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Being Mostly about Books

A friend recommended Goodreads and I joined and used it and occasionally still do. I wanted to count up how many books I’d actually read, which turned out to be an approximate task, as I simply cannot remember the names of a whole pile of books that presumably should be filed under unmemorable. And I wanted to collect together some thoughts of my own and was soon writing review after review of books I had enjoyed. Because I’d enjoyed them the reviews tended to be favourable. They also tended to be favourable because I’d taken a “National Gallery” approach to much of my reading. I wanted to read books that were regarded as being exceptional. To see exceptional paintings, the National Gallery is a very good place to start. I started to read my way through the Penguin Classics and through the Everyman Library. There was no intellectual snobbery going on. I went in search of excellence and found I liked what was there. I became more immersed in every aspect of Père Goriot and Le Grand Meaulnes than I ever could with the works of Jilly Cooper and Erich Segal. When I came to review these books I found it very hard to give less than 4 stars.

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And so the friendship requests started to arrive. Some from established authors whose books I had treated favourably and many more from unknowns. I had no policy on internet friendships. If someone said they wanted to be my reading buddy that was OK with me. And then came the next set of requests. “I’ve self-published a novel and wondered if you’d be prepared to review it. I’ll send you a free electronic copy if you would be so kind”. And I’d say “Oh don’t be daft. I’ll buy a copy and review it gladly” I genuinely had an altruistic urge to do my bit as a minor patron of the literary arts.

And then I’d start to read…

And they were awful…

And I had this dilemma. What do I do? Do I tell the truth and upset someone I had allowed to call themselves my “friend’ (I was aware that the term had taken on a new ‘internet age’ meaning but was still reluctant to cause offence). But these books were practically unreadable. Do I make a mockery of a growing set of critical reviews by saying they are better than they are and risk other people thinking, “Well this man who likes Hemingway and Hesse thinks this book is very good” and actually buying the bilge on my recommendation.

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For a while I settled for a compromise and gave them 2 stars more than they deserved which meant that they either got three stars or, more often two. It caused a cessation of any communication with the authors who clearly had expected more. In the end I cleared out all friendships with people I didn’t know personally, and even a few of those, and have ignored all requests since then. I used to have a hundred or more reading companions and now I’ve got two, that I know and trust, and I like it better that way.

And then I started blogging. Now blogging is different once you get to know it (I am only just beginning to start to commence to uncover the mysteries and secrets of this world). You write your piece and are grateful to have it read and you read a piece of two in return and then you read another piece that you really like and you follow that writer/blogger. And slowly to find yourself following and being followed by a bunch of people you have a shared experience with. People whose work you like and people who like your work. It’s more than a mutual appreciation society. It is so many different things to so many different people.

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For me it’s a sounding board for ideas and a forum and a listening audience. A way of instantly seeing my scribbles and jottings displayed in a professional way and available to an appreciative section of the world. I started because I wanted to write but have slowly sifted through an acreage of the genuinely awful, the distinctly dubious and the utterly and dangerously insane to have found myself among a group I am beginning to think of as friends in the pre-internet meaning of the word. It’s the sort of friendship you strike up when you get sent away on a three day course; based on an enjoyment in what the course is about.

And they aren’t all writers. My daily readings and viewings take in some first rate photography, genuinely funny and insightful cartoonists, poets, painters, reviewers, philosophers, historians, hikers and cyclists, pontificators, practicing religious folk and dedicated atheists. And that’s just the shortened version of the list.

There were a number of reasons for beginning this blog and the main one was to find out what this phenomenon was all about; how it worked. In my book the best way to find out about something is to have a go at it and then to teach about it. (I’ll leave the teaching part out for now). And every day I feel I have got to know it a little bit better and every day it becomes just a little bit further from any pre-conceptions I had.

And I found a friend from Sydney who has inspired, badgered, nagged and encouraged me in my travel writings and has been darned good company for a number of months now. She’s not the first friend I found from Sydney; my wife was born in that city. It’s a city I intend to visit one day. It seems to come up with rather fine folk.

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And this friend had written a book and I decided to buy a copy of this. Being snowed under with reading projects, (Since retiring from payroll work my life has got a whole heap busier), I left it on one side until I could devote the time to read it properly. All the time a little fearful that I was about to embark on another friendship straining read.

And then I started it … no cliff-hanger …. and it is wonderful. I finally get the chance to write a review (or two, there will be one going on Goodreads) of a book written by someone I encountered over the internet where I don’t have to pretend. And Then Like My Dreams by Margaret Rose Stringer is an exceptional book and tomorrow’s blog will be entirely devoted to trying to do it justice.