Tag Archives: bookworm

Is there ever an ideal place to read?

I had a pang of bookworm withdrawal and wanted to find a place to read when I made a visit to the Sussex coast of Brighton last week. The British weather was abundantly generous at 22 degrees, so you can say it was at its absolute best. And the fish and chips were on point- I personally cannot go to the seaside without having fish and chips! I had the quintessentially British seaside experience minus purchasing seaside rock. I don’t really do sweets anymore, especially the type that stick to my teeth. As a child the downside to going to Brighton used to be that the beach largely contained pebbles instead of sand. Last week I remembered why that detail irked me so much- they’re agony to walk on! Especially when your feet are half numbed by the freezing sea. Funnily enough, hot coals came to mind as I struggled back up the incline away from the tide.

The desire to read could spring up anywhere

As I returned to our spot, on the uncomfortable pebbles, I had a pang of book lust. Despite the thousands of other visitors, all packed around me like sardines on the beach and the pebbles indenting my behind, I suddenly craved a nice read. Of course, it was hardly the time or place for it and the idea flounced out of my head as quick as it came. This leads me to ask the question, where is the best place to read a book?

A beach would seem an ideal place for a bookworm to devour a juicy read but the chances of that go down when the circumstances are like those I just described. Replace pebbles with sand, make the beach slightly more remote- but with a resort behind it for those all-inclusive cocktails and then we’re talking bookworm real-estate!

It’s variables that make a good reading space not a specific location

Of course, there are more obvious locations for reading, like duh- the library. This however, would depend on how yours is equipped. Libraries can be beautiful grand places that you can get lost in with twists and turns and winding staircases, I think I may be venturing into the world of bookworm porn here. When you find a library like the one I’ve just described, it’s easy to spend ages roaming the aisles to find a book and then spend hours getting lost in it. On the contrary, there are those libraries which leave a lot to be desired and leave you itching to get your book and leave.

Which leads me to my next consideration for reading – in transit. Whether on the daily commute or en route to a getaway via plane, reading while travelling can be a way to mute the activity around you and immerse yourself in a world of your choice. Of course, this is dependent on the quality of your carriage. For example, the London commute on a packed tube train confronted by the stench of underarm and looking up into somebody’s crotch when trying to decipher which station you’re at isn’t quite as relaxing as downtime on a long-haul flight. If you’re going to be pedantic about it like I am you could say that it’s not about where you read but about the variables and conditions of that place at the time. A beach could be idyllic but not if, as I described earlier, the features of it don’t necessarily permit comfort. Unwittingly, a long wait at an airport could provide relief to an individual experiencing book withdrawal.

If we must be specific and I do think it’s necessary, my ideal place to read would be on a warm summer’s Friday night. It would be in a freshly laundered bed, in equally laundered nightclothes with a juicy Literary Fiction novel. Oh, and I would be wrapped around that book like a lover so it has to be a paperback.

What is your ideal reading space? Leave a comment below!

To Write or to Read? That is the Question.

I have a pile of books I’ve been meaning to get around to reading. I’m hoping to review some of them in the not too distant future (take this time frame with a pinch of salt!) but before I get ahead of myself, one major factor needs to be considered. As I look at the pile, it becomes apparent that this requires some serious time management allocation. A skill that I’m not even sure I possess. There’s a fine balance to tread as a writer when it comes to your reading/writing ratio. I think it’s a widely accepted notion that the art of writing is preceded by the pursuit of reading. Most writers would agree that it is a necessity to read in order to season and hone your writing skills. I wonder though how necessary it is to separate the two experiences instead of marrying them together.

Reading for Fun

As a bookworm, I like to isolate my book reading experience to just that, one of sheer pleasure. Sifting through pages to simply find those Aha moments of spotting nifty literary techniques or the like makes the experience about as pleasurable as pulling teeth. I’m a sleepy reader anyway so it wouldn’t work for me. I’m the type of bookworm who loves to curl around a paperback at night and fall asleep, page to cheek.

How Reading Shapes Writing

I definitely feel that my reading history has shaped my writing overall over the years but not in a way that is entirely specific. My voice is my own but being an avid reader has definitely tapped me into the general conventions of fiction writing such as creating irony, humour or creating the type of lingering sentences that poignantly end a chapter.

The line between a bookworm and a writer is definitely fine. We read for pleasure and we also knowingly or not take nuggets of information onboard about a number of things whether it be tone, cadence, sculpting a protagonist or creating humour. I don’t really like to consider these things when reading as I want to benefit from all the cosy things about being a reader and not wracking my brain thinking about how it will improve my own writing. This process of learning from reading is somewhat organic anyway.

My Current Reading List

So, back to the original point of my impending reading list. I have a few oldies in there as I love to reread past books- if I get around to one of my listed books Never Far From Nowhere by Andrea Levy will be my fourth read! For those obvious reasons though, it’s at the bottom of my current to read list. One past read that I will be prioritising however is Wild Seed by Octavia Butler. I don’t often read Science Fiction novels but once my now late uncle recommended this to me over a decade ago, I had to give it a try and I was not disappointed. I look forward to revisiting the world of Anyanwu, an immortal shape shifter and you can watch this space for an impending review. This book literally changed the way I look at Science Fiction books forever.

I started reading This Will Be My Undoing by Morgan Jerkins last year and ended up putting it down because of a stain in the book. Yes, I know it sounds silly, but I purchased the book as new and to find a damaged, stained page in it really put me off as I am easily grossed out. Call me an OCD reader but I like my pages to be clean: they can be worn, discoloured through age and curved but they can’t be dirty! I was really engaged by what I was reading up until that point however, so I will make it a point to finish and review. It was also refreshing to commit to a non-fiction read, which I don’t often do (note to self, more non-fiction reads!) Why should I deny myself a reading experience because of a dodgy seller? Humph!

Other upcoming reads high on my list are Annie John by Jamaica Kincaid and Leon by Kit De Waal. The last three books I have mentioned are high priority reads but the others are subject to change as I flip through my book collection and make more purchases. Nothing makes a bookworm/writer like me happier than having a to-read pile of books on my bedside table and who knows? If the beliefs of giants before me are to be considered, it will inform my writing process in some meaningful way.

WRITING FOOD INTO FICTION

Recently I’ve been thinking about the significance of writing food into fiction. Yes, that arguably minute detail that often gets neglected in a story. But is it so minute? Eating plays an integral role in most people’s lives whether our relationship with it be problematic or the joie de vivre. For me it’s a little of both, however that hasn’t stopped me from appreciating descriptions of food as a book lover over the years and incorporating it into my own fiction writing.

A CLOSER LOOK AT FOOD IN FICTION

This fixation with descriptions of food in fiction came about when I read books as a child and began to associate feelings with the descriptions. Feelings which I still distinctly remember today. For example, I have a vivid memory of reading The Perfect Hamburger by Alexander McCall Smith as a ten-year-old in class one day before lunch time. The vivid descriptions of the character’s pursuit to make the perfect hamburger with the right selection of ingredients had my stomach rumbling and made me crave burgers! That precious memory has never left me and it’s all owed to the ‘minutiae’ of food in fiction. Who says that a fiction story has to be all plot and characters? I would argue that the subtle ways in which they relate to something such as food really can offer a broader sense of who a character is and offers yet another branch for analysis for book lovers.

EXAMPLES OF FOOD IN FICTION AND NON-FICTION

Through the often-overlooked lens of gastronomy, we get to understand what it is that drives a character, how they react to scenarios, how organised or disorganised they are or even how healthy their bank balance is. For example, The Road to Wigan Pier, George Orwell’s non-fictional ethnographic pursuits into the life of the working class of Northern England led him to the home of the Brookers. His description of breakfast in their home included a ‘pale fried egg’ and bread and butter which ‘always had thumb-marks on it.’ I always found the vivid description of the food utterly repulsive yet brilliant in communicating the squalid nature of his lodging abode. On the contrary ‘runny fried eggs’ are used in Toni Morrison’s Beloved as main narrator Denver recounts a second-hand story about her absent father and how ‘a plate of soft fried eggs was Christmas to him.’ Food becomes the medium through which we understand the distance between herself and her father and how this distance metaphorically becomes smaller with an endearing recount about his favourite food. This makes him appear more present and attached to her life in some meaningful way, however trivial.

HOW I WRITE FOOD INTO FICTION

As a writer who is a self-confessed foodie, I find it hard not to write food into my fiction. There is something comforting about rendering an appealing description of food into a scene. It’s almost like a piece offering to a character, something for them to relish. I must admit, upon reflection, I don’t seem to incorporate unpleasant experiences of food or food of an unappealing nature in general. Certainly nothing like the disgusting bread and butter offering Orwell received in The Road to Wigan Pier. A consistent pattern that I have spotted in my works is that food represents relationships. In my upcoming collection of short stories, food consistently rears its head. In one story, a family express their gratitude when the husband returns home with soggy bags of fish and chips, especially the burdened housewife who no longer needs to cook. In another short story I have written about Post-Natal depression, a new mother has forgotten to cook and love expresses itself when her empathetic husband takes over and gently suggests they pick a take-away of her choice instead. Elsewhere in the collection an estranged mother and daughter have a brief run-in over what they are going to order, a detail I used to represent the awkwardness of their encounter. The mother eventually settles on what the daughter is having, showing a willingness to cooperate and make the meeting run smoothly. Here food moves away from being a medium of pleasure to more of a negotiation barometer of how much are we going to get on today? As a writer I definitely find food to be an alluring tool to map out relationships that characters have with themselves and their issues and how this arises from the presence of food or whether food becomes a remedy to aid this. The latter becomes apparent in one of my stories where a woman battling a failing relationship and disused gym membership turns to food for comfort.

FOOD GLORIOUS FOOD

I find descriptions of appealing bites to eat too difficult not to include and as a reader feel it enhances the experience in a very subtle sensory way which can sometimes be taken for granted. As a booklover, the small details really catch my attention so if a protagonist is in a café, I want to know what they’re having. On a superficial level it adds decoration to a scene. It’s oddly satisfying to be privy to the contents of a character’s meal. For me, the more attractive the better as opposed to the mundane or repulsive.

CHARACTERISATION AND FOOD

On a deeper level it can add to the characterisation aspect of a story. For example, if a character has chosen to eat something superfluously indulgent or on the contrary meagre, It leads us to think about why this is the case. Simply writing food into fiction can inform us about the underlying circumstances of a character and of an extra layer of intrigue. It can support the theory that a character is greedy, self-medicating, rich, broke or whatever else the writer is attempting to convey through their choice of words.

A SPECIAL PLACE FOR FOOD

Food will always have a special place in my writing. It’s too interesting not to and I’m sure many (well, perhaps a humble percentage) of my fellow writers would agree. Additionally, as a bookworm I am certainly grateful for the morsels offered up in my favourite reads. Let me propose this to my bookworms out there: the next time a scene includes a description of food, don’t skim over it. Think closely about what is being signified, it might sound boring but it could actually enrich your reading experience! Seriously, try it. I promise it won’t bite.