Books are delightful as they are – don’t fall in the trap of competitive reading



File 20190305 48423 13b4no8.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1

arek_malang/Shutterstock

Sally O’Reilly, The Open University

My happiest times in childhood were spent reading the books of E. Nesbit, C.S. Lewis and Joan Aiken. Preferring to read in hidden corners where nobody could find me, I immersed myself completely in these stories and believed utterly in their magic, even attempting to enter Narnia via the portal of my grandmother’s wardrobe. As an adult, I still call myself a passionate reader, but sometimes feel as if I’ve lost my way compared to my childhood self. I buy vast quantities of books, talk about books, read as many as possible, sometimes even write them – but it’s not often I find that same pure immersion in an imagined world which has been such a lasting inspiration.

Celebrations like World Book day promote children’s reading and remind us all of the pleasures of a good book. Many of us make resolutions to read more, but these days there’s increasing pressure to read the “right” thing. The adult world presents a constant temptation to turn every activity into a competitive sport, and reading is no exception: it is beset with targets, hierarchies and categorisations. We guilt-read chick-lit and crime, skim-read for book groups and improvement-read from book prize shortlists.

Underpinning this is a relentless quest for self-improvement, demonstrated by the popularity of reading challenges, in which readers set themselves individual book consumption targets. On Good Reads, some participants have modest goals, others aim for as many as 190 in the year, which translates to 15.8 books a month, 3.6 a week or just over half a book each day. Impressive? Maybe, but others are reading even faster. One journalist recently embarked on a seven day social media detox and read a dozen books in that time. It’s a far cry from my days with Mr Tumnus.

A profound joy

This raises a fundamental question: why do we read at all? Do we want to enjoy books, or download them into our brains? Are we so obsessed with being able to tick a book title off a check-list that we risk forgetting that reading is a physical and emotional activity as well as an intellectual one? The perceived benefits of reading are often given more attention than the experience itself: campaigners tend to stress its utilitarian value and research findings that it increases empathy and even life expectancy.

But the reading experience is important. A sure sign of loving a book is slowing down when you come to the final pages, reluctant to leave the world it creates behind. As the UK reading agency puts it, “in addition to its substantial practical benefits, reading is one of life’s profound joys”. Children seem to know this intuitively, and engage fully with a story, often to the exclusion of all else. They are demanding, honest readers, more interested in what happens in a tale and where it takes them than whether it’s a Carnegie prize-winner.

When was the last time you truly got lost in a book?
Amanda Carden/Shutterstock

Slow reading

As an adult, it is possible to recapture that immersive involvement with a book. What we need is the opportunity to focus entirely on the words, and a willingness to ignore stress-inducing challenges and targets. When I was writing my second novel I lived in Barcelona for a year, day-job free. During that time I read just six books, one of them Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent. At a recent writing retreat, I spent two hours a day reading Michel Faber’s The Crimson Petal and the White. I engaged completely with these novels, forgetting the outside world, and they have stayed with me, their characters and plot twists vivid and familiar when other books, read hurriedly in snatches amid distractions, have faded from my mind.

I’m not alone in seeing the value of immersive, non-competitive reading. In a recent Guardian article, author Sarah Waters admitted to feeling out of the loop when current writing is discussed. Asked which book she is “most ashamed not to have read” (a telling phrase), she responded, “Anything people are currently raving about. I’m a slow reader, and I read old books as often as new ones, so I always feel like a hopeless failure when it comes to keeping up with brand new titles”.

There are already advocates of slow living, and a cultural shift toward slowing down life’s pace, savouring experience and rediscovering human connection. Perhaps it is time for this to encompass reading too. 184,000 books are published each year in the UK alone, and we’re not going to make much of a dent in that pile even if we read 12 books a week. Indeed, no matter how fast we read, the vast majority of books will remain unknown to us. If there is one skill that adult readers can usefully learn from children, it is that of reading purely for pleasure.The Conversation

Sally O’Reilly, Lecturer in Creative Writing, The Open University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Advertisements

Dan Mallory’s unreliable narrative: how to get ahead in publishing


Claire Squires, University of Stirling

People across the global book trade have been engrossed by a ripe scandal engulfing one of their own – publisher-turned-author Dan Mallory, whose novel The Woman in the Window was one of the runaway bestsellers of 2018. One tweet summed up the buzz:

The comment from the literary agent Laura Williams refers to a lengthy article in the New Yorker about Mallory, who writes under the pseudonym A J Finn. As the headline explosively proclaimed, Mallory’s life “contains even stranger twists” than his fiction.

These twists, according to the New Yorker, include repeated lies: about his mother’s death from cancer, his own cancer diagnoses, an Oxford PhD, a job offer from a rival publishing company which leveraged promotion. He also, the article suggests, may have impersonated his brother, sent abusive emails, and – most curious of all – left plastic cups of urine in the New York office of his boss (“messages of disdain, or … territorial marking”, speculated the New Yorker – although it went on to quote a spokesperson for Mallory saying he hadn’t been responsible for that).

The article is careful to present evidence for these revelations via both named and anonymous sources, or to state that certain allegations are unproven. The revelations are either denied by Mallory, or blamed in a statement on “dissembling” produced by severe mental illness.

Even more curiously, Mallory’s uncompleted PhD focused on Patricia Highsmith, author of The Talented Mr Ripley – that twisty tale of a man who murders and then impersonates another. His own The Woman in the Window presents its readers with an unreliable first-person narrator who witnesses – or does she? – a crime.

An unreliable narrator – and an unreliable author? Literary liars and impersonators weave their tales through publishing history. Remember the “memoirs” of James Frey, A Million Little Pieces, which presented as fact made-up scenes of drug addiction and alcoholism?

Fiction-writing fraudsters also abound: prize-winning Australian Helen Darville falsely presented herself as the Ukrainian “Helen Demidenko” and wore peasant blouses ti publicise her book: The Hand That Signed the Paper. Meanwhile JT LeRoy’s novelised tales of an abusive boyhood turned out to be entirely invented, their author represented in public by a (possibly) transgender impersonator.

Who is JT LeRoy?
Brad Coy, CC BY

Literary hoaxers

Mallory joins an infamous line of literary hoaxers, then. But what might this torrid tale tell us about the mental and physical health of the publishing industry?

Social media commentators quickly identified an issue beyond the tricksy questions of truth and lies: that of Mallory’s rapid career trajectory. A “Waspy” family background was polished by an elite US college education, employment at a New York publisher, postgraduate studies at Oxford, a London publishing job and promotion. Then back across the Atlantic to a $200,000 salary and a book deal brokered through his professional networks.

As one much-retweeted comment put it, alongside all the tawdry revelations of the story, it also spoke volumes about the problematic pattern of publishing career paths.

The New Yorker has multiple accounts of how Mallory seemingly charmed writers and fellow publishers, and there’s no implication – other than light borrowing of plots and characterisation – that his writing is not his own. Good looks operated alongside that charm, until the beguilement revealed its multiple deceptions. But the question of how to get ahead in publishing, and those who get to make such rapid ascents, remains.

Glass ceilings, whiteness and class

Publishing and the literary world have serious issues of access and inclusion. The roughly equal number of men and women in board positions in UK publishing does not represent the preponderance of female staff lower down company hierarchies – about 66-80% of people in the industry are women, surveys variously report.

Unsurprisingly this glass ceiling creates a gender pay gap: 16% in 2017 and some even worse figures in 2018’s mandatory reporting from larger companies. Publishing also has its sleaze and #MeToo claims.

In terms of ethnic diversity, a 2018 UK Publishers Association survey showed the BAME workforce of publishing to be under 12%. This is marginally below the 2011 census figure of 13% in England and Wales, but it’s far below the 40% of London, where UK publishing is highly centralised (itself presenting issues of regional diversity).

Repeated surveys have demonstrated publishing’s diversity deficit. Scholarship from Anamik Saha and Melanie Ramdarshan Bold focuses on the challenges of cultural production for writers of colour. Over a period from 2006-2016, Ramdarshan Bold identified, only 8% of young adult books published in the UK were by writers of colour.

Knights Of, who sidestepped traditional publishing by crowd-sourcing funding for a pop-up bookshop to sell diverse books.
Knights of

Like other creative industries, publishing is a middle-class activity, with working-class publishers and writers frequently recounting stories of prejudice and cultural condescension – eg. in publisher Laura Waddell’s Nasty Women chapter, and in Dead Ink’s anthology of working-class essays Know Your Place.

The 2018 report Panic! Social Class, Taste and Inequalities in the Creative Industries shows publishing’s class demographic to be “especially grave”. Less than 13% of publishers are from working-class backgrounds, while more than 33% have upper middle-class origins.

The whiff of privilege

Such individual and statistical accounts of exclusion demonstrate why the wild story of one already-privileged individual bluffing his way higher and higher up the publishing echelons has caused so much consternation. If the story is true, Mallory repeatedly fooled university admissions offices and publishers’ employment processes. But what employment practices enabled him to rise, even when his story had started to unravel? And how did his apparent charm and good taste enable him to fail upwards? The answers to these questions remain in a dysfunctional swirl of rumour, anonymous sources, non-disclosure agreements and myth-making that probably won’t hurt Mallory’s book sales.

But there are wider systemic and institutionalised issues at play here: the urine scent-marking in the editor’s office (whether proven to be Mallory or not) is a metaphor for the regimes of value in operation within publishing. There is a mystique about taste – a whiff of privilege – that prevails unhelpfully and often prejudicially in the publishing industry. Such inequitable practices govern which hot new literary property we pick up next.The Conversation

Claire Squires, Professor in Publishing Studies, University of Stirling

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Where to Donate Books


The link below is to an article that takes a look at where to donate those unwanted/no longer needed book. The article is more for the USA, however, there are some ideas that are relevant elsewhere as well.

For more visit:
https://www.epicreads.com/blog/where-to-donate-books/