading them, and it has been somewhat of a revelation as now I am just reading them one by one and focusing on whether the writing style and prose, story, characters, etc are working for me. Oh and if any of them are giving me a book tingle – more on that tomorrow.

The reality of the situation is that if we are having a good old mooch around a book shop these are the very things that we will judge a book on if we are honest. Though that said this is in the instances when we know very little about the book and so that is all we can judge it on. What about authors themselves, Thomas asked me before we recorded…

‘Oh I don’t judge authors, I will give anyone a whirl, I think.’
‘Really?’
‘Erm yeah, unless they have written a book about a talking horse who is stuck on a boat filled with men who can only endure the long days boxing as they are stuck in an ocean on another planet with no help.’
‘Right, so what about authors that you have seen behaving badly on social media or who have extreme views?’
‘Erm, well I won’t read those obviously, who wants to read a book written by a knobhead?’
‘Okay… and what about E.M. Forster?’
‘Oh…’

First let me tackle the authors I think are knobheads might perhaps not come across very well on social media or who have some extreme views. I like to believe that goodness and kindness will out. So if I see an author on social media or maybe read/hear an interview with an author where they are coming across like a pompous/arrogant or worse homophobic/racist/bigoted then no I really don’t want to read their book thank you very much. One, I don’t want to give them any money/sales and two; I wouldn’t want to spend my time with them in the flesh so why would I want to spend my time in their heads where the book has come from. A prime example is Ender’s Game I don’t care how good it is, I don’t want to read a book by someone with his views. I don’t mind reading books about homophobia but I don’t want to read a book written by someone whose mind is laced with it.

Secondly, and lastly in case I am going on which as I love a waffle is likely, the authors who I have read before and made assumptions about. Rise Mr E.M. Forster, who I actually (having thought about it) have to admit that I may have tarnished unfairly because I loathed A Room With A View and swore I would never read anything by him again. Why was this unfair? Well, I think really it might more have been the way it was taught by a dreadful English A Level teacher at Devizes 6th Form College in 1997/1998 who made it as painful and unbearable to dissect and repeat, repeat, repeat both book and film. However, more recently, having read The Martian (or trying to) I can confirm I will never ever attempt/bother reading Andy Weir again. Ever. (I’m sure with the huge adaptation rights he has sold he won’t be crying into his pillow.)

But are assumptions actually a bad thing? I am going to say in the most part no, occasionally yes. In the latter case I have been proved by James Dawson, E. Lockhart, R.J. Palacio and Andrew Smith that YA novels, which I had made some rather negative assumptions about, are bloody brilliant when done really well and now plan to read Patrick Ness, Lisa Williamson and many more. The reason I think no is that actually as much as we are looking for more books to fill our lives and shelves with, we also need to filter down the amount of choice there is out there. This can be through materialistic things like a bad cover, personal choices about if an author being an utter wally can put us off or if we just don’t trust horses or more importantly if we just don’t like certain authors styles of prose and their books just don’t work for us. It is all about tastes really isn’t it?

Tomorrow we will be talking about book tingles, the best things in the world. In the meantime I would love to hear some of things that make you have assumptions about books (subject matters, talking animals, genres etc) and also about the assumptions you have made about books both ones you have been right and wrong about… Help me feel a little less crazy/judgemental.

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Filed under Random Savidgeness

Wonder – R.J. Palacio

Earlier this week you may have seen I unintentionally ruffled some feathers when I brought up the subject of ‘New Adult’ fiction. I will admit that on the occasion I can be a book snob in some respects, though I also read M.C Beaton quite regularly just to make a slight conundrum of my own reading frame of mind, so maybe that played a part and maybe that will change too as it has done with YA novels. Not that I could now only ever read YA novels, I don’t quite understand the attraction to doing only that, yet I have certainly on occasion seen that as an adult they can make captivating reading for me too. ‘Wonder’ by R.J. Palacio is one of the best examples of that I have had the pleasure of reading in the last few years.

**** The Bodley Head, hardback, 2012, fiction, 320 pages, borrowed from the library

August Pullman is a young boy who has been born with a facial abnormality. For years he has been as sheltered as possible from the prospective cruel world of people outside his family, neighbours and kids he knew from childhood, yet he is now at an age where home schooling isn’t enough and he needs to think about going to Middle School (what is the UK equivalent of this?) something which his mother and father are initially have opposing views on. It is from his initial visit of a school to his first day that the book starts and we follow August as he meets those who will accept him for who he is and those that won’t.

“For me Halloween is the best holiday in the world. It even beats Christmas. I get to dress up in a costume. I get to wear a mask. I get to go around like every other kid with a mask and nobody thinks I look weird. Nobody takes a second look. Nobody notices me. Nobody knows me.”

I have to say, despite the fact that I have heard lots and lots of people raving about this book whose opinions I trust, I had been concerned that this book would be a rather patronising sugar coated lecture for young readers about acceptance and how tolerant we should all be. Note – I am not against this message. Initially with the oh so accepting school, the use of phrases like ‘lamb to the slaughter’ and discussing what they mean, the ‘welcome committee’ of three children August gets along with a teacher who starts to teach all the kids about precepts, I did think that this book was going to be one such book. Yet the more I read on, initially in August’s narrative and through his perspective though this changes, my opinion of the book completely changed. ‘Wonder’ is a very honest book which looks at August’s situation from all sides, even some rather confronting and unappealing ones without ever feeling like it is done as a ploy to sell books.

The way in which Palacio makes the book hit home, and also seems more unflinchingly real, is the fact that as ‘Wonder’ progresses the narratives change. Initially we see how August feels about his life, then we switch to how his sister Via feels being the elder sibling who knows her life isn’t as hard as August’s but is having a tough enough time herself starting High School, then to some of August’s friends and frenemies which links in their parents and some of the teachers thoughts. This creates a fully formed world around August and all of the opinions he has about the people around him, sometimes correctly sometimes not, and also all those people’s opinions of him. We see the kids who genuinely want to be his friends, the ones who talk about him behind his back and believe if you touch him you get ‘the Plague’ and how some of their parents perpetuate this.

“I never used to see August the way other people saw him. I knew he didn’t look exactly normal, but I didn’t understand why strangers seemed so shocked when they saw him. Horrified. Sickened. Scared. There are so many words I can use to describe the looks on people’s faces. And for a long time I didn’t get it. I’d just get mad. Mad when they stared. Mad when they looked away. “What the heck are you looking at?” I’d say to people – even grownups.”

Palacio may put August through the wringer on occasion but she never makes him ‘the victim’ nor does she make him completely adorable and perfect, sometimes he can be stubborn, opinionated and judge others, or write them off, himself. She also uses a deftly light sense of humour throughout, August is the butt of people’s jokes but there is no humour there, yet when he laughs at himself and encourages those he trusts to do so we read a long. This also creates a certain weight to the novel, highlighting the darker aspects of the book.

I was impressed with ‘Wonder’ it is a tale the like of which we may have read in books, regardless of them being YA or not, before yet with its sense of humour and multiple narratives I think this book exceeds far beyond others of its type as it becomes a multi faceted living breathing world because of its honesty from all view points. I can see why so many people were raving about it last year, though it is a ‘lighter’ read for an adult it would be an exceptional one for the market which it is most aimed at. I myself highly recommend you give it a read.

Who else had read ‘Wonder’ and what did you make of it? What are your thoughts on adults reading YA literature?

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Filed under Bodley Head Books, R.J. Palacio, Review, Young Adult Fiction

Savidge Reads Library Loot #3

So here is the third in my new series, yet first of the year, of vlog posts where I get to embarrass myself once more talk to you all about the latest books that I have borrowed from the library, and waffle a lot about why. There is a lot of waffle at the start so beware though Oscar does show his face briefly. Anyway here is the latest library loot from me, I will pop a list of the books mentioned below…

The books mentioned amidst all that rambling were…

The Chalk Circle Man – Fred Vargas
Seeking Whom He May Devour – Fred Vargas
The History of a Pleasure Seeker – Richard Mason
Tom-All-Alone’s – Lynn Shepherd
The Good Plain Cook – Bethan Roberts
The Pools – Bethan Roberts
Wonder – R.J. Palacio
Zoo Time – Howard Jacobson
A Death in the Family – Karl Ove Knausgaard

As is the usual routine I would love to know your thoughts on any of the books, have you read them, did you like them, and are you thinking of reading them etc and any thoughts on the intermingled waffle. Many thanks in advance.

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Filed under Library Loot