On Book Hangovers & Reading Recommendations

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It’s that time of year again, folks, when I look to the nethercorners of the Internet for reading suggestions and general bookish counsel from fellow book worms.

Last year I suffered through a rather lengthy, severe, and most objectionable case of Readers Block, which conveniently coincided with my lengthy, severe and objectionable case of Writer’s Block. Being a book worm for as long as I can remember, it was a surprising and unwelcome shock to my inner literary nerd to find that no book would satisfy and none could hold my attention. In fact, I could probably count on two hands how many books I read last year, which is most unusual for someone used to getting through a book a week. That said, there were a few stand outs that succeeded in breaking through my relentless book drought. Robin Hobb’s Rainwild Chronicles, Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, and Joseph Delaney’s Spook’s Apprentice, to name a few.

You’ll be pleased to know I have since overcome that troublesome period in my young life, and have returned to the far more familiar world of books, books, BOOKS!

To commemorate my return, I thought it only appropriate to set myself an assignment to finish a series I had long ago started. A series that somehow always seemed to necessitate lengthy intervals between volumes. C.S. Lewis once said,

It is a good rule after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between.

ADWD UKOtherwise known as a book hangover. And such I found was definitely the case with George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series, of which I have just finished the latest in the series, A Dance with Dragons. There is some serious world building happening in that man’s head. Seriously. The series is well and truly alive and three dimensional, helped along considerably by the success of the HBO series adaptation, which is widely considered one of the best things on TV screens right now. And while I genuinely stand in awe of all the characters, places and stories Martin has created, I can’t help but feel for the editors who have the mammoth task of making sense of it all. It’s a great read, but I wouldn’t say a smooth sailing one. It sinks deep in details, is often messy, and lacks the feeling of continuity that made the third in the series, A Storm of Swords, an absolute killer read (pun intended). Even so, I can’t help but feel a certain sense of satisfaction at having conquered the biblical volumes whose spines seem to expand with each new publication.

In between the dragons, murder and intrigue that is the world of Westeros, I have indulged in a few olden goldies that never fail to bring me joy, no matter how many times I read them. Pride and Prejudice being one of them. Apart from it bringing intense literary delight and wordy wit, this is one of the only books that gets me actually laughing out loud in the reading of it.

name-of-the-wind-coverOther books I have reread in the last six months include Patrick Rothfuss’ Name of the Wind and Tolkien’s The Hobbit, between them covering the classic and modern fantasy with divine prowess. I also had my first proper delve into the world of historical fiction with The Lady Elizabeth by Alison Weir, which got a bit too Mills & Boony for me from the middle onwards, but carried me through to the end thanks to my massive fangirl crush on anything Tudor related.

So, on to what to read next. The list is ever growing and presents itself as an unattainable challenge of the most delightful nature. Of recommendations old and new, from blog readers and beyond, I have the following at the top of my list:

Player of Games by Iain Banks

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

Red Rising by Pierce Brown

The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens

The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold

Harpy’s Flight by Megan Lindholm

Shaman’s Crossing by Robin Hobb

The Willful Princess and the Piebald Prince by Robin Hobb

The Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin

The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan (another series requiring serious dedication to return to)

ThePlayerOfGames

But the list is incomplete.

Are there any new release rock-your-socks-off reads you’d recommend I add to the list? Or old classics that deserve my attention? As you can see, apart from the exception of the lonely Dickens singing out for my attention, it’s all speculative fiction. Fantasy, Sci-Fi and Classics may be my weakness, but I’m never shy to branch out beyond the speculative genre. Hit me up peeps!

Reader’s Block

So we’ve all heard of writer’s block, but only recently did I come across the much more mysterious ailment known to some as “reader’s block”.

Generally it involves an inability to start, persevere with, or finish a book, but mostly it just means not being able to sit down and take pleasure in the long loved pastime of reading. Truly, it is as repulsive a condition as it sounds.

And for the last several months I have been a sufferer.

To none other than myself does this come as more of a shock. I, who my entire life have prided myself on finishing every book I start, no matter how awful, “just in case” the ending redeems it. I who must read to better my craft. I who enjoy a good book above all things.

But alas, as the end of the year draws nigh along with the deadline to my 2012 National Year of Reading Challenge, I find my bookshelves spilling over with beautiful, glorious, new books, most with bookmarks poking out at about page 80.

I attribute this unhappy chapter of my life to several contributing factors. Those being:

  1. Writing. This year my writing has taking precedence over all else as I’ve grappled with recurring deadlines and the seemingly-impossible task of writing a novel for assessment. I’m sure I’ll post more about it later, as it’s been the primary reason for my blogging absence these past months.
  2. Working. This is a bit of a conundrum. At the beginning of the year I scored myself a job at a lovely little independent bookstore. One would assume that such a position would generate increased reading. Sadly, the opposite ensued. 9 hour work days on top of uni have resulted in earlier bed times and less brain power when it comes to extra-curricular activities.
  3. Greed. Working in a bookshop certainly has its perks, but my inner greedy reader has been unable to cope with the continuous arrival of new and wonderful books. I get one chapter into a book before another one comes into the store looking all sultry and readable, and I get distracted. As such, I have purchased many books this year, but most of them remain unfinished.
  4. (In)Sanity. The combination of the above factors have together tested my sanity. Reading for work and reading for uni have at times made the activity seem a chore, and let’s face it, who likes chores? Any free time I’ve been able to pilfer, I’ve dedicated to sleeping, eating, or the peaceful enjoyment of staring quietly at blank walls.

The whole thing has been mildly traumatic, but in the meantime I’ve discovered a few gems. Yes, a handful of books actually managed to bulldoze through my reader’s block and give me hope. It’s not that the other books weren’t any good, in fact when (if?!) I get over this ridiculous phase, I’m sure I’ll love them to bits.  It’s just that they weren’t totally, absolutely, incredibly phenomenal. And really, how many books are?

With standards like that, I was destined to be disappointed, but a few shone brightly in the darkness nonetheless. Without further adieu, allow me to share with you the top five books that prevailed over the dreaded reader’s block and made my reading year:

5. A Storm of Swords: Blood and Gold. 

The second part to the third in George RR Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series. This is my favourite book in the series so far. I heard along the grapevine that the series was originally intended as a trilogy, and I could tell by the end of this book that for many of the characters things were wrapping up nicely (or bloodily, depending on the character). I haven’t yet been able to move on to the fourth book, knowing that it’s now time to introduce many new characters and saddened that some of my favourites won’t be there to carry the story through. Nevertheless, I look back on this instalment with great fondness.

4. The Hunger Games.


This was a bit of a surprise. I watched the movie and whilst I enjoyed it, I wasn’t all that fussed. When I finally got around to reading the book it sucked me right in and I didn’t put it down until I’d finished. I then went on to read the next two in the trilogy and while I didn’t enjoy them as much as the first, they were still pretty amazing.

3. A Casual Vacancy.

Not the most enjoyable read of the year, given the dark and depressing themes throughout, but even despite that I still managed to finish this 500 page corker of a book in a matter of days (quite a feat for a reader’s block sufferer). It even inspired me to write a review.

2. Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. 

When in doubt, go back to a classic favourite. If I’ve read it once I’ve read it a trillion times, but I’m currently re-reading this Tolkien masterpiece and haven’t been able to put it down yet. Beautiful prose, characters and story: what more could you ask for?

1. Ready Player One. 

READ IT. Seriously. If you know what’s good for you, read this book. It’s an absolute nerd fest with a nostalgic appreciation for 80s pop culture, old school video games, RPGs, anime, and a firefly called Serenity. The blurb describes it as “Willy Wonka meets The Matrix” but I don’t think that does it any justice. Yes, there is a “golden ticket” aspect to it and certainly it takes place in a dystopian not-so-distant future where we spend most of our lives in a virtual reality simulation, but the premise itself is totally original and SO MUCH FUN. In fact, it’s so awesome, Warner Bros have already bought the film rights to the book. If you need further convincing, check out Patrick Rothfuss’s Goodreads review:

Need I say more?

There you have it. The books that got me through nothing short of a peculiar reading year.

Have you ever suffered from “reader’s block”? If so, which books, if any, have pulled you out of it? And for those of you who think reader’s block is as silly as it sounds, tell me instead what books you loved this year. Go on. You know you want to…

Reading Habits

   

In light of my 2012 National Year of Reading goal, I thought it would be fun to take part in this questionnaire that I came across at Lazy Happy Bored Happy Sad, on reading habits. I know lots of people who are very particular about where they read, how they read, what coffee cup they use when they’re reading. So, let’s have a look at my reading habits, shall we?

If you could live in a fictional world, where would that be?

There’s a reason the books are so popular; who wouldn’t want to live in a world where there existed a Diagon Alley, Hogwarts, Whomping Willow, Forbidden Forest, Floo powder, flying broomsticks, Dobby, Ron Weasley and Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans? The wonderful world of Harry Potter has long since been a world I’d love to live in.

Do you read in noisy or quiet places?

I definitely prefer quiet places. That said, I will read anywhere if necessary. Train, bus, dinner table; if I’m lost in a really good book, it won’t matter what noise is going on around me, I won’t hear any of it.

What was the first book you ever read?

The first book I ever read likely took place at an age when that long term memory part of my brain wasn’t yet activated. It could have been anything.

If you could only read one book for the rest of your life, what would it be?

The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. It would probably take a lifetime to soak in all that there is to be learned from that collection. Language, description, history, theme, expression, characters…it would be some time before I got bored of the sheer mastery of that entire story.

Favorite Author?

This would be a toss up between JRR Tolkien, JK Rowling and Robin Hobb. In fairness to them all I’d have to set them a challenge, whereby they each bring to life a dragon from one of their stories, and nominate that fire breather to battle it out. Last dragon standing wins.

Do reviews influence your choices of reads?

They can do, but I try not to let them influence my choice too much. I usually read by recommendation, which sort of bypasses that process of looking up reviews. I’ve come to realise though that books are much like movies. Too often a bunch of critics have slammed a great movie, prompting me not to go see it at the cinema, only to watch it later and find it amazing. Books, like movies, are subjective. It’s always worth giving something a go and seeing for yourself what to make of it.

Fiction or Non-fiction?

While I’m happy to read both, I mostly read fiction.

Meeting Brandon Sanderson at Supanova 2012

Have you ever met your favorite author?

Tolkien and Rowling, no. I once brushed shoulders with Robin Hobb at a convention before I had read any of her works. I kicked myself for it afterwards, but received a lovely email from her to make up for it. You can read it here. I’ve met Isobelle Carmody, who in my younger years won me over with her Obernewtyn Chronicles, Brandon Sanderson, who I’ve yet to experience due to my lack of commitment to the Wheel of Time, and Ian Irvine, whose fantasy books I also loved during High School. Those are my only claims to authorly fame.

Audio books or Paperback?

When I was younger my parents used to put on the War of the Worlds cassette or Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr. Fox for me and my little brother during long car trips, and we absolutely loved it. Since then, I hadn’t had much to do with audio books UNTIL Harry Potter was released on audio, narrated by Stephen Fry. I couldn’t resist the temptation, so I bought it, listened, and by golly was it spectacular! Audio books are such a different reading experience and I’ve made myself a promise to listen to more of them in the future; it’s how storytelling begun, after all, with the verbal sharing of tales.

Classic or Modern Novels?

Both.

Book groups or Solitary Reading?

I’m a solitary reader, but I won’t say no to a good discussion about the pros and cons of my latest read. I’ve never joined a book club, but my writers’ group does have a ‘book club’ segment where we show-and-tell what we’ve been reading and talk a little about how we’re finding it. I find that sort of thing always promotes quite valuable discussion.  The only exception to my solitary reading rule is with my best friend Mel. When I visit her in Sydney we will often spend our days just quietly reading together. True friendship!

Jane Austen pondering discussion at our dinner party

If you could invite three dead authors to a dinner for four, whom would you invite?

JRR Tolkien
Jane Austen
Charles Dickens

We four would have much to discuss on the state and decline of modern day literature.

So that’s me, now it’s your turn. What are your reading habits?

Great Sentences

For my upcoming Masters in Creative Writing class, we have been asked to think about great sentences. Books, movies, articles, blogs, newspapers: It doesn’t matter the format, only the mastery, the prominence, the significance of the sentence itself.

I love this task. I often find myself reading a book and thinking “I wish I wrote that sentence!” and dog-ear the page just so I can go back and goggle at it again later.  Sometimes, if I can be bothered and I’m not so wrapped up in the story that I can spare a moment to find a pen and paper, I’ll write the sentence down, hoping that it might ingrain in me some ingenuity to later reproduce something of a similar standard.

Of course, I don’t know that it actually works like that. It’s not really a case of being able to swap a few words to make it your own, so much as recognising the combination of elements that just, well, work.

I find classic literature to be a treasure trove of great sentences, largely due to the fact that back in the day insults were so very cleverly disguised with words so charming and beautiful, such as Shakespeare’s, “Thy tongue outvenoms all the worms of Nile”, or Oscar Wilde’s “Some cause happiness wherever they go; others, whenever…”  Mostly, however, I love classic literature because the language in general was just so damn spectacular.

The sentence I picked is from Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations. 

I remember Mr Hubble as a tough high-shouldered stooping old man, of a sawdusty fragrance, with his legs extraordinarily wide apart: so that in my short days I always saw some miles of open country between them when I met him coming up the lane.

Honestly, does a sentence get any better than that? It evokes such a vivid image for me, as well as a subtle humour that intensifies its appeal. That, and I can’t help but love Dickens’ use of punctuation. Some of his sentences go on and on with so many commas and semi colons (see the opening to a Tale of Two Cities for further evidence of this) in such a way that I can’t help but marvel at the dexterity of it all.

But Dickens isn’t the only master of great sentences. Austen’s opening sentence to Pride and Prejudice is typically ranked at the top of the ‘greatest first sentences of all time’ lists. And for good reason:

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.

It would take many hours to list all my favourite sentences from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, but this one from The Return of the King is quite beautiful:

It is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succour of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till. What weather they shall have is not ours to rule.

Despite the countless times I recall thinking “what a great sentence!” I’d be hard pressed to remember them all now.  If nothing else, this task has reminded me that I really do need to write these things down, just so I can find them again easily later.

What are your favourite sentences?

Assholes, masterminds, and funny people in cyberspace

30 Day Book Challenge – Day 28

Last book you read

Well, I’m not going to mention the She-God of writing again, because that would just make me sound like a crazy stalker person…which I’m not, by the way.  If you want to check out the *actual* last book I read you can go to Day 24 of the book challenge, where I talked about my favourite scene in a book (watch out for the spoiler!).

Meanwhile, I’d like to mention the last book I read from today.  Fair?  I thought so.

Today, in a moment of sheer insanity and after several months of giving the WNIP (Work Not In Progress) the cold shoulder, I spent roughly half an hour writing up a plot summary with, believe it or not, actual plots (note: plural!). Hoorah! I’ve mentioned before that I had an idea for a novel but was struggling to begin without knowing where the story was heading and what the protagonist’s purpose was.  Some suggested to just start writing anyway, others insisted that some idea of the plot was necessary, others just told me to stop procrastinating and get on with it (hello again unfriendly but straightforward voice in my head!).

Try as I may, I could not face writing it without the plot to guide me and so, in frustration and disappointment at being unsuccessful in my plot making endeavors, I paralysed myself into a novel hating lull.  I didn’t want to think about it, look at it or talk about it with anyone.  Something just wasn’t working, and I didn’t know how to fix it.

Today, like a sign from the heavens, I received a well needed shove to get the motors going again (thank you She-God!).  I opened up Scrivener and started to write.  Half an hour and approximately 1000 words later I had an idea that I was excited about, with plot twists, drama and conflict! All the things I had been struggling to establish with my original idea, finally coming to life!

So what changed, you ask?  What changed, my friends, was the story.  Like, the whole thing.  About the only thing I kept was my character’s name.  I still love the original idea, but have come to the conclusion that it’s just not ready to be written yet.

So, back to the purpose of this post, that being the last book I read, or in this case, the last book I picked up.  In my plot writing frenzy, I started getting curious about how the big boys of epic fantasy built their worlds and created their creatures.  Who to look to in such a moment of need?  The master of fantasy himself, of course:  J R R Tolkien.

During my teenage years when I was obsessed with the LOTRs, my parents bought me Tolkien: The Illustrated Encyclopedia by David Day; a comprehensive guide to everything you’d ever want to know about Middle Earth, the Undying Lands, the creatures, the characters, the geography, the history.  This book is pretty spectacular.

Now, it has to be said that when I began flicking through the pages today, I started to panic.  That little voice in my head started having a go with his usual taunts; “Don’t be an idiot Katy.  You could never create anything as comprehensive as the world of Tolkien.  Look at all the research!  It’s far beyond your inferior intellect.”

That little voice is a real asshole sometimes.  As has happened many a time before, my confidence in my abilities started waning and I could almost see that small spark of creativity threatening to die a slow death in the depths of my brain.  Bummer, right?

Well, it would have been if I hadn’t come across what I can only guess was intended to be a funny look on how to write fantasy fiction.  It read:

Researching mythologies, legends, and history on your own is a complete waste of time — real authors don’t worry about that kind of thing. It’s fantasy; they just make stuff up off the tops of their heads!

Now, I realise research can be more than important when writing.  I for one can’t write without a fast internet connection for all the Googling I do while I’m ‘in the mode’.  And yet despite this, it sort of reminded me that my greatest tool is my imagination.  If I want to, I really can just ‘make it up off the top of my head’.  For some time I have been crippling myself with the idea that I simply don’t know enough to start, or continue, especially with world building.  But really I don’t need to ‘know’ anything.  I just need to create it.

Ideally, of course, I would like to have my world reflect a reality readers can relate to.  Power structures, heirarchy, economy and commerce are all things that make a world run, for better or worse.  They may not need to be identified, but the reader needs to know they’re there.

But I digress.  The point of the story is that today was a good day.  Tolkien both helped and scared me out of inertia and some funny person on the internet reminded me not to take it all so seriously, because my mind is quite capable of filling in the gaps.

As for the asshole in my head?  He’s still there, but he’s unlikely to resurface again today.

Katy 1 – Asshole 0

~storytelling nomad~

Book that changed your life

30 Day Book Challenge – Day 10

To be honest, no single book has changed my life.

Books (pl.) on the other hand, yes they have changed my life entirely.

~

From my early days reading Roald Dahl and The Famous Five, to my present day addictions to Robin Hobb, J.K. Rowling and Tolkien.  From those that have scared me, bored me, reminded me, moved me – books have granted me inspiration, escapism, magic, language, pleasure, entertainment, love, expression, adventure, community, relaxation, creativity and most importantly, knowledge.

Without books I would be without a primary source of learning, a source that encourages me to discover, to improve, to embrace, to empower and to inspire.

~

Without books I would not be me.

~storytelling nomad~