Why do we read fiction?

Fiction is a strange beast when you think about it. Made-up people in made-up worlds doing made-up things, and yet they have the power to make us laugh, cry, think, flinch, or just go to bed early to catch the next few chapters of their adventures. My own compulsion to read has puzzled me for a long time. I know I don’t feel right if I haven’t got a good book on the go. It doesn’t have to be fiction. I’m not exclusive (although, I admit, most of the time I am).

Why do we read fiction? Escapism, entertainment, sanctuary? If you are anything like me, you might feel there is something necessary about it, but perhaps like me also, you feel it instinctively though you’d be hard pushed to explain exactly what it is. Research on the psychology of reading fiction suggests that Continue reading “Why do we read fiction?”

The Sexy Test

‘Do you know what the lady is going to do, Harry?’

‘Yes, mummy. She’s going to do the test to see if I’m sexy.’

‘Almost, sweetie. It’s to see if you are dyslexic.’

True story. Oh how we giggled. But it isn’t a laughing matter for the kids and adults affected.

Even in this world of alternative technologies, the written word is still central to how the world functions (or how the world ends given the current battle of juvenile tweets between power-crazed despots). It has certainly Continue reading “The Sexy Test”

2017: A year of reading and writing

There is no more valuable a gift than a book that makes you laugh, cry or think 

It has been an interesting year of books. For (almost) the first time, I’ve read several novels by people I know. Either in person or virtually (although some of those virtual relationships are as strong as friendships in real life). I find it nerve-racking, those first few moment with the first few pages, sussing out whether it is going to be a book I’ll love or one that will do nothing for me. I feel a responsibility to enjoy the work of the people I like. Which doesn’t always happen. But when it does, it is wonderful.

Like Maria Donovan’s Chicken Soup Murders. Aside from the fabulous title, it was obvious from the opening that it was beautifully written. I read it immediately after Joanna Cannon’s fabulous The Trouble with Goats and Sheep and it compares very well. Or Chris McQueer’s Hings which had me laughing, cringing and spurting my tea out of my nose (often at the same time). Continue reading “2017: A year of reading and writing”

We can’t help but judge a book by its cover

The old saying says we shouldn’t but we do it all the time. Judge a book by its cover, that is. Publishers and marketing departments rely on it. That first impression that piques your interest or puts you off completely. The distinctive hallmarks of different genres. A certain style that brackets a debut novel with the latest bestseller. I’m talking fiction (and creative non-fiction) here although no doubt there are similar criteria that dictate the covers of non-fiction and academic books even if the specifics are different.

Picture the scene. You’re browsing in a bookshop, pennies burning a hole in your pocket, on the look out for something murderous or challenging, or perhaps you’re in the mood for a few laughs, or maybe you want a fast and furious thrill, or to chill with a light, easy read, and there’s a table of new fiction laid out before you. What do you do? Continue reading “We can’t help but judge a book by its cover”

Sugar and Tobacco

Individually we may not be able to atone for the past, but we must acknowledge it.

Fiction is often the gateway into fact for me. The books that stay with me longest are frequently those that have changed the way that I look at the world, taught me something fundamental or submerged me in an unfamiliar culture. Books like Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie which centres on the Nigerian-Biafran war of 1967-1970, a war about which I was shamefully almost entirely ignorant until I read the book, or Isabel Allende’s House of Spirits which, even though the Latin American country in which it is set is unnamed, was my point of discovery of the history and politics of Chile and led me towards the more factual (but beautifully written) books about South American history and politics by the Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano. Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy—one of my favourite books of all time—not only evoked the most profound memories of the short time that I worked in West Bengal Continue reading “Sugar and Tobacco”