A hard-hearted reader

 

Word count: 347              Reading time: 1-2 mins.

Recently, as I struggled to read a library book, I found someone’s forgotten bookmark at page 50. I fanned through the rest of the pages, looking for any traces of wear. They were pristine, which should have been a warning. It was a new release and I had waited weeks for it so this sign of early abandonment intrigued me. In spite of that alarm bell I kept reading. Finally I’d invested so much time I refused to put it aside. I finished it.

Victor Hugo said, “Short as life is, we make it even shorter with the careless waste of time.” To me, that book was a waste of time. I should have held to my usual rule: if a plot or character doesn’t grab me in the first half hour it’s time to move on. I won’t let a bad book rob me of precious minutes and hours again.

The other side of this coin is when I fall for a book, I fall hard. I borrow from the library to test-drive literature. When I find something I love, I buy it because I know I’ll want to read it more than once.  

So can I answer that party question: ‘what is your favourite book’? Nope. I can’t even list my five favourite books or authors. Neil Gaiman summarized my feelings when he said, “Picking five favourite books is like picking the five body parts you'd most like not to lose.”

I can list my five favourite books of the past six months, the books I have bought or will buy, because they have transported me to exciting new places, times, and emotions. In no particular order they are; The Fault In Our Stars (John Green), Perfect (Ellen Hopkins), The Winter Palace (Eva Stachniak), Plain Kate (Erin Bow), and All Good Children (Catherine Austen).

Do you have one definitive favourite book or author? What are your criteria for a good read? Are you perseverant with dull books, pushing through to the end even when they don’t enchant? If not, when do you cut your losses?

***

 Photo by: Tamás Ambrits

Unreal Fiction

Word count: 304                                                                                                          Reading time: 2 mins

Some books aren’t meant to depict reality. Yet the characters that populate fantasy, sci fi or futuristic worlds are often compelling to the point where everyday dramas pale in comparison.

In Cory Doctorow’s book Little Brother Marcus Yarrow is swept up in a Department of Homeland Security dragnet and taken to Treasure Island for interrogation. When teenaged Marcus is released from prison he discovers that in a mania of paranoia and electronic surveillance every citizen is now a terrorism suspect. His dangerous response to this threat propels the reader on a heart-racing chase through the streets of San Francisco. At every point of the way the characters are three-dimensional and completely persuasive.   

I burned through book two (Catching Fire) of the Hunger Games trilogy in three days. What a buzz! Reading it was like white water rafting, one breathless turn after another. Suzanne Collins’s alternate world feels allegorical even if it wasn’t intended that way. The Capitol of Panem has ruthlessly destroyed the middle class and now uses its hapless citizens as fodder to be violently murdered for mass entertainment. Is there a parallel universe where capital markets destroy jobs, ruin futures, and threaten to further erode the shrinking middle class? Both worlds – Panem and ours – have ruling classes that show little mercy to those unlucky enough not to shelter behind their golden gates. 

The next book in my stack is Tender Morsels by Australian writer Margo Lanagan. I have her collection of short stores Black Juice and I know the different worlds she creates and the riveting characters she delivers. Tender Morsels is a YA fantasy. I will start reading it tonight. It’s likely to give me nightmares though, because she is that convincing.

What books have haunted you? What images linger years after you've closed the covers?