Book Intimidation

I haven’t posted in awhile and the only reason I can is… well, no, two reasons… (1) the Olympics – figure skating had me a little wrapped up there for awhile – and (2) book intimidation. I don’t know if anyone else uses this term but it is a very real thing that reader’s experience, and this is what I, at least, call it. It is the feeling one gets when thinking about tackling a big or challenging book. You feel intimidated by the size or weight of it, in a physical but also mental and emotional sense. You don’t know if you’re up to it.

I have experienced this before with Treasure Island no less. I wanted to read it as a teen and pick up a second hand copy. But I found the language in the first few pages challenging and I have never gone back, more’s the pity. I think I associate it with a feeling of trepidation. This time around it was Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel that got me.

I read a bit of news about the new stage production of Wolf Hall based on the book. I saw it was about the Tudors and Thomas Cromwell and reportedly very good. I looked up the book and put it on hold and before you know it, it arrived at the library. I didn’t know much about this book going in but when it arrived and I realized it was 650 large pages, I wasn’t sure where I was going to find the time. I’m not a particularly fast reader.  And there on the cover was a stamp saying it was short listed for the Booker Prize. Things started to look a whole lot more serious; not light reading experience here.

Now I had to think, do I want to read this book this much. Do I want to take on the the commitment of time and energy. I know enough about the Tudors and Cromwell to know there probably isn’t going to be a happy ending for pretty much anyone involved. I expected my emotions might take a beating and I may cry. (The cover probably didn’t help. It looks a little torturous.) So I delayed and then the task, for it started to feel like a task, began to feel more daunting. During most of January my reading had been made up of mysteries and children’s books. I had been on an Agatha Christie kick and it seemed like to big a leap to now take on literature that might demand something from me. 

Why do some book intimidate and not others? It’s not just a size thing or no one would read anything by Kenneth Follett, and yet people do, willingly. I think it depends on a personal circumstances – mood, personal experience, reading level, interests, background, time of year. Interestingly, my summer reading is often the more serious. I have often picked up large books and completed them and felt satisfied in the summer. I have read The 900 Days: The Siege of Leningrad in the summer, and it probably has a page for each of the siege, maybe more; I have read A Short History of Nearly Everything and Anna Karenina in the summer. Is this because reading feels less like work in the summer? I have also read a lot of total crap in the summer, so perhaps this theory won’t stand up to too much scrutiny.

Maybe books just have a time, a right time, when you are ready for them. I certainly wasn’t ready for Wuthering Heights in grade 12 but it was perfect timing just out of university. But this book intimidation was more than that. I was deliberately avoiding the book – I hadn’t even opened it, given it a try. At first I told myself I would read the books I had borrowed earlier first. But then I found myself by-passing it and reading book I had borrowed since. I didn’t know what I was going to get into and wasn’t sure if I wanted to – I was intimidated by a book.

How did I get passed it? Two things – (1) I finally read a bad mystery. I didn’t enjoy it and I knew I needed something more. I was better than this. (2) I just picked up the book and opened it. I told myself that I had better take it back to the library the next day if I wasn’t going to read it, but first I would just read a little bit and than I would feel more justified in my action. I probably wouldn’t enjoy it and then I could be excused for being so craven and running from a book. But turns out I liked the first few pages, a lot, and I didn’t want to take it back after all. Maybe it was the right time or maybe I got past the appearance or maybe I just faced the book bully, and like most bullies, it back off.

I’m not done Wolf Hall yet. It is going to take me awhile but I’m really liking it. I’m glad I opened it, tried it out. Not only have I got past the mental block, the book intimidation, but it’s probably the best reading experience I have had since Blackout and All Clear (although I do think Agatha Christie’s Murder in Retrospect is a great novel). And I don’t mean to say that big books should be read just so one can say you’ve read them and feel superior. I just want to say that book intimidation is a real thing. You may experience it from time to time and that’s okay. It may not be the right time for you and the book. Just don’t let the books win. Don’t let them make you feel badly about yourself and them – that they are a burden and mean. That’s just how they look from the outside, but on the inside they really are good.

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Reading Highlights of 2013

I thought it was about time to make a list (since lists are so fun) and what better topic than a year review? It’s been a good reading year. Despite the heavy course load, and luckily even because of it, I have read some great books, discovered authors, and generally enjoyed my reading experiences. Someone told me this year that reading a book is a gift you give yourself. I have been very kind to myself this year.

I have realized that it’s hard to remember everything you’ve read in a year and the books that I remember most are the books that I read near the end of the year, so they may feature here the most (it’s a little like that Oscars in that way). But I’ve done my best to jog my memory and I think I’ve covered the important ground.

1. Connie Willis

say nothing of dog   blackout     all clear

This is a writer that I have just discovered this year but I have to say that her books have gone right to the top of my reading experiences. These are very intricately plotted books. I enjoy her characters and the historical detail. I love the literary allusions that abound. The stories are humourous and thoughtful. I find my time travel such a difficult idea to get my mind around – it and its implications certainly takes quite a bit of thinking. I appreciate that she just doesn’t present the idea as fair accompli. These are quite the genre bending books – science fiction and historical fiction and something else all rolled into one. I found each of the three books I read, To Say Nothing of the DogBlackout, and All Clear, to be compulsive reads despite the heft and detail of the books. (Although, readers should be forewarned that one should consider Blackout and All Clear one book and read together, in order. One should not attempt reading one alone or read them in the incorrect order. This will simply lead to frustration.)

2. The Crimson Petal and the White by Michael Faber

crimson petal

This is quite an astonishing book. I have to confess that I came to this book in a roundabout way. I saw a clip on Youtube and my interest was piqued. I ordered and watched the mini-series. I discovered it was a book and read it. It is quite a dark take on the Victorian novel, a dark kind of Dickens, with its numerous characters and intricate plot, exposing everything the VIctorians wanted to hide or deny. And at the centre of it all, Sugar, so complex and fascinating – angel, prostitute, governess, avenging author, secretary, muse, thief.  I think the size of the book would be enough to intimidate anyone but I was surprised at the speed in which I went through it. This was probably my biggest, most serious read of the year but I felt like it had quite the payoff.

3. The Thief, The Queen of Attolia, The King of Attolia & A Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner

thief

queen of attoliaking of attoliaconspiracy of kings

I actually read The Thief, a Newbery Honour Book, last-last year but it led to me reading the rest of the books in the series, so it gets to be included. I picked it up as a bargain, purely out of curiosity; I had never heard of it, the author, or series before, but I have a good idea what I like and I was right! Again, these books feature intricate plots and strong characterization… Think I’m seeing an appeal trend emerging here. The target audience is probably children/YA readers but I still really enjoyed these books. The Thief is a real adventure, and certainly that is present in all the books. But there is also political intrigue and battles of both wits and will. These books are clever, suspenseful, and thoughtful too. Every protagonist is faced with the question: what kind of person are they really? How can they remain true to themselves or become the person they want to be? The setting of the series is also quite intriguing. It feels part history, part fantasy, part myth. I feel like there are still more books to come, so I am keeping my eye out. So far I think my favourite has been The King of Attolia. I do feel that one thing is missing though – I would really like a map of the kingdoms!

4. The Jane Eyre Affair Reading Map 

I put a lot of time and thought into “The Jane Eyre Affair” but it was a pure delight for me. What could be better than really thinking about a book you have enjoyed and extending that experience though similar reading material, films and video, and going more in depth into the author, book, time period – anything – connected to the book? Clearly, you know how I feel about it. Most of all it was incredibly interesting to see just how influential this one book is in our culture. I knew that I loved Jane Eyre. I just didn’t realize just how many other people also did. I found the process of creating the reading map very enjoyable. I sort of want to make reading maps my job. I don’t know if that will happen but I I am definitely tackle another one in the future. If you have a book suggestions, let me know!

5. Goodreads

I just discovered Goodreads this year, and with my love of books and lists, its really a perfect match. What I like most is the ability I have now to really efficiently keep track of what I have read. I’ve tried making lists before but I end up writing things down more than once and scratching things out and then it becomes less aesthetically pleasing and I want to start all over again. Or I lose the list. I also like that I’ve been able to discover more books by authors I enjoy and books in series. I don’t review, I just keep track. But it is a resource that has definitely helped me out and added some delight to my reading experience.

Other highlights:

  • I’ve made my way through all the library’s Angela Thirkell novels but I still have a lot more to go. I am going to have to do some searching but I am determined to read them all! I love touring around Barsetshire and keeping up with all the residents, and I love the consistency. Edith always manages to get a little above herself despite her best intentions.
  • Eva Ibbotson is definitely a writer for me. She is a new discovery this year. As far as I can tell the best way to describe her books is “historical romances in 1930s Austria and England which involve a lot of family background and where every character makes an impression.”
  • E-readers – I learned to use one. I still don’t know how I feel about them. They may be a conspiracy of the publishing industry to shut down public libraries but they are handy when you’ve finished a book (Blackout) that has a sequel (All Clear) that you didn’t really know about and you need to get hold or and read immediately!

Reading Resolutions for 2014

  • Finish the books that I started and have not finished (but want to).
  • Read books I got for Christmas.
  • Catch up on my Alexander McCall Smith.
  • Create a reading map.
  • Find more Angela Thirkells.
  • Update blog regularly.
  • Visit the Book Depot.
  • Explore some genres I neglect more – Fantasy? Western? Literary Fiction?
  • Find out what all the James Patterson fuss is about.

And that’s enough to be going on with.

The Decider & To The Hilt – Dick Francis

Today is a double bill because I really like Dick Francis. His novels were some of the first mysteries and/or thrillers I ever read. I got The Decider in my stocking one Christmas (I think it might have been grade 9) and I was hooked. Of all his books that I’ve read The Decider and To the Hilt are my favourites. I decided I just couldn’t leave out one and talk about the other. I need to do them both, together.

Let me practice a little RA. What do I like about these books?

  1. Danger – They always get beaten up! I don’t love people getting beaten up but the physical danger is always part of plot. In whatever situation the character is in, the danger is real. They putting their safety on the line.
  2.  Amateur sleuth – I am a fan of the amateur sleuth, perhaps because it makes it a little more relevant to me. Also, because the amateur doesn’t risk danger or sleuth because it’s just another day on the job; they do it because something is a stake and they’ve chosen to take the risk.
  3. Horses – The draw is not the horses per say but the horse world. It always interests me to see the different ways in which Francis can develop a story around the horse world. There are so many different roles and perspectives; he always manages to draw on something new.
  4. British – It does help that the stories are British because I love the UK. It’s also interesting to see how the horse world (see above) incorporates the upper and lower classes in Great Britain. Class is the perennial British issue.

Talking about this all has prompted to think that I haven’t read these books in a long time. (I have read both at least twice.) When some time opens up in the reading schedule, I think I am going to make these a priority…