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Working Through Inexperience, Getting To The Other Side

A photograph of Hever Castle's lake. A few row boats sit on the water.

I believe that experience is important, and that more life experience, reading experience, and writing experience are going to make you a better writer. Oddly, though, writers don’t talk a lot about this kind of progress. I’ve heard lots of writers say that “you can’t teach writing” — i.e., you’ve either got it or you don’t. This seems to be based on an assumption that writing ability is something static and unchanging, like a gene. Some writers, perhaps, don’t want to admit that writing can be taught (which is to say, that writing can be learned), because admitting that you can get better at writing means admitting there was a time when you weren’t a great writer. — Electric Literature: What Should I Do If I’m Ashamed Of My Published Work?

Something that occurred to me recently is that I’ve been comparing and contrasting books in my reviews and other posts as I wanted to when I first started blogging. I remember reading other blogs and wishing I could write with the knowledge those bloggers did, recognising the gap between my literary experience and theirs. This made me think of the thought I had about my reviews back then, that knowing experience is the key; my reviews were necessarily rudimentary and I thought I should really wait some time before writing.

It’s a fair thought to have and in a small way I stand by it – my first reviews weren’t very good and there’s a definite change over time that’s not linked to conscious decision. I reckon most bloggers feel similarly; but if I hadn’t reviewed back then, whilst I might have gained the reading experience over time, the putting into words would’ve taken a lot longer. The ‘doing’ aspect of progressing is just as important as the learning and mental improvement.

Because that’s the thing about improving over time – you want to try to be good at something from the start but you have to acknowledge that at the start especially, done is better than perfect and you will at some point look back and feel a bit embarrassed at your first attempts even if others say they were good; own worse critic and so on. I relate very much to those bloggers who delete their old posts even though I’d be reluctant to do that myself; no matter what the reason for being less happy with your old work, at some level there’s the knowledge that you do things much better nowadays and aren’t quite who you were then.

I’ve had a few interests in my life where more experience wouldn’t have an effect so I’m happy seeing the changes in reading and blogging, and due to this I’m more aware of smaller changes in newer interests, too.

What hobbies/academic choices/career-related-things have you worked through to get to that other side, where was your starting point, and how was the journey?


A screenshot from the Sims 3 of a birthday party

Different house, different hair styles… minus one Sim who mysteriously disappeared as I moved her from driveway to kitchen.

The Worm Hole is 8 years old today!

In the past year I’ve become more focused on reading classics, and in particular for the last few months I’ve been reading a classic (or part of one) a month. I’ve become more focused on reading the books I already own; at present I’ve four empty shelves and don’t intend on filling them quickly; I was lucky to be given back an old bookshelf I’d lent to someone, and in terms of buying books I was given a gift voucher at Christmas that I’ve not yet used. Lastly, I’ve taken on some literary-related responsibilities that I am loving.


Posts: 1113
Reviews: 433
Posts in the last year: 122
Reviews in the last year: 45
Most books reviewed by one author: Shannon Stacey (10), Elizabeth Chadwick (9)
The most read post of all time (so far): What happened to Faina at the end of The Snow Child?
The most read post in the last year: The Ending of Kate Chopin’s The Awakening

Thank you all for your continued friendship and support.

March 2018 Reading Round Up

Snow when everything should be growing; the pre-Easter days; it’s been a funny March. On the first, minor, snow day there seemed to be a collective decision across the city to use bin lids to scoop up what little snow there was in an attempt to make snowballs. It didn’t work, so it was quite nice to have the second patch of days where there was more of it. It was actually kind of nice being stuck inside on the days of ice, forced to do housework or hobbies. Britain doesn’t really know how to ‘do’ snow, particularly the south, so everything kind of stops. My rosemary plant shrugged and carried on flowering; the garlics have formed a support group.

I had a minor reading celebration a few days ago when I reached 75% of the way through Emmeline. The book has got better but still, I’m looking forward to finishing it. March was a month wherein a read a fair amount but much of it was tied up in the tome.

All books are works of fiction.

The Books

Book cover

Dorthe Nors: Karate Chop – A collection of very short stories that each have some level of creepy/menacing atmosphere to them. Pretty good; some are stellar.

Book cover

Nicolai Houm: The Gradual Disappearance Of Jane Ashland – A woman wakes up in a tent in a Norwegian National Park, knowing how she got there; scenes from the past couple of months show how she came to be in such a place. This is a novel about grief rather than a thriller – though it has an element of that – and a very good one at that.

The Nors was good but the Houm was better. As it happened both were review copies from the same publisher; it’s been a Pushkin Press, Scandinavian translated fiction month.

I’m not yet sure what I’ll be reading once I’ve finished Emmeline – I’m in a bit of a classics phase and it’s somewhat accidental. I’ve been looking at the remaining Charlottes on my list – Yonge and Lennox – and may continue from there, but I downloaded Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko recently, and kind of want to read that. Has anyone read her work?

What happens where you live on snow days? Or, if you don’t get snow days, what happens when you have unexpected weather, whatever that means where you are?

Reading With The Wrong Image In Mind

A photograph of a note pad with pens resting on it. The notepad is open and has a big question mark drawn on the page

Too often I’ve found I’m thinking of something visually different to what the author was intending me to think.

I wouldn’t call it a problem – except perhaps if you’re visualising a human when they are actually a dragon… which is unlikely to happen unless the character is called Eustace Scrubb. But it can be irritating and a minor issue. There have been occasions where I’ve had to actively rethink a person’s looks because they’re important to the plot and I haven’t added them into my picture.

This seems generally caused by a lack of description in the book; you only find out your picture is wrong when new information comes to light. The information tends to come at least half-way through the book when it really should have been in the first few pages. For all the bad aspects of Fifty Shades Of Grey, it can’t be said that E L James didn’t give the reader a good picture of Anna from the start, even if it was made easier by stereotyping and the prior existence of Bella Swan.

When new information comes to light I’m afraid I tend to acknowledge it and then default to the image I had created; I’ll rethink looks if needed but I often just set up a second version of the character so that the new one sort of tags along with the original. I also do it with locations, buildings, landscapes.

I don’t like to see the film before reading the book but if the book lacks description, visualising the choices made for the film helps a great deal.

There are times, I find, when I have a different picture regardless of how much description there – and while I’m hoping some of you will say you have had trouble with the lack of description aspect of this post, I’m absolutely counting on camaraderie for the following: where you have had a different experience of what the author is talking about or you just can’t get used to the idea of the author’s description of someone called Joe Bloggs when there is someone in your life called Joe Bloggs who looks completely different. (I remember Roald Dahl’s worship of aniseed in Boy and not at all understanding it. I remember reading a book about a girl called Elizabeth and finding it impossible not to see the girl who would spout untruths.)

The last point, there’s no getting away from; it will always happen. But the lack of description… it seems to be getting better on the whole in new books, but it’s still not quite there yet. I suppose it’s all too easy to have a visual in mind, get used to it, and forget that others would need more description for something they might think obvious. As I found earlier this week, it’s hard enough getting the spelling of a headline correct when it’s right in the middle of a poster.

When was the last time you had to correct the image in your head and were you able to correct it for the rest of the book?

Reading Without Regard For The Author

A photograph of six books: Rebecca, The Snow Child, Quiet, The Fault In Our Stars, The Great Gatsby, and Suite Francaise

I want to revisit this topic, updating my thoughts due to the added reading experience I’ve gained since I last wrote about it.

Nicolai Houm’s The Gradual Disappearance Of Jane Ashland, my recent read, says this on page 58:

It was even in line with the dominant theory at the time, which insisted that reading must be done without reference to the lived life of the author.

It’s a fascinating idea to think about because putting a book in its context seems so important, the relation of a book to their life can be critical to understanding it. General historical context is good to know, but so often it’s the author’s context that’s important.

What would Tender Is The Night be without context? I’d argue it’d still be a bad book, but context does redeems it somewhat. The use of mental health hospital, and alcoholism, wouldn’t be anywhere near as ‘good’ as it is in a literary sense if it wasn’t for that relation to Zelda Fitzgerald’s health and Scott Fitzgerald’s increasing dependence on alcohol. The author’s life, when set against the book, transforms it from a somewhat confusing look at fictional rich Americans in Paris to a semi-autobiographical novel.

Then there are books that go that one step further, wherein you can’t really read them without author context. Tom Malmquist’s In Every Moment We Are Still Alive is billed as a novel about the death of a wife and mother, but Malmquist’s own experience is so intrinsic to what you take away from it that the book would lose some of its impact without knowledge of it.

I remember well my first blogging years, when I had little knowledge in which to set my reading. I used to rail against context – I had never got on with it as a concept for study. My reviews and reading experience were adequate but I am aware of the difference between then and now, and vastly prefer where I am currently. And I know I wouldn’t have written as much as I have without it.

Not referring to an author’s life does ensure a particular sort of objective reading. Some books may be better for it – those books that feature ideas and values in their characters which the author themselves does not ascribe to, can not be confused as items that match their thoughts. But non-referral doesn’t have longevity beyond this – at some point knowledge of contexts will seep through; even without actively reading about an author, in reading their books you tend to gain an idea for who they are.

I think I understand why no referencing has been preferred – it could be easier that way, less ‘messy’, more escapist – but it prevents a certain progression of thought and may wrongly influence opinion. There’s something isolating about it. Perhaps this is a case for re-reading – read once without context, read again with it.

But I personally think knowing about the author in terms of a book’s content is a good thing.

Where do you stand on literature and contexts?


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