Monthly Archives: November 2011

3 R’s of Reading: The Romance, The Revelry, The Reflection

Greetings, Salutations and All That Jazz!

I’ve been contemplating things that start with the letter R, and have decided that there are 3 R’s to reading a book: The Romance, The Revelry, The Reflection.

The Romance

As with any relationship, your affair with literature begins with wooing. Novels may not send you flowers or take you out to dinner  (though they will write letters – hehe), they do have an inexplicable power to charm and woo us readers into thinking we need them. An example of this occured a few months ago. I was just minding my own business, watching the Idiot Box, when up pops an ad for the TV Miniseries of “Pillars of the Earth” by Ken Follett. Whilst I knew very little of the story, the ad aroused an intense curiosity to read the book. It didn’t even matter what the book was about, the idea lodged itself so resolutely under my skin. I then spent the next couple of days hunting it down, only resting once it had been acquired (never mind that it just gathered dust on my bedside table for a couple of months before I began to read it!)

The Revelry

The Revelry is pretty straightforward: you read the book. Nothing too difficult, there. Obviously, people’s experience of reading may differ – depending on the book, the reason for reading it, etc. I’ve termed this stage The Revelry, because reading is a pleasure, a privilege and I revel in it. Sometimes, if I really, I mean really love a book, I start to resemble a crackhead who will do anything for just one more chapter, just one more page -it’s not a pretty sight 🙂

The Reflection

Stage 3. You’ve been wined, dined; read your selected book (or did it select you?) now it’s finished and you think it’s all over. But, is it? Hells no! Now comes an often overlooked, but vital stage: The Reflection.

The great thing about The Reflection is that it doesn’t matter whether you liked the book or not, this is the stage where, with a little time and space, you reflect on the piece as a whole. The themes, plot, characters, your emotional response to particular aspects of the story are given time to perculate, simmering in the back of your mind while you subconsciously compare, analyse and form a richer, considered opinion. The Reflection is unbound by time, sometimes being days, weeks, months. It’s an enjoyable stage – capable of overshadowing The Revelry. You may have absolutely LOVED reading a book, it may have grabbed you by the balls and not let go (like perhaps, certain YA fiction that has be popular recently) but reflecting on the content, themes, characters, you may find that actually – you don’t like the characters, you don’t like the message and you don’t know how on earth you woke up wearing this Team Edward T-shirt! (You know, hypothetically). You may have the opposite experience, such as I did with Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. I didn’t really enjoy the book while I was reading it, I didn’t trust the narrator, I didnt like most of the characters and there were times I just didn’t want to pick it up. However, The Reflection changed my whole opinion of it. I loved the novel as a complete, finished work. It is now one of my favourite books. (More to come on Wuthering Heights – watch this space!)

So there you have it, Mr Stephen King.  I’ve been pondering things begining with the little R, The Romance, The Revelry, The Reflection:  My 3 R’s to Reading. Together they form a harmonious, interesting reading experience.

Your Reader

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Today’s Top 10

Greetings, Salutations and All That Jazz,

What are your Top 10 favourite books?

I’ve been considering what my Top 10 might be. This is harder than I imagined. For starters, what’s my definition of “favourite”? If it’s books that I can’t put down, then a significant proportion of my Top Ten would be Tom Clancy, Patricia Cornwell, or hell – even the Stephanie Meyers books (Team Edward, FYI). But being easy to turn the page isn’t enough justification for “favourite” status in my book. So, I think a working definition of “Top 10 Favourite books” needs to incorporate not necessarily books that I enjoy, but ones I respect – writing styles that inspired me or themes that really do tug at the ol’ heartstrings. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte is an example of this – I couldn’t stand the characters and just wanted to get to The End, but once finished, I loved it as a complete piece (we’ll discuss that book soon Mr StephenKing, I have so many thinks brewing in my thinker, I’m bursting to get it all out!).

So anyway, today because who knows what reading delights tomorrow will bring, my top 10 are:

  1. The Talisman, Stephen King & Peter Straub
  2. Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
  3. Sense & Sensibility, Jane Austen
  4. Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte
  5. It, Stephen King
  6. The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R Tolkien
  7. Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
  8. The Stand, Stephen King
  9. Sir Gawain and The Green Knight, The Gawain Poet
  10. The Adventures Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – I particularly like “The Speckled Band”

Hmm, anyone notice a particular theme?

That was harder than I anticipated. I really wanted to throw in some Australian authors such as Helen Hodgman, Helen Garner, Tim Winton, Kate Grenville, etc, but perhaps they’ll make the cut tomorrow 🙂

So.. what are yours?

Your Reader,

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Commonplace Book

Greetings, Salutations and All That Jazz,

“How vain is it to sit down and write, when you have not stood up to live” Thoreau

Author, Henry Thoreau, amongst others, used a “commonplace book” to document various literary inspirations he would come across. (My preferred method is to grab  the old 2H pencil & frantically scribble notes in the margin as I go – it can make for some messy reading, second time around)

I would love to know what thoughts and quotes inhabited the pages of Thoreau’s commonplace book. I wonder what you, Mr Stephen King would keep in such an inspiration vault?  I imagine these things say as much about the author as their writings do – I also imagine, given the nature of your writings, Mr Stephen King, your literary vault would be rather peculiar 🙂

The concept of a commonplace book appeals  to me – not just because it may improve the state of my book collection. I do have a scrapbook filled with post cards, images and articles that I find interesting, though it has a rather wayward habit of getting up in the middle of the night to find a new hovel to hide. I suspect ‘Dear Stephen King’ could be a nice little space to collate the bits & bobs that interest me throughout my reading travels. It should be much harder to lose than a delinquent scrapbook.

As such, here lies my first entry, a word I came across this morning:

mer·cu·ri·al
[mer-kyoor-ee-uhl]

adjective
1. changeable; volatile; fickle; flighty; erratic: a mercurial nature.

2. animated; lively; sprightly; quick-witted.

3. pertaining to, containing, or caused by the metal mercury.

4. (initial capital letter) of or pertaining to the god Mercury.

5. (initial capital letter) of or pertaining to the planet Mercury.

noun
6.Pharmacology. a preparation of mercury used as a drug.

http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/mercurial

Your Reader,

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Dear Stephen King,

Greetings, Salutations and All That Jazz,

I feel privileged that in my earliest reading years I understood what it meant to read a good book. I think in part, I have you to thank for that Mr Stephen King. As a young reader, I understood that to enter into worlds created by words requires payment- I was to surrender something of myself – perhaps my time, perhaps peaceful sleep. But in such a transaction, I would gain far more than I gave – or, at least I should gain far more than I gave. To be invited into a world shaped and built on words printed on tea coloured paper should be a memorable experience. If not life changing, certainly life shaping – it was for me.

“When you read a book as a child it becomes a part of your identity in a way that no other reading in your life does” (Kathleen Kelly, You’ve Got Mail)

I know now of course, that not everyone has that experience with books. Nor do I enjoy the privilege of being so utterly swept into another realm that I forget to breathe with every book I read – disappointingly so. But your
stories, StephenKing, your stories do that for me. At least, some of them do. I won’t deny that some scare the shit out of me and I won’t profess to have read them all, but if I had to list my top ten favourite stories of all time, I’m guessing at least two of them would belong to you. That’s a pretty good batting average, wouldn’t you say?

I’m sure somewhere along the line I managed to squeeze in a few  children’s stories – Enid Blyton’s Faraway Series comes to mind, but it was Travelling Jack, Speedy Parker and the Territories’ dying queen that captured my imagination most fiercely, my heart irrevocably. The seven best friends who fought Pennywise in a sewer were my friends and it was my blood that spilt, and my body that trembled in fear as they battled Evil in the dark. Their nightmares woke me up in a cold sweat, and their courage inspired me to turn the page, though heartache was guaranteed. I dreaded the final word on the last page and would sturbbornly refuse to acknowledge the looming presence of The End so fiercely, as if it were my own ending.

So, here I am. Your Reader. I want to tell you what your books mean to me, how they have impacted my reading life and love of the written word. I want to talk to you about some of the characters you’ve created, the plots you concoct, and your wonderful ability to take the English language, and use it to create such vivid, real worlds in my imagination. I want to talk to you about other books I read – and ask what you think of them. I need a space to blurt out the ever growing thoughts that are threatening to start spewing out of my ears if I don’t put them somewhere. So, here I am: Your Reader, with jumbles and mumbles of churned to the bone musings that I would like to share with you, Mr Stephen King.

So, perhaps, a good place to start – at the risk of being too clichéd, is at the beginning – the genesis of my relationship with the written word. Mr King, you were there. You were there at my beginning. Some of my earliest memories of being held captive by words on pages, worlds in print, friendships formed through Times New Roman, are from your books, Mr. StephenKing. My mum’s bookshelves were lined with your works and the first one she allowed me to share was “The Eyes of the Dragon”. I don’t remember much of the story to be honest, it was perhaps 20 years ago, but I do recall the feelings it evoked as I stepped into the world you created: Intrigue, curiosity, dread, but most importantly: thirst. A deep and ravaging thirst for What Comes Next. I should probably read that book again.

The next book I recall reading was your collaborative work with Peter Straub, The Talisman. To this day, when people ask what my favourite book is, I usually answer either “Stephen King’s, ‘The Talisman’”, (yes, I know there was another author, but that’s how I answer – sorry, Peter Straub), or Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll (we’ll discuss that one later). I’ve actually just picked up The Talisman again – and I’m swept away. The state of this book is evidence alone of how well loved it is: it looks like it’s gone 3 rounds with a shredder and come out bloody.  There is no front or back cover, and decade old sticky tape binds the first torn pages together. Fortunately, the spine is in tact – just. This book is something of an heirloom in my family. It belongs to my mum and is probably older than I am. As I said, it’s well loved. This time, my reading senses are attuned to different details, such as your ability to create familiar, believable, mutli-dimensional characters in less than 100 words! The example in particular that I recall is ‘the balding C.P.A, Larry’:

”A family passing in an old station-wagon stopped squabbling long enough to look at him curiously. The man driving the wagon, a balding C.P.A. who sometimes awoke in the middle of the night fancying that he could feel shooting pains in his chest and down his left arm, had a sudden and absurd series of thoughts: Adventure. Danger. A quest of some noble purpose. Dreams of fear and glory. He shook his head, as if to clear it, and glanced at the boy in the wagon’s rear-view mirror just as the kid leaned over to look at something. Christ, the balding C.P.A thought. Get it out of your head, Larry, you sound like a fucking boys’ adventure book.

Larry shot into traffic, quickly getting the wagon up to seventy, forgetting about the kid in the dirty jeans by the side of the road. If he could get home by three, he’d be in good time to watch the middleweight title fight on ESPN.” (p.260)

OK, so less than 200 words, and here is a fully fledged, believable character – never to be heard of again, but we don’t doubt his existence for a second. I love that! It inspires me – in fact, homework for the oncoming week:
in no more than 200 words, create an utterly believable character. I wonder why this Larry fella struck me so? What was it that you (or P.S) actually did there, Mr StephenKing? Why is he so believable? I have a few
thoughts on this,

  • it helps to have insight into Balding C.P.A Larry’s moments of vulnerability – such as his paranoia about having a heartattack. We can infer that he’s probably not the healthiest horse in the stable.
  • His immediate and very adult reaction to the absurdity of adventure, danger and noble quests – it’s all too depressingly familiar.
  • Aiming to get home by 3 to watch the middleweight title fight. Not only is this so believable in its
    boring-cynical-dad-ness, but it highlights the contrast between 12 year old Jack flipping between alternate realities on the quest of a lifetime while his mother’s life hangs in the balance; and ‘Balding C.P.A Larry’, with his lost hope that heroes are real, adventure is out there and there’s more to life than 3 o’clock title fight. The contrast really serves to highlight that the protagonist, Jack, is alone.
  • Ultimately, I think C.P.A Larry is believable, and brilliant, because he serves as a mirror – a quick glimpse of life in TheRealWorld and how the stuff of Boys Adventure books belongs on pages between covers, not in dirty jeans on the side of the road – or so we think 😉

And now, Mr StephenKing, I’m going to snuggle up in bed with a cuppa, and finish the book.

YourReader

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