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My parents never read to me as a child.

My parents were (and are) largely unliterary. The earliest memories I have of literature are those cheap and trashy Mills & Boon romance novels, which belonged to my mother. Also, I remember green covered guides on how to live with cancer that were hidden under my parents bed, none of which I understood at the time, of course.

The first book I ever bought was H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds. I was in year five, a couple months after my father's death, and a book club started. Throw in some money, get a book, that sort of thing. I really liked the Star Wars films, so I thought, naturally, I would like this book about alien invasion. I read about fifty pages. Most boring piece of shit ever, was, I believe, my opinion at the time. I've still never read the book. Might still be true.

The stories I remember from my childhood were told to me by a friend of the family. He would tell his kids (and consequently my sister and I when we went up for holidays) these stories about a dog called Blue. I don't actually remember what Blue did in these stories--saved little boys and girls, I guess--but the way he told them, with pouncing delight, and loud howls and barking, were just about the coolest things I had ever heard.

Consequently, I have a theory that writing for the page requires different skills to performing fiction for an audience. You can do a lot on the page that doesn't translate vocally, and you can do a lot, vocally, that doesn't read with any real interest. I often act my dialogue out before writing, however.

Every now and then, I toy with the idea of creating a performance, but then I realise I don't know shit about performing. But one day, perhaps.

The second book I bought was called Space Demons and was written by Gillian Rubenstein, who is also Lian Hearn. Space Demons was about a bunch of kids who play a video game that, slowly, starts to creep into their real world. I ended up buying it because a teacher was reading it slowly in class, and I wanted to know how it ended. I've always been a touch impatient, really. A week is a lifetime to me.

The third book that I bought was somewhere in High School, and was Dragons of Autumn Twilight, by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. I never quite got Hobbits, but I got golden skinned wizards who betrayed their friends for power, knights who got killed by old friends who stupid but noble reasons, and everything that flowed from that series. Later, I learned that Tolkien's prints were throughout it, and later I also learned that this kind of fantasy is basically one huge young adult section in the bookstore; but when I found it, I was the right age to know nothing of that.

I never read short fiction until the end of High School and then, I was only reading it because I was interested in getting published. I had been told, you see, that short fiction was a good stepping stone to publishing novels. I should've paid more attention to the fact that the person telling me this had done neither. Still, many people believe this. Perhaps that is why a lot of writers and wannabe writers read short fiction.

I grew tired of fantasy because as I grew older, it stayed simplistic. It wasn't until I found Fritz Leiber that I began to see how it needn't be, and while there are plenty of examples of fantasy that isn't simplistic, I believe the core of the genre is. It's why I have been drawn to that tangled mix of overlapping genres, where fantasy crosses into surrealism, realism, historical fiction, crime, and so on and so forth. The mongrel genre. I like this centre, for this overlap is more interesting than the centre of any specialised genre, I believe.

I wonder, at times, if writing is nothing more than a selfish, indulgent thing. No. Let me rephrase: I know that writing is a selfish, indulgent thing. I cannot compare my contribution of a bit of fiction to society with someone who, say, works as a social worker, or in any of those similar fields. Yet, in opposition, fiction does give something to society, even if it is just a communal escapism, and who is to say that's a bad thing? But the nature of that question is very demanding and, within itself, self indulgent, and there are times when I find it problematic.

Michael Ondaatje's Coming Through Slaughter is his best novel. I bet you thought I'd forgotten about books, yes? But it is true. It's one of my favourite novels.

My girlfriends have, in the past, requested that I read to them. I've never really understood it.

I adore books. They are touchstones for memories. I like to watch them yellow and curl and age, but mostly I like the comfort of them, the knowledge that, by touching the cover of one, I can remember a moment, a time, a place, a person; and within the books are ideas, thoughts, characters, places, concepts, things to challenge, things to disagree with, things in general. I rarely lend my books for this reason, but I'll buy copies for people if I think they'll like it.

I do not like having books signed. If possible, I'll avoid it, but you know how it is, sometimes, with authors you know. Itchy pens. I also don't like signing books for people. I don't like leaving the stain of my presence, though I know others don't see it that way. I'm also uncomfortable with that whole relationship between authors and readers when a book is given over to sign. My friend once said that the reason he didn't like live music was because there was a worship angle to being in the crowd, and looking up at the band who look, he argued, out on you. I disagreed, naturally, but I get the same vibe at signings. Of course, many people disagree with me, which is cool, but the whole thing just makes me uncomfortable. I secretly long to be reclusive, I think.





This began as the 15 Thing About Books and Me thing that, apparently, went round a while back. Not sure when. I'm not reading blogs at the moment, so I'm out of this loop, probably till I've finished the thesis. All I'm doing is writing in a blog.

Comments

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angriest
Dec. 20th, 2005 03:35 pm (UTC)
I find signing things very awkward and don't particularly enjoy it, but I do it anyway - chiefly because refusing to makes you look far more arrogant and self-important than if you just smile politely and sign the damn thing (usually while jovially pointing out how awkward and weird you feel when signing things).
benpeek
Dec. 20th, 2005 09:35 pm (UTC)
oh yeah, i never say no when people ask, and i would certainly not make that person feel uncomfortable. sometimes i even draw little pictures on the inside.

but mostly i refrain.
angriest
Dec. 21st, 2005 02:43 am (UTC)
Hey, I do the little pictures too.
simplykathryn
Dec. 20th, 2005 03:45 pm (UTC)
I hadn't read to my kids in quite a while (they're 8 & 10) but a few years ago I got the Narnia boxed set from the book fair at their school. I hadn't read it as a child, but had heard discussion about it in the last few years and was curious. When the movie trailers started, the box set was still sitting on my bookcase, nicely shrink-wrapped. The boys mentioned that we had it, and so I actually started reading to them again. We're up to book five, and I've discovered that the chapters are a nice 15 minutes of reading, which is about my limit before my voice gives out. So I'm back to reading to my kids before bed, which is kind of neat.

A few years ago my husband went by the library before we went on vacation, and came back with the first Harry Potter book on tape (our vacations tend to involve a lot of driving). Since then we've listened to every single one (book five, I believe, was 23 CDs) - Jim Dale, who reads the US ones, is simply incredible.

My kids read - a lot of the time they read manga, but they read regular books as well. I had hoped that my example of being found curled up in a chair with a book would rub off on them, and apparently it has. It's not unusual to find them stretched out on their beds, reading.

I've given away a lot of books that I need to go and rebuy for myself, just because I'm impatient and want someone to have them straight away. I figure if you're going to tell someone to read something you either need to loan it to them, or give it to them outright. Luckily I have a few coworkers here who are also big readers, so we swap :)
benpeek
Dec. 20th, 2005 09:38 pm (UTC)
i've never read the narnia books. i read ALICE IN WONDERLAND when i was twenty or something like that, just out of curiosity, but didn't find it very interesting, except to think of whatw as going through lewis carroll's mind at the time. heh. but since i've got no kids, and alla that, i can just skip the young adult stuff, i think. i will read it if it's done by an author whose adult work i like, however.

i heard people talking about buying non fiction books on cd and having them play in cars and background. i thought this was cool. i really have to try that.
simplykathryn
Dec. 21st, 2005 03:57 am (UTC)
Interestingly a friend of mine recently told me that he'd got on CD a 'management' type book he'd read years previously and found really helpful. He listened to it three or four times in his car and when it was done was none the wiser than when he started. I guess some things just sink in better when they're read.
benpeek
Dec. 21st, 2005 11:07 am (UTC)
i think sometimes whoever reads it has a bit to answer for too, y'know? a bad reader can make the easiest thing inpenetrable.
tanuja
Dec. 20th, 2005 05:11 pm (UTC)
My parents never read to me as a child either, but being an only child for 10 years (a series of miscarriages prevented my parents from a having a second child until I was 10) reading was something I gravitated towards because reading doesn't require anything other than my imagination.

My father, not only invented stories, but also told me Indian fables and legends, which were fabulous.

We read to MMT, and he regards books as just another toy, so is almost equally excited to receive a Thomas book as to receive one of the Thomas & his friends trains for his train track. (Although he is only three, so I'm sure that it will change). I'm hoping that he'll continue to enjoy books as he grows older.
benpeek
Dec. 20th, 2005 09:40 pm (UTC)
yeah, my friend reads to his kid like you do yours. he see's it as a toy, too. i've no idea if it'll keep that way, but i hope it does. though i am a little bothered to realise that i knew what thomas was straight out and didn't even blink and stop to think.

indian fables sound cool.
ataxi
Dec. 21st, 2005 12:12 am (UTC)
I read War of the Worlds last week. It's actually very good if you like that sort of thing. The book I've read that it most reminded me of is The Terror by Arthur Machen.
benpeek
Dec. 21st, 2005 12:39 am (UTC)
i actually quite like the orson welles radio play of war of the worlds. i've read a couple of other hg wells books, and they were okay, but i've no real desire to rush back and read it. plenty of other stuff out there.
ataxi
Dec. 21st, 2005 12:15 am (UTC)
(reads rest of post) Space Demons, Dragons of Autumn Twilight, Leiber ... I think I read everything you mention at more or less the same age. You weren't born in the late seventies were you?
benpeek
Dec. 21st, 2005 12:37 am (UTC)
heh. yeah. 76. you?
ataxi
Dec. 21st, 2005 12:49 am (UTC)
I'm a 78. I was obviously a bit behind the curve ;-)
benpeek
Dec. 21st, 2005 12:52 am (UTC)
or ahead of it ;)
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