Finding New Books…

reading                                                           bookshelfbookstore.blogspot.com

It’s not always easy to find books that you will enjoy, and very often I have set a book aside to come back to or have left it all together, and not without a sense of guilt. How do you find the books that you will really enjoy?

I enjoy browsing through bookshops, second hand and new, and finding an author whose work I haven’t yet delved into. I generally go by the blurb and the first few pages. The cover less so; I have learned over the years that the cover will not always give me an idea of what to expect. Some of the covers that have been less appealing to me have been those of books which I really enjoyed, and vise versa.  The old cliché rings true for me with books as well as for all of the other implied judgements we make!

I do look at Amazon’s recommendations, although they sometimes recommend my own work! I look at the emails they send and the recommendations on the site itself. They often give an accurate representation of my tastes.

I really appreciate recommendations from friends and other authors and will try both established authors and debut novelists. Don’t forget that every author was new to the craft at some point. We often cling to the authors we know and love but can miss some fantastic books if we don’t branch out. I have learned who to trust as far as book recommendations go and it has certainly expanded my horizon. Reading widely is important: push the boundaries and try a new genre, read something you ‘would never read’.

I read a lot of book blogs and there are a selection at the end of a previous post on blogging. Book bloggers are a fantastic way of finding new books and getting an overview of new releases, and sometimes classics I’ve missed. Their summaries are often more helpful to me than the reviews on various books sites.

Literary Prizes flag authors who I might not otherwise have found, this includes short story awards as I particularly enjoy reading short stories and collections. There are many book prizes, but if you find the ones that suit your tastes you can find some wonderful books.

I often find books on Pinterest, which I pin for later and I can go back to the list on my to-be-read board later and take a closer look to see if it is something I want to buy and read. It’s a great way of seeing the covers in a larger format and reading reviews.

Libraries are a good way of finding books, especially out of print editions. Having a library card is also a fantastic way of encouraging children to read.

Finally, bestseller lists. I left this until last because I don’t always love the bestsellers, and people’s tastes vary, but going to the bestseller shelves in bookshops and looking on-line will give you an idea of what’s popular. Moods and genres shift, and there is a wave of psychological thrillers. I have found some great books this way. Amazon has a list of kindle bestsellers. I have linked the fiction page, but you can find almost anything. I you are looking for a particular genre within fiction, the links are on their sidebar. Most of you are familiar with this but it’s worth a reminder.

What have you discovered that surprised you? Any recommendations?

Reading_in_the_Bookstore                                    www.fotopedia.com

 

What do you gain from reading eBooks?

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I promised to balance a previous post on The Joy of a Bookshop with a look at the advantages of reading eBooks, so here it is. Much as I love browsing through bookshops and holding a physical book, turning its pages and enjoying the cover and the scent of the paper, I am currently reading many more eBooks. The reasons for this are varied:

I can download a sample of a book to see if I like the style and am, therefore, experimenting with new writers more than I perhaps used to. I can take a chance on a writer I do not know and not have to part with any cash until I decide to move on or to download the whole book. This has honestly revolutionised my reading as I download samples as I find them, they are automatically sent to my kindle, and when I am ready to read they are there waiting all in one place.

The price is usually lower, which means that I can download more books and I have never read as many books as I have since I was given a kindle last year. E-books are less expensive to produce and can be sold at a lower price. Although it is not always the case, more often than not the price is a good deal lower. E-books are also encouraging younger readers to pick up books as they are already familiar with mobile devices and tablets, although paperback and hardback books are still more popular with the youngest readers.

I can travel with more books as I can download them and slide a fairly slim device into my bag. Gone are the days when I threw six books into a suitcase and removed several items of clothing, only to then take out four of the books and put the clothes back in. I can now take as many books as I like with me anywhere I go and not worry about bulk or weight. Hallelujia!

I can highlight and annotate the text and see popular sections of a book highlighted by others. The annotation function works well for me when editing my own books but it also gives me a place to make notes when I am reading non fiction, in particular. I can also highlight parts that I want to return to, both with fiction and non fiction. I like to be able to see highlights from others, as it makes the reading more of a shared experience. If you can see what other readers enjoyed it enriches your own experience. Some of the best quotes from books are highlighted, enabling you to skim through them before or after you read and to have them saved for later reference.

I can search for keywords. This is a really useful function of eReaders when you are reading eBooks. It allows you to find passages if you want to go back and check anything or, in the case of non fiction, it helps you to find key points of reference. With fiction, you might want to reread a part which you enjoyed. This can be more difficult when you are turning the pages of a paperback.

The immediacy of downloading an eBook, as opposed to waiting to get to a bookshop, means that you download books which you might otherwise not get around to buying, especially if copies are not available. This is of particular relevance to me as I live in a country where English is not the native language, but I read in English. Instead of waiting to get to a bookshop with an English section, I can download a book within minutes.

These are just some of the many advantages I see but I hope the two will continue to coexist so that readers continue to be presented with a choice. The more ways that books can be put into the hands of readers, the better.

For those of you who enjoy statistics, I’ll leave you with some information from Nielsen who predict that “ebooks will overtake sales of print books in 2014, with total sales expected to rise to 47 million units. This will put total ebook sales 300,000 ahead of their print equivalents and mean that electronic books account for 48% of the overall fiction market.” They also recorded a dip in sales for 2013 and projected a mixed outlook with this information included.

You can read the whole article from Publishing Technology here. The following infographic shows statistics from the US in 2013: libraries-are-forever-972-640x4094                                              dailyinfographic.com, Feb 2013

Creativity: What is it and why do we think it belongs to just a select few?

130423 Image With One of Arthur Koestler Quote...
130423 Image With One of Arthur Koestler Quotes on Creativity (Photo credit: bitesizeinspiration)

This post was sparked by an interesting article  I read at the weekend on Creativity by Ayd Instone, who has worked with Oxford University Press, Macmillan Publishers, a range of UK Universities and Pfizer Pharmaceuticals. Ayd has a degree in Physics and Physical Science BSc(hons) and has worked as a technical author. He is the author of four published books about creativity and innovation. In the article he discusses people’s conceptions of creativity and their misconceptions about what it is and whether creativity is born or made. The frequency with which the nature/nurture debate crops up led me to think about why people are so intrigued by creativity, and by whether we are born with a determined set of skills, or whether we  can learn to become creative.

When I was younger I was persuaded that creative types were dancers, artists, photographers and musicians. I didn’t even consider authors; as far as I was concerned, Enid Blyton and Judy Blume’s words magically appeared on the page without any planning or inspiration from the authors. I gave no thought to the process behind writing the books which I devoured over the years. As time rolled on, and my reading tastes changed, morphing through a selection of C.S. Lewis and John Buchan, Yeats and travel diaries, photography books and biographies, I left university to pursue a teaching career and I met creativity in the form of Lawyers, Scientists and, yes, even Accountants. We have preconceived ideas of what creativity is and who carries this illustrious concoction of innovation and ideas.

The reality is that we are all born with a degree of creativity and the extent to which it is used and developed depends on our focus. I have met photographers with great technical ability but little creativity or desire for creativity, and I have watched lawyers branch out into painting and music, or bring creativity into their daily working life. The misconception that creativity is only or a select few paralyses people into thinking that they can’t or shouldn’t try new skills, that they can’t bring creativity into their jobs and their everyday lives.

As a writer, creativity comes to me in the form of ideas and stories, but it is fuelled by how I choose to spend my time: reading, visiting galleries, watching films, travelling, collecting photography books and going to the World Press Photo Awards each year. The form it takes and the inspiration will vary from person to person, but what we choose to spend our time on will fuel how creative we become. It will feed our minds and grow and morph into something new. How are you going to spend your time?

For those of you who are following my short story releases, Skeleton Bunker was published today.

Library Finds and Old Books

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My Father arrived on a flight from the UK last week armed with a selection of books which were being sold from a library. Among them were The First English Dictionary 1604 by Robert Cawdrey, Plain Words: A Guide to the Use of English by Ernest Gowers (1948), and The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester. For those of you who appreciate the smell of old books, they oozed the vanilla scent that is produced by aging paper as the lignin breaks down. You can read about the Science of it here . The content was of particular interest to me as a writer. I love words: their origins, use and translations and I used to collect dictionaries and the odd thesaurus, along with books of literary quotes.

Amongst the books my Father brought with him were a few on different parts of the world and a History of England which was originally presented to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey, in 1974. The inscription made the book all the more unique in the age of eBooks and I was reminded of the wonder of old books. We used to have a second hand bookshop at the end of our road when I was a child with the most unusual books and the same wonderful musty vanilla smell invading your senses as you opened the door. I love eBooks for the ease and speed of getting into a new book, especially as I live in a country where English is not the primary language and where the English books take up a small shelf space in the upper corners of a few bookshops. But I will never tire of the scent of old paper, of interesting inscriptions placed in the front of second hand books, of the notes scribbled in the margins and of wondering who the owner might have been, or whether there is a whole story behind a string of owners. Neither will I tire of the physical turning of the pages and the feeling of holding a book in my hands as I curl up with a coffee and a few hours of peace.

Asunder by Chloe Aridjis: A Review

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I was recommended this book by a friend and am so grateful to have read it. The rich language and the palpable tension in the narrative kept me turning the pages in one sitting until I reluctantly reached the end. It is a book I will go back to and reread at some stage. The similarity with what I am currently writing was also striking, so the read was timely.

“They call us guards, warders, invigilators, room keepers, gallery assistants. We are watchmen, sentinels, but we don’t polish guns, shoes or egos. We are custodians of a national treasure, a treasure beyond value stored behind eight Corinthian columns of a neoclassical façade, the dreams of the ancients stuccoed to our building.”

Marie’s job as a museum guard at the National Gallery in London offers her the life she always wanted, one of invisibility and quiet contemplation. But amid the hushed corridors of the Gallery surge currents of history and violence, paintings whose power belie their own fragility. There also lingers the legacy of her great-grandfather Ted, the warder who slipped and fell moments before reaching the suffragette Mary Richardson as she took a blade to one of the gallery’s masterpieces on the eve of the First World War.

After nine years there, Marie begins to feel the tug of restlessness. A decisive change comes in the form of a winter trip to Paris, where, with the arrival of an uninvited guest and an unexpected encounter, her carefully contained world is torn apart.

The book has a depth to it that pulled me in immediately. There is a magical darkness to her prose and the author’s descriptions and sharp eye for detail were compelling. It is powerfully and creatively written through the eyes of Marie, the museum guard. Her world and her insights into the people and places around her give you a sense of claustrophobia and of the parallels between the fragility of life and of the valuable paintings in the gallery. I have a particular interest in art and have spent many happy hours in various galleries around the world, so her research into the technical aspects of the topic were interesting.

A passage I really enjoyed describes the character’s feelings as she lies in a bed in Paris in the home of a couple who have recently separated and left the flat empty. There is a sense of the reader intruding on the intimacy of the the lives of the unknown couple:

“Yet almost immediately this darkness began to curdle into something viscous and heavy. As I lay in bed I began to speculate about the couple who’d slept in my spot for who knows how many years. I tried to imagine their faces, their bodies, their voices, whether they slept on their sides, stomachs or backs, whether intertwined or at separate ends of the bed, about whatever moments, fraught or transcendent, they’d lived out where I lay, what conversations, what passion or frustration. I began to worry I might inherit their dreams, that I’d find myself in ragged environments populated by ragged figures without knowing how to fend them off.”

There is something very abstract about Aridjis’ writing. She creates a world that is both surreal, yet very real. There is something of Nabakov in her style and she hones in on the idea of destruction and decay brilliantly, without overwriting.

This is an absolute must-read for anyone who enjoys literary fiction and the world of art. There is a strong psychological element to the story which gives it wide appeal. This book almost flew below the radar and I am so glad not to have missed it.

Blogging for Readers

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Last week’s post was on blogging for writers and I promised a post this week on blogging for readers. They deserve two separate posts in order to do them both justice. I post a few reviews, in amongst author interviews and I discuss different aspects of writing. Book bloggers do a wonderful job of reviewing and sharing books. I have bought several books based on the recommendations of bloggers whose opinions I trust. Some bloggers share books in one genre, be it crime, historical romance, literary fiction, young adult or science fiction, others read and review a vast range of books in one blog. In a previous post I shared a list of bloggers who I follow and whose posts are varied and informative.

So, what do you write and how?

I don’t want to be formulaic because the joy of different blogs lies in their individuality and their unique voice and layout. But the key points are important:

Book Cover

Ask the author or publisher for a high resolution image of the book, and make sure that it is clear and not too large or small for the post. Thumbnails can get lost in amongst your words but a billboard sized image can overtake the review.

Book Information

Include the ISBN number, publication date and publisher information to make it easy for people to locate the book. The genre of the book can also be a helpful indication for the reader. If a reader really enjoys, or doesn’t enjoy, a particular genre, it can help them to make a quick decision about whether to read your review or buy the book.

Synopsis

This is a crucial part of the review and, if you don’t want to include a whole synopsis, at least give a snapshot of the book to frame it for the reader. You probably wouldn’t see a film or a play unless you had a rough idea of the plot or the style, especially if you haven’t previously heard anything about it. Most people go on recommendations before they watch or read anything new, and your introduction can make or break their decision to read a book. Either take the full review or give an outline, and preferably before you give your candid opinion.

Your review

This is the meat of the post. It is your take on the book, your view of the style, the language and the story. Be honest, but it is best to avoid scathing comments. Some bloggers are asked by agents or publishers to review books, and others pick up books to review themselves. If you have been asked to review a book that you don’t connect with, be honest about what didn’t work and try to find the positives. If you really enjoyed the book your enthusiasm will be clear, and hopefully it will encourage others to pick up the book. Try to look at different aspects: the characters, their interaction with each other and the situations in which they are placed, the pace and style, the plot with it’s twists and turns, or the descriptive prose. Have fun and let your journalist’s hat run free.

Other reviews

Has the book been reviewed by the national press or magazines? Are there reviews by other well-known authors? These are worth sharing as they give the reader a better idea of the substance of the book. Quote from other reviews or from the press release. Most books have these quotes on Amazon, which will make them easier to find.

Author info

Does the author have credits or other publications? It is always interesting, although not essential, to gain some background knowledge on the person behind the cover. Do they enjoy travel? Do they have a PhD in an unusual subject? Have they previously been involved in an interesting job? Part of the reason why people enjoy author interviews is because we are all essentially curious (nosey) and it is intriguing to find out about the author or their reasons for writing the book. If readers enjoy the book, they will want to know where to find other material by the writer. Some readers find novels through reading short stories that they enjoy and then searching for books by the same author, and sometimes it works the other way around.

Contact info

This is helpful but not essential. In an age of what I would call ‘the social media explosion,’ many authors have blogs and websites and are on twitter, Facebook, Pinterest or any of the other social media sites. Readers like to connect with authors. Some authors are fiercely private, and little can be found out about them or their lives and writing, but most will at least have a website. Many author websites will have widgets which take you to their other sites.

Can you recommend any good book blogs? Do you review books? How has it helped you to find what you are looking for or, perhaps, surprise you with something new?

Author Interview with Matt Haig

The Humans
From your experience of journalism, as well as novel writing, has one fed in to the other in any way?

Journalism teaches you to be economical with words. It tells you not to be too self-indulgent.

What do you most like to read and are there any books you have read recently that have stood out or changed you?

I read all kinds of stuff. I have been re-reading Graham Greene recently. I studied him at university. Did a whole module on him. I think, from the outside, my books are nothing like his, but I consider him my greatest influence.

What have been the most difficult things to write about and why?

There is some mathematics in my new novel, and I had to look like I knew what I was talking about, so I researched, and I quickly saw how so many mathematicians go crazy.

You have said that The Humans, your new book, is the one work you would most like to be remembered for. Although you have written several other books, what has given you confidence in this project in particular?

Because I totally cut loose. A part of me used to play the game. You know, I used to be trying to be highbrow, or taken seriously, and that somehow got in the way. With this, I knew it was probably going to be published whatever (as my last book did quite well) so I just went for it. Comedy, science-fiction, sentimentality – all those illegal things.

What advice would you give to new writers on their path to publication?

Be brutal with your writing. Don’t let yourself have it easy. And then be persistent, and thick-skinned, for everything that follows.

What do you enjoy doing outside writing and reading?

Being with my kids, toast and peanut butter, running, holidays. I am not into fancy things, but I am into fancy holidays.

If you could meet any well-known figure, living or dead, who would it be and why?

Emily Dickinson, without a doubt. Amazing mind, intriguing person. She’d be too shy to open her front door though, so that’d be a problem.

Matt Haig

Matt has written novels, screenplays, children’s novels and worked as a journalist, collaborating with The Guardian, The Sunday Times and The Independent. He has won a range of awards, including the Yorkshire Young Achievers ‘Achievement in the Arts’ Award in 2009, and his novels have been translated into 29 languages. The film rights for his first novel, The Last Family in England (2004), have been sold to Brad Pitt’s production company. His previous novel, The Radleys, won an ALA Alex Award in America, has been shortlisted for the Portico prize and nominated for the Carnegie Medal. It won the TV Book Club Summer Read. He was born in Sheffield, Yorkshire in 1975. Since then he has lived in Nottinghamshire, Ibiza and London. He studied English and History at Hull University and then did an MA at Leeds, and now lives in York with author Andrea Semple and their two children.

www.matthaig.com