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A Brief Word On Imagination And Description

A photograph of a door in the gardens of Hever Castle, surrounded by autumn leaves

The woman went to the sink and washed her cup. I was pulled out of the story – hadn’t she already done that? Looking through the past few paragraphs in the scene I found that she hadn’t.

I realised that as I’d been reading, I’d imagined the two women talking at the table – as the dialogue showed this was happening. I saw one taking sips of coffee as the other spoke and then the reverse, and, as often happens in reality when you’ve a friend with you in the kitchen and it’s all very casual, the home owner had left the table to rinse her mug. That I’d imagined this made me very happy; I’m not great at taking a scene and running with it; description is useful (though I agree with the fact that lots of books have too much description).

(On this note there’s a ‘condition’ in the same region as Synesthesia, called Aphantasia – the inability to create mental images. It’s an interesting thing to read about.)

The washing up brought to mind the fact that stories don’t need to ‘tell’ – even if you’re not actually imagining, you don’t need an exact run-down of what’s happening, you don’t need the minor details repeated. Perhaps that’s where the line is, between telling and showing, the line between a reader taking on the scene’s construction themselves compared to being hindered because the author won’t let them create.

How do you find the visual part of reading? Do you find yourself creating the background and context?

On Book Haul Posts

A photograph of a pile of books - the Wellcome Prize 2016 shortlist

…Or what I refer to here as Latest Acquisitions posts.

I haven’t written an acquisitions post recently. It isn’t because I’ve not received/bought/borrowed any books – I have had fewer books enter my home but enough to warrant a post. It’s because the knowledge that they are easy posts, and the considerations as to how and when to create them, got me thinking I should write less of them.

That ‘worry’… I’ve been about it in some shape or form for ages, then Holly posted her own thoughts which in turn were inspired by Ariel Bisett’s video. I thought I’d take a leaf from their book and write down the thoughts I’ve kept to myself. Primarily my thoughts concern the ‘why’ of book hauls, but also revolve around the form the posts take.

I create my latest acquisition posts because I like to highlight books I’ve received, knowing it’ll take me a while, sometimes forever, to get to them all. I do it because it gives me a chance to flag up a new release I’m not set to review until after the publishing date. I do it to share my excitement and my reasons for saying ‘yes’ to a request or buying a book. (In the second case – buying – it allows me to share my journey, if there was one, to buying it.) And I like posts that include lots of books.

On a less personal note, book haul posts are easy. Yes, they are easy (generally) for me to write (on occasions when I’ve accepted a book for review not knowing too much about it I feel the lack of good background information) but also easy to read. As much as long posts are great, sometimes people just don’t have the time to read them so a mix of long and short posts hopefully helps mean more time for both. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that short posts see more comments, and it’s entirely understandable. (Reviews are excluded of course – in my experience they are effected, comments wise, by whether or not the blog reader has read the book.)

Two of my considerations are length and time:

  • The balance between a short, easy, post, and something of value is something that in the case of hauls I’m still working on.
  • Time – how often to post; how many books in each post (which may affect post frequency); how many are too many.

And always lingering at the back of my mind – when dealing with review requests, does this constitute showing off?

I’ve acquired many books since my last haul post but due to pulling back a little on review copies for the time being, I’ve been reviewing them pretty swiftly… which is another thought – I don’t like posting about a new book twice in quick succession unless I’ve lots (and lots) to say about it.

Though I should probably write another acquisitions post soon, leaving out books I’ve since reviewed – that’s another factor. Wait too long and calling a book ‘new’ is no longer true.

The amount I’ve written here… I guess this post has been a long time coming!

What do you think about book hauls and their value?

Contemplating My Favourite Genre(s)

A photograph of two stacks of books on a table in the sun

I’ve the urge to read some books that have been on my backlist. Specifically I’ve been wanting to read historical fiction of the fantasy variety, mostly time travel and time slip; in the case of the books I’ve had on my shelves, it’s primarily time slip.

I’ve been wanting to do this since I briefly picked up The House On The Strand some time ago. It occurred to me earlier this week as I sat with Susanna Kearsley’s The Shadowy Horses, that I might have been wrong all this time that historical fiction and fantasy fiction are my favourite genres. It’s far simpler – I like both put together.

Historical fantasy is a genre I always feel comfortable with in that particular way of sitting down to read and feeling the need to relax back into the chair and not do anything else for a good few hours. Even if I don’t think the book’s great, as I ultimately found with the Kearsley, the feeling remains. Historical fantasy speaks to my passion for history and my longing to be back in time, the part of me that loves visiting castles and old houses. It’s like coming home.

And I think it’s more like coming home than reading a good classic can be. I’m surprised to find that my joy in reading classics is pipped to the post by historical fantasy.

I don’t mind a romance, but only when it works. Could The Shadowy Horses have done without the romance? I’d say so, yes. Could Nicola Cornick’s The Phantom Tree? Yes. But I think Cornick’s previous, House Of Shadows, would have been a little less without the progression of a relationship.

Historical fantasy is a genre I don’t own many books in. It does take a bit to get it right and where it’s something I don’t read too often (and whenever I do read it I have to stop myself reading too much) I don’t often actively seek new books.

I should. I have only the Du Maurier, that I stopped reading because there were other books I had to read that I knew I’d abandon if I didn’t stop; Kearsley’s Season Of Storms and The Firebird; Barbara Erskine’s Sleeper’s Castle – my current read. Unless there is time travel/slip in a book that I do not know about, that’s my lot. Everything else – not much – has been read.

I think I need to get better at identifying what I like the most and making it more of a priority, both in terms of reading and when at the bookshop/library/when reading requests.

Has your favourite genre changed over the years?

How Soon Can You Trust The Author?

A photograph of a copy of Sara Taylor's The Lauras laying on pebbles in the sun

I’ve recently discovered something interesting of the sort I expect you can relate to. It’s something I reckon is always there, particularly the more we read, but it’s taken until now for me to have that light bulb moment where it all comes together as a full concept.

I’m finding that I can generally tell within a couple of pages, sometimes sentences, whether I can trust the author I’m currently reading to tell a good, well-written, story.

I expect it comes down to two things, both subjective: 1) I’m increasingly knowledgeable of what, to me, constitutes a good book, and 2) some authors are just too good at pulling you in from the start. The kind of writing and voice is often very similar in a basic way and the feeling oof trust is that lovely feeling of knowing what you’re getting into, where you start a book and it just feels right and you settle down into your seat because you’ve – definitely now – every intention of staying there a few hours.

Sometimes I’m wrong about trust but it’s generally on a sliding scale. The more the initial trust, the more likely the trust wil turn out to be warranted. There’s probably a mathematical formula out there…

A lack of feeling of trust doesn’t mean a book will be bad, often far from it, but it does more often than not to books I think are great but profound. (This is related to my year round up five stars and ‘best of the best’.)

I do believe we all feel this, just in different ways, our preferences creating differences.

What elements of a book cause your ‘I’m going to love this’ feeling and how often do you find books meeting your initial expectations?

Author Biographies In Books

A photograph of four books: Shan Sa's Empress, Kieran Shield's The Truth Of All Things, Nichole Bernier's The Unfinished Work Of Elizabeth D, and Sarah Pekkanen's Skipping A Beat

Many hardbacks nowadays have dedicated biographies on the jacket cover, providing brief information about the author and often a photograph. Education details, social media links, family. When paperbacks sport biographies they’re generally more limited, on the front pages, less information, and photographs don’t tend to be included. Biographies are something I consider often because I’ve a default primary action, particularly in the case of hardbacks, whereupon if I’m browsing shop shelves or about to pick up a book I already own to read, one of the first things I do is decide whether or not to read the biography.

If I’m wanting to stay in the dark about the plot of the story I’ll generally skip the biography just in case, especially if I don’t already know anything about the author; in reading the biography first you are unable to read the book without those slight threads of influence the biography may supply.

But because a biography often provides details that enable you to roughly gauge how informed the book might be, for example Kit de Waal’s work history shows that My Name Is Leon will most likely be trustworthy and full of knowledge (she’s worked in the social care system for years and has adopted children) it sometimes pays to read it if you’re undecided about the book.

Sometimes I do want to know more about a book and so I will read the biography to get a better sense of it when the blurb on the back is lacking (think hardbacks and the favouring of praises over summaries – I know in those cases summaries can be found on the jacket flap but they tend to give too much away). Sometimes I want to know as much as the book will tell me through all the various snippets provided.

Meaty biographies have spoiled brief ones for me. The short ‘X lives in location with her X family members and dog, this is her first novel’ disappoints me even though it means there’s little to influence you, not much to make you consider the author whilst reading. They often do not include photographs.

Photographs – good or bad idea? Seeing a smiley face can influence your decision to buy or borrow, just as a poker face might. I sometimes wonder about those poker faces – presumably they help keep away bias but they can bring a feeling of negativity. A biography without a photograph, whilst it keeps the mystery, often makes me want to look the author up to complete the picture – having seen so many biographies include them, those that lack them are surely… lacking.

Can biographies sway opinion? I think so. A person whose biography does not suggest any links to the content of the book might cause pause for thought, especially in non-fiction – why would something, anything, related, not have been included? For example (and made up), ‘Shelley has lived her life on the south coast where she works on a farm’, as a biography in a book about the city of Manchester – Shelley’s likely, hopefully, spent some time there or read a lot about it, so it should be included. It’s not absolutely necessary but, again, consider Kit de Waal, whose biography that shows very clearly why her book deals with all the subjects it does and why you can trust her.

I’m a fan of the biography when it isn’t too brief. A line or two just makes me wonder why it’s so short.

What do you think of biographies in books?


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