The BBC’s recent 100 Books that Shaped our Worldhas started me thinking about comfort reads. What are they? When do we want them? Maybe even need them, indeed. What do they do for us? And how do we find them in the first place?
And is comfort reading a Bad Thing?
Escapism, after all, has got a bad press ever since the word was first coined, apparently in thirties USA i.e. at the height of the Depression. The Oxford English Dictionary defines escapism as “the tendency to seek distraction and relief from unpleasant realities, especially by seeking entertainment or engaging in fantasy.”
This month, rather to my surprise, I have found myself thinking a lot about romantic fiction and where it sits in readers’ lives. I write it, read it and love it, as regular readers of this blog will know. And there are some times in my life when nothing else will do. Not every romantic novel, of course. Maybe Persuasion. Or Sylvester. Perhaps The Morning Gift. Or…
Many readers would say that Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird was a book that changed the way they thought about the racial divide in the USA. Many more were brought to the issues via the film of the same name, starring Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch.
The recent publication of Harper Lee’s earlier book Go Set A Watchman received very mixed reviews: some questioned whether the book should have been published at all, given its history; others were shocked by the racism and bigotry of Watchman’s Atticus. Interestingly, Ursula K Le Guin wrote that Watchman, “for all its faults and omissions, asks some of the hard questions To Kill A Mockingbird evades”. Which brings us neatly to…
Kingsblood Royal — tackling the Mockingbird theme, but better?
Our latest Love Letter to a Favourite Novel is about Kingsblood Royal, a book many of us will never have heard of, by Sinclair Lewis — an American author some readers will not have heard of, either, even though he was awarded the Nobel prize for literature (and wrote Elmer Gantry).
Peter, our passionate reader advocate, believes that Kingsblood Royal is “a much more powerful analysis of American racism than To Kill A Mockingbird“. Reading Lewis’s novel, Peter adds, made him feel “uncomfortable in a way that Harper Lee never quite managed”.
Peter doesn’t argue that Kingsblood Royal should replace To Kill A Mockingbird in our schools but he does make a forceful argument that Lewis’s book should be better known.
Hive members are convinced. Do read Peter’s Love Letter and see if you are, too.
How many of us owe a lifelong love of a particular author to serendipity?
The kind of happy accident — in a bookshop, or a book sale, or perhaps even a hotel bedroom — when we pick up an author we haven’t heard of and start to read.
And ten minutes, or ten pages, later, we have the key to a whole new world and we are well and truly hooked.
New Love Letter to a Favourite Novel
Today’s new Love Letter is from a male reader (small fanfare of trumpet here for sex equality in reading!). David describes the effect of just such an unexpected discovery — a hitherto unknown writer who has since become a must-buy for him and an essential part of his reading landscape.
Just the thing to warm the cockles of every writer’s heart.
Back in the early 60s, theatrical criticism in Britain threw up its hands and resorted to love letters instead. The cause was Vanessa Redgrave starring in As You Like It, directed by Michael Elliot. She was 24 years old and luminous, with a voice that still pushes all those emotional buttons in the weekly Voice-Over to Call The Midwife.
Bernard Levin, a notoriously astringent theatre critic, wrote “If the word enchantment has any meaning, it is here,” and fell in love with her. Fifty-four years later, Michael Billington was still rhapsodizing about the performance in The Guardian.
The Award-Winning, Five-Star, Chart-Topper Delusion
In spite of his rhapsodies, however, Billington, a professional to his fingertips, couldn’t quite resist calling it “her gold standard Rosalind”. As if there were some sort of industry blueprint.
Amazon, with a star-rating system based on hotel comparator techniques, seems to be doing something similar. So do the bestseller charts. But, as (best seller) Patricia McLinn recently pointed out, sadly they can be manipulated, so they are not statistically reliable.
Sharing a Magical Journey
When someone recommends a book to me, what I remember is how they felt about it, not their measured assessment of the style, theme and content. I certainly don’t care if, after they’ve finished, they’d give the book ten out of ten or a patronising seven and a half for effort.
I want to know what it was like to go through the door into the world of that book.
Libertà’s First Reader Love Letter to a Favourite Novel
Our Love Letter to a Favourite Novel feature is still a work in progress. We’ve now refined it in the light of comments we’ve received from (we hope) intending contributors. We’re really grateful for all the supportive and encouraging suggestions and we hope you will keep them coming.
At this stage, we’ve got a couple of watchwords for ourselves and our contributors as they write their Love Letters: sharingand authenticity.
Sharing— we want everyone who reads these posts to feel at home here, whether they’re a fellow author or not.
Authentic— the piece doesn’t have to be unalloyed praise. Love isn’t always blind, after all. If readers think a character was short changed or there’s something they wish had or hadn’t been in the book, but nevertheless they still love it, they should go ahead and say so in their Love Letter.
You can read more about the latest news on the Love Letter to a Favourite Novel feature on the main page.
This post on The Importance of Readers was originally a guest piece on the Romantic Novelists’ Association blog. Many thanks to the RNA for letting us repost it here, complete with thoughts on our progress, nearly a year on…
Back in December 2015, Sophie Weston wrote . . .
Every author understands the importance of readers.They nurture our visions, buy our books, keep us creating. You might say, they’re our raison d’être.
But how much do we know about how or why or even what they do, when they read? Especially when they read fiction.
When I say they, of course I mean we.
All authors were readers before we started to write. Most of us stay readers — some, voracious — throughout our lives. Sometimes though, we don’t read the way we used to, need to, if we’re to fulfil the purist job description. Continue reading →
Day 7 And a day of rest for the industrious Joanna . . .
An author, in Shakespeare’s words, gives to airy nothing a local habitation and a name. But that still leaves a pretty misty prospect. The habitation has no postcode.
Names often have more substance, admittedly. You only have to think of Sir Toby Belch or the Cheeryble Brothers to realise that. But they’re still in the middle of an open circuit. It needs something else to close it.