Wednesday 15 September 2010

Poetic breaks

The silvery notes of dreams
Cascade through my consciousness.
Drifting dreamscapes
and flitting fantasies,
Tumble down,
Splish splash
Into the bottomless pool.

Kath Liu, 2008

Monday 13 September 2010

Are you a Lone Reader?

I came across this BBC article a couple of days ago and it got me thinking about reading. Back in the days of yore, folks used to gather around campfires and entertain each other by telling stories but the advent of the industrial revolution and capitalism boiled this love of stories down into the individualised package that we know and love today: the novel. Ostensibly, this made reading an individual endeavour - if you've ever tried to co-read a book in a short-resourced English Lit class in high school, you will know why - but the social aspect out of sharing our stories is still very much there.

Reflecting on my own reading practices, I realised that while yes, much of what I read, I read alone I would KILL for someone to read a book to me. Or pay for it through the Audiobooks section of iTunes. As a kid my father read all sorts of classics to us, including all three books of Lord of the Rings. For a bloke who worked a 10 hour day that's some achievement. Hearing the story in your own voice in your own head is great but hearing it from someone else can add dimensions to it that you might not have thought of, like how Gollum sounds when he coughs or the pure terror of the Black Riders.

Perhaps my love of reading aloud also comes in part for my penchant for the sound of language. The beauty of a well-written sentence can't be underestimated. It's when it is spoken that words are most alive - light bounces off them and illuminates dark corners of previously unexplored ideas. I really could wax lyrical here about this but I'll spare you more details. Safe to say I'm a major language geek and prefer to hear poetry rather than read it.

My third and final point proving that I'm totally a social reader: book club. Nothing and I mean nothing gets me more animated than talking about books. When I have a mug of coffee in my hand, a slice of cake on my plate and several good friends all in the same place talking about the same book, I'm pretty well in heaven. In fact, if heaven does not have a good library and book clubs, I really don't fancy going there. Also the fact that I write on here about books proves that I'm a social reader. I want to put my thoughts out there and see what other people think too. Blogging is, in a way, a huge book club meeting online.

So yet again, I'm keen to know what you think. Are you a Lone Reader or a Social Bookerfly?

Saturday 11 September 2010

Bookish things I have been up to offline: Feature shelves

As I said in my last post, I've staged a quiet take-over of the small collection of books that we have at the Community Center where I work. We cater to the needs of the International Community in Taipei and, being a transient bunch, people regularly leave and donate their books to us. We've got about 900 books and each and every one of them has been registered on bookcrossing as we are now an official bookcrossing zone. Also I re-organised the entire collection to be categorised by genre rather than just alphabetically by author because I'm fussy. All of this has taken months as I only work part-time but has been achieved with a lot of help from some of our student volunteers and now it's finally in order and I'm feeling pretty chuffed.

Then my boss says "Hey, you know what? Why don't I give you a budget to buy a couple of recent books every month to keep our collection up-to-date?"

Pay me to go pick out books? Do you need to ask?!

And so the idea of the Feature Shelf was born in my mind. I decided that each month I would buy books in theme and set up a feature shelf showcasing these books and any others that were along the same theme. September is "Memoir Movie Tie-In" as Eat, Pray, Love is being released in cinemas here pretty soon (October) so I figured people might like the chance to read the book beforehand. Not to mention its a personal favourite of mine - that's totally nothing to do with it! So keeping in theme I also got Julie and Julia as I figured it was a pretty popular movie but most folks I know hadn't read the book but wanted to. So voila! September's feature shelf is up and running.

All I need to do now is come up with more themes! Next month I was hoping to have a Booker Prize shelf in honour of the winner being announced but I wanted to ask you guys to see if you had any fun ideas about possible themes. Let me know what you think - I'd love to hear your ideas!

Thursday 9 September 2010

Reading against type - Liu vs Palahniuk

I don't remember what it was that got me thinking about it but a couple of weeks ago I started thinking about the kinds of books I read. It was probably staring at the shelves and shelves of donated books at my work's small 'library' that I have taken over. We've got a pretty sizeable collection - about 900 books - from all genres, particularly the mystery/suspense/thriller category. You know the type, airport books that you buy, enjoy and generally never read again.

I've said it before, and I will say it again: there are far too many books in this world for me to waste my time on things I don't want to read... but. On the one hand it is true. I have absolutely desire to read another Dan Brown book in my entire life. But what about books that I just don't consider my type? What if I'm really missing out? So I decided to branch out. To Choke by Chuck Palahniuk.

So far I have knocked off 130 pages of the 293 in the book. And I am struggling. To be fair, this is a well written book and it covers some interesting ideas and themes but WOW it is so not my style. To say I find it confronting would be an understatement, there are times it makes me squirmingly  uncomfortable. Which is totally the point of the narrative but I don't like feeling this way. I've realised that I read to escape into another world and even if it's a harsh world, the worlds I escape into never feel like a bad fever nightmare that contain sentences that make me feel physically sick.

To all you Palahniuk fans out there, please don't take this as an attack on your favourite author. It's absolutely not. It's just that he isn't my cup of tea. That said, I do plan on seeing this one through to the end because as much as I'm not enjoying the way the book makes me feel, it kind of has me hooked and I want to know how it all pans out.

So have any of you read against your usual type lately? Do you even have a type of book you read? I'd love to hear your thoughts on this one!