How I’ve Read – Revisited

Nurturing my reading habit

I’ve been adding old book reviews that failed to transfer over from my old blog to this one in the hope that I can finally erase the old blog.  I came across a post which I wrote in March 2010, which  I felt was definitely worth revisiting, so I’ve edited my original, and added some new parts.

The original was prompted by a discussion over at  Savidge Reads on the subject. Simon’s post was a  thoughtful piece about assumptions and expectations of books and questioned whether it is laziness to choose books with straight-forward writing styles?  I was prompted to write my own response to that by illustrating the evolution of my own reading habit. Here goes:

I was an early reader thanks to the Ladybird Peter & Jane series. A weekly library visit was always looked forward to, and I devoured all the children’s classics, shelf-loads of Enid Blyton and millions of fairy tales. My favourite book then was Marianne Dreams by Catherine Storr which once discovered I re-read frequently.

My senior school unusually didn’t put us in for the English Literature O-Level, they felt that analysing books turned younger teenagers off reading.  We read all the set texts and many more, we just didn’t have to memorise chunks and regurgitate essays for the exam which was great at the time.  I may have dropped English for Sciences at A-Level, but didn’t stop reading. I discovered Science Fiction, and read everything I could get my hands on – Curt Siodmak’s 1940s SF/horror novel Donovan’s Brain was my favourite. But I also read War and Peace, Anna Karenina and I, Claudius, spurred on by the super BBC adaptations. I also read The Lord of the Rings for the first time, although I’d read The Hobbit years previously.  My Dad was (and still is) a fan of thrillers, so I read all them too – Alastair MacLean, Dick Francis etc.  The sheer quantity of books I read was amazing, immersing myself in the stories, and never stopping to think about them at all.

At university I also discovered fantasy of the swords and sorcery kind. I loved the world of Xanth created by Piers Anthony. They make me cringe now, but the first few Xanth books were interesting before the series disintegrated into pun-ridden formula. I don’t think I read a non-genre book for three years.

Then out into the world, and soon a daily commute of an hour and a half each way. I used to get through four books a week easily.  This was when I got used to browsing in the town bookshop – conveniently situated on the walk through from the bus to rail station, and a new love of crime fiction was born.  My other choices were still informed by what was currently being adapted on TV – Brideshead Revisited and Tender is the Night, the latter beginning a love of Fitzgerald’s writing. But apart from these few modern classics, I can’t remember what I read then.  It was still a case of quantity over quality for the most part.

In my thirties, married, money coming in, I started to really indulge in buying books, browsing endlessly in my local bookshop and beginning to become more adventurous in my reading. I started paying attention to the Booker prize and reading the reviews in the weekend papers, not just glancing at the bestseller lists. No longer commuting, but plenty of spare time to read. I discovered and reinforced a love for the books of many of my favourite authors during the 1990s – Paul Auster and Iain Banks in particular.. This is the era when the TBR shelf became a pile, then two, then three…

As 40 came, I belatedly became a mum and found a whole new lot of children’s books to love. – Mick Inkpen’s Kipper books and everything by Lauren Child of Charlie & Lola fame.  Relocated to  near Oxford and staying at home, this is when I started to keep records as I discovered I was rebuying books I’d previously read: my master spreadsheet was started in around 2005 and is still going!  Then I thought I’d write a few words about each book read to help me remember, and before long I was writing short reviews – just for myself.  I found that it really helped me to fix a book in my mind, and once I discovered Librarything I plucked up courage to publish them.  I joined a book group too which introduced reading books I wouldn’t normally choose to the menu; in practice this is rarely a chore.

I started blogging. In September 2008 I finally started my own blog. The first book I reviewed was the second Rebus novel by Ian Rankin (here). Despite getting new bookcases built the TBR piles started to resemble mountains as I indulged my passion further and determined to be the best customer of our town’s new bookshop, Mostly Books. It’s all MB owner Mark’s fault – he got me into Librarything, and then later introduced me to a lady who blogs, who happened to be visiting the shop – she was none other than Lynne of Dovegreyreader!

The next big birthday arrived, although I’d like to remain 36 in my brain forever please.  Are my reading habits more mature in keeping with my age?  I still love a good thriller or dystopian novel, but look for the better written ones; at forty years older than the target age, I enjoy the best of young adult fiction; I discovered the delights of Beryl Bainbridge; I find also that I do rather enjoy experimental novels – this could be described as a peculiar form of masochism(!).  Maturity and blogging however, are finally making up for never having considered why I read, how I read, and what I get from it, even if it’s not always highbrow. Variety has been my watchword since I left uni, and I feel that has enriched my reading career hugely.

Shiny new directions. Being one of the co-founders and editors of Shiny New Books continues to open my eyes to an even wider range of books as a curator of the site and reviewer, as well as finding many more new titles to add to my wishlist and TBR piles. In particular, thanks to Shiny and a handful of wonderful bloggers who specialise in translated fiction, I’m reading more of that – especially French lit, but from the world at large too. I keep an eye out for quirky non-fiction titles more often too.

Future reading?  I would like to be able to ‘read where the mood takes me’ even more, and the TBR Dare this year didn’t really make much of a dent on my piles of unread books. I’m trying to alternate more – one of my own books, one review copy,  Recently, I’ve developed a liking for grown up graphic novels such as Mooncop (although I was a devotee of Asterix and Tintin as a child and beyond).

– I’m still developing as a reader. I just wanted to show you how reading habits can and do evolve. It’s not just nature, in fact it’s mostly nurture, and that’s where the book blogging community continues to play a wonderful part. The practice of writing about books and sharing opinions of them has proven to be a fantastic and still ongoing training course in developing critical thinking about and an even deeper love of literature for me. That said, I do try hard not to be snobbish about books, but I’ll save the discussion of whether any reading is good reading for another time!

I’d love to hear how you nurture your reading habits too …

2 thoughts on “How I’ve Read – Revisited

  1. Lovely post Annabel! I can see similarities with my reading life, as I used to devour so many books when I was younger! And I do agree that writing the review helps to fix the book in your brain a bit more – especially when you’ve read a lot…. I hadn’t really thought about how my reading had evolved, but considering that now I think it has – I read more deeply now, and probably even more widely. Which has to be a good thing! Thanks for sharing this with us.

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