Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Life and reading, reading and life


I was honoured to be among those approached by author/publisher/blogger Karen Andrews, aka Miscellaneous Mum, to contribute a spiel about the most life-changing book I’ve read in the past ten years.

If I'd know the company would be so illustrious I might have tried a bit harder! The result is a wonderfully varied list of books that is about to become the pile on the desert island that is my bedside table.

I have always been a big fiction reader. Apart from books read for study or research, I can probably count the number of non-fiction books I've read "for pleasure" on one hand. (OK, maybe one hand plus a foot or two.)

Most of what I know about art, politics, religion, human nature -- if not learnt through living -- I've learnt from novels. What I love about fiction is the depth of insight you can gain about what it was like to be a human being alive in a certain place, at a certain point in time. And I suppose being partial to a domestic drama, no-one can plumb the nature of relationships and family life like fiction.

As I mentioned to Karen, I have been forced to recognise that the books which really resonate with me tend to reflect or deepen my understanding of my own experience, as opposed to taking me into totally other worlds. Even as a child, I recall being slightly suspect of books in which animals talked!

I have often worried that this is a limitation of mine. But lately I've decided to just sit with the fact that there is something in these stories that I still need: that is feeding me. And I expect that one day this need will be expelled and I will feel ready to open myself to less familiar territory. A kind of graduation from the internal to the external perhaps.

My theory is that all writers exist on a spectrum that runs between pure observation and pure imagination. When author/artist Antoni Jach recently put this idea to a masterclass I'm involved with, I was surprised that most put themselves at the imagination end. Me: I confessed to being about 80% observation and 20% exaggeration (by which I really mean embellishment).

Interestingly, the list of books on Karen's blog is about half-half, when it comes to fiction versus non-fiction (not that it's a competition -- especially nowadays). But either way, all evidence that books really do change lives is fascinating, and heartening, stuff.

7 comments:

Karen said...

Great theory - I'd put myself right in the middle of your spectrum - I start with an observation and then embellish/imagine/transform it!

Rachel Power said...

Hi Karen, thanks for stopping by. It's great to have discovered your fantastic blog - even though it's one of those blogs that always puts me to shame. All that creativity!! I immediately bought the mags you mention. Look great. Thanks for the tip. x

Miscellaneous-Mum said...

Thanks for helping me with my list :) Sorry it's taken me this long to come over and say so!

I've come more aligned to your way of thinking as I've grown older (read what reflects my own experience) whereas as a child I was gung-ho on adventure, fantasy, sci-fi etc.

I like it all, really! LOL.

I wonder what the next soul-shimmering book to come along will be?! Ah - that's always a lovely thought... :)

Damon Young said...

In my (characteristic) ignorance, I didn't realise RR was published so long ago.

By the time Yates wrote RR, computers were new, but familiar. The mighty HAL is from 1968. I'm sure Yates had good reasons for a computer, and not spoons, or some such thing.

But, again: ignorance.

Rachel Power said...

Yes, I agree it's likely that the character's job selling computers was an intentional choice. In fact, Yates worked for Remington as a publicist, so not so far removed. It's always difficult to discuss themes without giving the plot away, but RR is in many ways about our fear of living our dreams (sorry, corny way of putting it) -- the way pride and ego and cheap temptations can stop us living lives of greater integrity, and therefore greater risk. So when he chooses a job selling computers (if you see them as a symbol of increasing alienation and mechanisation), it just feels particularly ironic in the context of the book. Anyway, you'll just have to read it, Damon. I've bought my copy of The Golden Bowl...

Damon Young said...

Oh, FINE. After I've finished my current bedside reading (Flaubert in Egypt), I'll pick up a copy.

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