Thank you for asking some great questions – some of which required a lot of thought to answer!
I’m splitting my answers into two posts – the specific science questions will get their own treatment in a day or two, but here are my answers to all the rest – and do feel free to add your two pennyworth to the discussion:
Dark Puss asked: Why are so many readers of fiction keen to say that they don’t read “Science Fiction” (or indeed “Romantic Fiction”)? Surely there are good books, average books and poor books and some deal with romance and some with a different sort of imaginary world. Why the desire to categorise and is it ever helpful?
If we disregard quality of writing and just concentrate on categorisation or genre, I think there are pros and cons to this issue:
My local indie bookshop did an experiment to see if integrating all the crime and SF&F novels into one big fiction selection made a difference. It did – fans of those types of novels couldn’t find their preferred fare and didn’t buy any books – so they sorted them back again. I use tags for genre on my book reviews so I can find similar types of books easily. These sorts of categorisation are helpful.
It’s less clear with some types of book however whether categorisation is useful. For instance, the crossover appeal of many YA titles these days is increasing, but many adult readers still don’t want to read what they perceive of as children’s books. But, put a YA book with the adult novels rather than on the YA shelves, and it will sell to adults.
Variety is the key to my reading – I try not to read similar books one after the other. I read across genres quite widely – yet ‘romance’, ‘Chick-lit’, or ‘commercial women’s fiction’ – whatever you want to call it, is a genre I rarely venture into. But that’s not because I don’t enjoy it – when I pick a good romantic novel, I love reading it. I do, however – whether true or not, perceive the majority of these titles published as not meeting my quality threshold for a good read – yes I can be a little snobby on occasion about what I read. (Ditto many popular thrillers like the one I read the other week, ‘Misery Memoirs’ too).
Which brings us back to quality – but that is another issue. Dark Puss, you do pose some fiendish dilemmas!
Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings asked: If you had to (or even could!) pick one desert island book, what would it be?
This is easy after the last question! I would pick The Shipping News by Annie Proulx which I re-read last year and reviewed here. It’s a book I’ve read several times, and I still love it. But vitally, each of the chapters is prefaced by an illustration from a book of knots – and knots will be useful (once I’ve managed to make some string or rope!).
Simon T (Stuck in a Book) asked a whole batch of questions:
1. Which book do you think is the most underrated?
That’s difficult for me, for I’m relatively easy to please generally. If you’d asked which book I think is the most overrated I’d have instantly replied back with The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho!
However, I do think that Ernest Hemingway’s first novel The Sun Also Rises is underrated because it is so literal and repetitive – in that the bunch drink, fight, make up, drink, fight, make up … His style instantly clicked with me though when we read this for book group back in 2007. Not everyone agreed.
2. If you had to go on the same holiday every year for the rest of your life, what would it be?
My immediate reaction was Provence or Sorrento – villa with a pool, good food and wine. But y’know, if I had to do it every year I’d be really bored. So I’ll have a staycation and plump for Cornwall (or Northumbria if Cornwall was cut off). I’d need a large cottage with all the modern accoutrements, sea-views, beach within a few minutes’ walk, good pubs and a chippy nearby, ideally a good bookshop in the nearest town. There’s plenty to do in either location – and I could take the cats…
3. Who would play you in the film of your life? Emma Thompson naturally (with soundtrack by Tracey Thorn of course).
4. Which is your favourite Oxford college?
I didn’t go to Oxford – I went to Imperial in London, and then I lived for ages in Cambridge (which I think is a more pretty and compact city). Now I live ten miles outside Oxford in Abingdon which I love. I’m still getting to know Oxford, but I’d have to say my favourite college is an unconventional choice. I am a fan of Modernism, so I’ll go for the Grade I listed and Arne Jacobsen designed St Catherine’s. I went to a ball there many years ago before moving here and the dining hall was striking as the design detail goes down to the table lamps and cutlery, and trademark Jacobsen chairs.
5. A bit of a vague question, but I’d be interested to know how you go about writing a book review post – people’s different techniques and approaches always fascinate me.
As I read a book, I use lots of those sticky tabs to mark places I might want to refer to when I write the review, but when it gets to writing the review itself, it often takes a good deal of pondering to get started. I like to find a hook to hang the review on – the USP of my reading experience of that book – be it positive or negative. The hook dictates the style the review will take. Whilst thinking about that I’ll do the set-up bits – the title, the cover photo, other photos, the bit at the bottom – source and affiliate links. If inspiration still hasn’t come, I’ll type up the quotations I’ve picked, and start on some plot summary. Rarely do I start a review at the top and later arrive at the bottom. I tend to get a lot of typos this way though, as half-finished or edited thoughts sometimes get miss outed or left in with extraneous words… apologies for this. Sometimes I’ll nip in to tidy it up once posted – I am my own worst proof-reader, even in preview mode. I can’t dash off posts though. The better ones take at least two hours to write with more honing.
Thank you Simon!
Denise asked: What’s the book you would most like to see turned into a film/TV series?
I think Eowyn Ivey’s The Snow Child (see here) would make a wonderful film, as long as the question over whether Faina is real or imagined is never answered or given an American ending, ie: kept art-house.
I would love to see a TV series of Ben Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant novels, Rivers of London and its sequels. Shot on location, and given decent special effects. Slightly strangely perhaps, I see Inspector Nightingale as Peter Wyngarde playing Jason King back in the 1960s.
Queen of the Park asked: As a ‘passionate reader’ what do you love most about living in Oxford?
Firstly, I think I’m going to remove the word ‘passionate’ from my About me. It’s overused these days, especially on Masterchef and its ilk!
Now I’m going to commit a bit of a heresy, and say although I live near Oxford, I don’t actually know it that well despite living only ten miles from the centre in nearby Abingdon for over a dozen years now. I’ve never drunk at the Eagle and Child where the Inklings went, I’ve not been inside many of the colleges, etc. But: I have been to book events at the Sheldonian, exhibitions at the Bodleian Library and this year I went to my first events at the Literary Festival, I’ve eaten at Inspector Morse’s favourite pub The Trout, I’ve shopped at Blackwells many a time, and also met some lovely bookish Oxford people including Simon. I’d say Oxford has a lot still for me to discover as a reader!
Jane at Fleur in her world asked: How does being the mother of a daughter influence your reading?
That’s a wonderful question – but strangely, the answer is not a lot! I’ve always loved to read children’s books, I get a lot out of them, and I have a huge admiration for the best authors who create engaging works that don’t talk down to children and are just as well-written as novels for adults (often better, as they have to be more careful with language and sex etc).
My daughter has singular reading habits. She positively dislikes any book with more than a hint of the paranormal or alien about it. When she chooses for herself (as opposed to school saying you must read a *insert genre here* over the hols) she enjoys reading two types of novel – teen romances and mysteries. I was surprised at the latter, but at the moment she likes books that give closure – the girl gets her boy, or the mystery is solved.
However, when I look at the YA shelves now, I do see them differently – thinking would Juliet like that, so she is beginning to influence me. Recently, she asked me if I had any John Green books – and I was able to say, ‘Yes!’
Jenny@Reading the End asked: Is there now, or has there ever been in your life, somebody whose book recommendations you absolutely trusted? If they say “read this” then you read it straight away, no questions asked?
That was certainly the case with my late Mum. We shared a lot of books and fiction-wise I know that anything she enjoyed I would too – but only for fiction though. And it mostly worked the other way around too, provided I left the quirky stuff I’m very fond of at home, I’d take her a bagful of books on a visit, and they’d all come back read with post-it notes on telling me what she thought – and we usually agreed.
I could swear that my local indie bookshop gets in quirky novels and puts them on display just in time for me to come in the shop and buy them too.’We only put that book out today,’ they say!