Saturday, 31 December 2016

My New Year Reading Resolution

I would say that my New Year Reading Resolution is to stop buying books that I subsequently don't read (which happens a fair bit), but I don't think that's practical - you can never really guarantee that however much you like a book's premise or initial chapters, you'll like it enough to continue reading to the end. Therefore, my actual Reading Resolution is to reduce the number of books I fail to finish. This is my action plan for achieving my goal. 

1. When I failed to finish a book, I will put it into one of two categories: won't finish or try again. Books that I that actively dislike (eg. I don't like the plot or just find boring) will go into the first category while books I just can't seem to get into will go in the second category.

2. Every time I need something to read, rather than buying a new book as I usually do, I will look at all the books in the "try again" category to see if there's anything I fancy giving another go. I can only buy another book if nothing from that category grabs me. 

3. Visit the library more often! I must confess that I probably go to my local library once a year (if that). To be fair, because of work commitments, I can only really go on a Saturday - which does make returning books a bit of a faff. But, I would certainty save some money if I made more of an effort. After all, you can fail to finish all the library books you want and you still won't be out of pocket.

4. If I try a book for a second time and still fail to finish it, I will move it to the "won't finish" category. Sometimes you have to accept that no matter how well written a book is or how good the plot is, it's just not for you. While going against the goal of reducing the number of books I buy and don't finish, at least I will know that I gave it my best shot.

5. Review my "won't finish" pile every now and then to learn what it is I don't like. For example, having looked at books I've failed to finish this year, I've realised I only like history books about people - I am not interested in learning about events or places, no matter how important they are for how we developed as a society (which is why I gave up on Mary Beard's book about Rome). 

6. After step five, get rid of my "won't finish" books. If physical, take it to a charity shop. If an ebook, delete it completely from my Kindle library. I have only just figured out how to do this (before, I just deleted it from my Kindle but not my virtual library) and it's been really liberating. I know that an unfinished ebook doesn't take up any space - either physically or digitally - but I found seeing a list of books I'd bought over the years and would never finish oppressive. 

7. Accept that I buy a lot books. Some people are passionate about music, some about fashion, and others about model aeroplanes (seriously, I used to work for two magazines dedicated to the subject), but I love books; they are "my thing". Therefore, I am going to spend a substantial amount of my disposable income (I do recognise that I am extremely fortunate to have disposable income) on books and the law of averages means that some of those will end up on my "won't finish" pile.  

I am hoping that the above steps will help me to reduce the amount of books I buy and don't finish, but most of all I want to stop feeling guilty about it. Guilt only has a purpose if it inspires you to change - continuing to do something while feeling guilty about it is plain ridiculous. 

Thursday, 29 December 2016

Our responsibilities as readers

The recent furore about fake news stories has made me think about my responsibility as a reader. Though not my duty to determine if a story is fake or not because, to be frank, it's not that hard to spot a fake story - is it from a source you recognise? Does it have quotes from people with actual names and an explanation of who they are? Are other sources reporting the same thing? If the answer is no to these questions, then that's a bit of a clue that the story is not legit. What the fake news thing has made me think about is how I consume, for want of a better word, information from sources that I do trust. 

I think my most fundamental (and most obvious) responsibility is to understand to that if we don't read it, they won't write it. The Daily Mail, deservedly, gets a lot of flak for its editorial stance towards to anyone who, well, isn't a white, middle-class, non-Muslim, heterosexual, centre right voting, man. But the fact is it wouldn't spout out any of the rubbish it comes out with if there wasn't a willing audience for it. This being a free country, I can't stop other people from reading it but I can show my abhorrence at its hate-filled stories by not buying it and (if not more importantly) not increasing its web traffic by going on its website (not blameless on this score to be honest)

However, of the media I do read, I have to recognise that there's an agenda behind all of it - even the most impartial. For example, I occasionally pick up The Guardian - which is unapologetically left wing. But, the paper that I regularly read, the I paper (which started life as the sister paper of The Independent), is less obvious about its political stance. Even if you ignore the strong argument you could make that it is left wing, the paper isn't really impartial whatever it purports to be. The editor, or team of editors, has made a choice about what news to report, what story (or in the I paper's case, headline) to put on the front cover, and what to ignore. Therefore, each edition is not a reflection of what is going in the world; it is a reflection of what a group of people think are the most relevant and most important things happening in the world. It would be impossible, of course, for them to include every event that happened and I think that they make the right selection (otherwise I wouldn't buy the paper), but I do have to acknowledge that the view that I am getting when I read the paper is only part of the picture; not the whole picture.

Another thing I have to recognise that is that a news story is usually a tertiary source (third hand in other words). It's a report of someone's else report of something that was said or that happened. It's a rarely a first-hand account. That doesn't mean the story is inaccurate; just that things can get lost in translation and things don't always happen as they have been reported. A good news reporter will take steps to validate what they've heard and try to get all sides of the story (ie, if someone claiming someone did something; get a response from that someone). Furthermore, they will make it clear that their report is not a first-hand account (and thus, they can't guarantee that they are reporting exactly what happened) by shoving in lots of "mays", "thinks", "claims", and "according tos", etc. But again when I am reading something, I have to recognise that - despite the best efforts of the reporter - I am not getting the complete picture.

The problem is of course is that it's pretty much impossible to get the complete picture - we rely on news sources for information because we are not able to get it ourselves. Even if we were able to, we would still have to acknowledge that we have our own agendas and will interpret things in certain ways. I, for example, am left wing so I am predisposed to be sceptical of any policy that the Tories bring out - no matter how good or bad it actually is. 

Therefore, what is our responsibilities as readers? Is it to mistrust everything we come read? No, of course not, that would be impractical as well as paranoid. More that we have to be critical and recognise what we read may not be the Gospel truth. Or at least, not the only truth. 

Thursday, 15 December 2016

My top 10 books of 2016

Today, I completed my 2016 GoodReads Reading Challenge - which to the uninitiated, means I read the X amount of books - 45 to be exact - I said would at the beginning of the year. Well actually, originally said I would read 24 but kept increasing the number when I kept hitting the "target". Lest this sounds impressive, I should point out I've read several graphic novels this year, which are fairly quick to read, and quite a few books that weren't exactly taxing on the brain (eg, see my post on my love of Doctor Who novels). Anyway, I thought it would be a good opportunity to list my top 10 favourite books of the year (some of which were featured in my favourite book of the year so far post)

According to GoodReads, it's about "five misfits who exist on the fringes of Ireland's post-crash society". Not nearly as worthy or pretentious as that makes it sound. 

8: The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge
Proof that Young Adult can be just as well written and well plotted as "grown-up" books.

7: Ethel and Ernest by Raymond Briggs
A sweet comic strip biography of Briggs' parents. There's an adaption on Channel 4 over Christmas (makes a change from The Snowman), and I will definitely be watching it.

6: The Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterson
A modern retelling of The Winter's Tale. Reminded me that I should make more of an effort to read more of Winterson's works.

5: All My Friends are Superheroes by Andrew Kaufman
Bonkers but in a good way. The title says all you need to know about the plot!

4: A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson
A must for fans of her Life after Life

3: Q's Legacy by Helen Hanff
A lovely little read about a woman, the author of 84 Charing Cross Road, living her life her way. Not that she does anything radical more that she's doesn't seem that bothered about conforming to society's expectations etc.

2: The House of The Spirits by Isabelle Allende
A sprawling family saga that grips from the first page. Don't watch the film version though; that's pants.

1: The Long Way to A Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
A book I love so much I have to force myself to stop recommending it to people as it's started to border on the obsessive.