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.