Types of Readers

The Atlantic had an on-line article 31/8/2012 which i found both interesting an humorous.  It listed the types of book readers.  Lest you conclude that this is a definitive list, I can assure you that there are as many different lists as there are book enthusiasts who like to categorise complicated subjects.

Here is an abbreviated sample of The Atlantic’s list:

The Book Snob. You are hard to impress. You only read books that are well reviewed by critics that you have determined to be of the highest caliber. You would never stoop to read something on a best-seller list, or something sold in a discount department store, or something NOT GOOD. Paperbacks offend you; you only touch hardcover—preferably, award-winning in some form or fashion. 

The Hopelessly Devoted. You stick to the authors you like, and you read them, pretty much exclusively, whatever they write, good or bad, regardless of reviews or the opinions of your friends or family. Everyone knows what to get you for your birthday or holidays. You are a true fan, and have been known to stand in line for a book signing from your BWF (Best Writer Forever)..

The Audiobook Listener. So, ya like audiobooks? That’s cool. There’s a place for you, person whose ears are essentially eyes. Not that we understand, exactly, but, hey, different strokes for different folks.

The Conscientious Reader. It’s nonfiction or nothing for you, reader! It should have a purpose, too, and be meaningful. You should learn something. There should be ideals! If it’s just fun, you can read it on the Internet, in your humble opinion. You like reporting, true tales, and journalism.

The Critic. Yes, it is easier for you to hate than to love, but when you love, you love deeply and in the most eloquent of fashions. It’s not a book if you don’t discourse about it, and so, discourse you shall! No one can stop you. You allude to metaphors and figurative language and concepts and conceits and plot points in daily conversations. You adore a spectacular conclusion as much as you do a foreword and an afterword. But especially, you love something that you can sink your teeth into and discuss. But only with those of a similar intellectual bent. You find book clubs too “mainstream.”

The Book Swagger. You’re the one wandering around book conventions with that acquisitive gleam in your eye and a pile of ARCs in your tote bag. If it’s free, you’ll take it, and even if it’s not, you’ll try to get it for free. Whether you read all this swag or not is really of little consequence. It’s not that you don’t love books, you do. But you also really, really love getting to see them before anybody else. And for free!

The Easily Influenced Reader. If someone says it, they must be right! You listen to everyone, from your mom to Oprah to the members of your book club to Michiko Kakutani, and you believe them all! There are so many books for you to read, you better get started. Don’t worry, you already know how to feel about the books you will read. You enjoy reading in group settings.

The Compulsive/Voracious/Anything Goes Reader. Wherever you go, whatever you do, there’s a book with you. It doesn’t matter what it is, really, so long as there are pages with words on them, or an e-reader with words on it. We can’t really suggested anything here because you took it with you to the grocery store or subway or library or laundromat or coffee shop, and you’re standing in line or sitting down and reading it right now.

The Sharer. You read something you like and you simply will not stop talking about it; you tell everyone you know, and you will not give up until they read it too. And then you want to talk about it.  If you are one of these, sometimes you loan people books, too, and that is a good quality. We like you, book sharer. We really, really do. You’re a giver, not a taker.

The Re-Reader. You know what you like, and instead of branching out and possibly finding something new that you don’t like, you focus on what you do. You read the same books over and over again, returning to them as if they’re old friends, which, pretty much, they are. Your book-reading motto is, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

The Hate Reader. Oh, you. You pretend to be curmudgeonly, you do, but you really just devour the reading you do in a different way. You’re loving it nearly much as you’re hating it, even as you complain the author can’t put two sentences together properly or that the book is dragging hopelessly in the middle and what kind of plot twist is that, even? An elephant in Act 3? These characters are so poorly drawn as to be comical! You call that a conclusion? Vampires, really? If you are a hate reader you will finish each hate read down to its very last word, and you may well close the covers and toss the volume across the room, but you will do it with a great, secret frisson of satisfaction because it feels so good. You may be an aspiring, disgruntled novelist yourself.

Delayed Onset Reader. You are without a doubt a book lover, and when you walk into a bookstore or any place books are available, you can’t help yourself, you buy one or many. When you get home you put them aside, often reverently, as if they were art, displaying them on a bookshelf or propping them up on your bedside table, pages ready to meet your eyes as soon as you have the moment. But you’re very, very busy, and days, weeks, or months may go by before you actually crack open one of these books. It’s not for lack of trying! When you finally do, you will be overjoyed by all the learning and emotional depth and humor and writing quality that exists in this book that’s been sitting within reach all along, and you will be amazed that you waited so long to ever open it.

The Multi-Tasker. This is the nice way of saying you are a promiscuous reader, but it’s not that you don’t finish reads. Instead, you just have a sort of hippie reading way about you, free love or some such. You might start the day out with a few pages from one novelist, then read something entirely different on the subway, and when you come home from work, another work as well. Your bedtime read, too, might be different, and all in all, when you count up the books, you’ve got quite a lot of irons in the fire all at the same time. Do you confuse characters or plots? Do you give more attention to some books than to others? Perhaps. The point is, you’re not ready for a book commitment just yet, and you’re doing a brilliant job dating them all in the meantime.

 

 

Enter Celebrity Editors

Time magazine, in its 25 June issue, has an article about how celebrities have become editors at the major publishing houses. The article says, “The worlds of fashion and music have long understood the  power of celebrity collaborations, which count on high-profile partners to combine expertise and star power.  Now book publishers are breaking out of their bubble and looking to outsiders – people with name brand cachet and stratospheric social-media followings, and who presumably love books – to curate and helm boutique lists.  ‘Publishers want celebrity stardust, and, let’s face it, most writers don’t have that’, says Claibourne Smith, editor in chief of Kirkus Reviews.”

Sarah Jessica Parker’s new publishing imprint, SJP for Hogarth, released its first novel on 12 June, as the realisation of a longtime fantasy  “I never imagined at this point in my life I’d have the opportunity to turn my lifelong hobby of reading into my work,” she says,

The Time article says, “The proto-celebrity editor might be Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, who took on a consulting editorship at Viking Press in 1975.  The former first lady oversaw titles on Russian costumes and fairy tales.  ‘Jackie Kennedy is one of the models Sarah Jessica and I discussed when we started talking about the partnership’, says Molly Stern, senior vice president and publisher of Crown, Hogarth and  Archetype  books, who first approached Parker about taking a shot at publishing.  ‘Jackie was a journalist before she was married to the President, and Sarah Jessica was a lifelong reader before she became an actress’.

“SJP for Hogarth will publish literary fiction – Parker’s favourite genre – with an emphasis on multicultural voices.  ‘I’m focused on stories that cultivate empathy and expose us to people whose homes I’m not likely to be invited into,’ the newly minted editorial director says of her mission,”

Sarah Jessica Parker

“Parker say she gets nervous in her new role.  Taking an approach that’s part book nerd and part method actor, she travels to bookseller conventions, doodles book cover ideas and attends Penguin Random House launch and marketing meetings – where she presents her selections in hopes of winning internal support necessary to any book’s success.  ‘I don’t want to look like a lightweight,’ Parker says.  ‘I don’t want people to think I’m dabbling.  I want them to know I take their work seriously, and I try to learn about the trade – I’ve spent a lot of time learning about the importance of bookshelf placement.’  (If it isn’t visible, she notes, it’s not going to be purchased.)

“Kirby Kim, a literary agent with Janklow & Nesbit Associates, has first-hand experience with the soup-to-nuts nature of Parker’s involvement.  In March, when he submitted a novel to multiple houses ahead of the London Book Fair, Parker took a break from fair events to read the manuscript, and her imprint wasting no time coming in with an offer.  ‘Instead of just networking and schmoozing, she actually zoomed through the submission,’ Kim says.  Ultimately, another publisher won the title.  ‘You lose books – that has been gutting,’ Parker says.  ‘It’s tough, but it’s good for me.  I don’t have a limitless budget.  I have to be thoughtful about how we’re spending our dollars,’

“Nearly every major publisher is now in the celebrity business.  Simon & Schuster has Jeter Publishing, a partnership with baseball legend Derek Jeter that launched in 2013.  Random House offered Lena Dunham, the creator of the HBO television show Girls, and her producing partner, Jenni Konner, their own imprint in 2016.  Henry Holt & Co., known for elevated fiction and news-breaking political titles . . . announced in 2016 that it had bestowed Bravo TV personality Andy Cohen with his own imprint.

“Even so, certain authors might prefer the imprimatur of a literary institution over a celebrity’s.  ‘I could see why celebrity imprints would be ripe for derision – critics might say celebrities are trying to look smart,’ says Katherine Fausset, a literary agent with Curtis Brown Ltd.

“Parker, meanwhile, is off to the races promoting her first novel.  Two weeks before its release, she posted a picture of herself hailing a cab with SJP for Hogarth’s debut book in her hand.  It got nearly 167,000 likes.”

Review: Living Buddha, Living Christ

My wife read this book by Thich Nhat Hanh, and when I ran out of handy books (we’re on holiday), I decided to read it.  The subtitle is “A revered meditation master explores two of the world’s great contemplative traditions.”

The author is a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, born in 1926; he is active in the peace movement, promoting non-violent solutions to conflict.  He has written more than 100 books, including over 40 in English.  He is fluent in French, Chinese, Japanese, Sanskrit, Pali, English and Vietnamese.  He is based in Plum Village in Dordogne in the south of France, and has established Buddhist facilities in Vietnam, France, USA, Germany.  He is a Zen Master of Buddhism and a teacher of mindfulness (meditation).

Thich Nhat Hanh

This book does a very credible job bringing the teaching of Jesus Christ in line with the teaching of Buddha.  If these two men were to meet, one can suppose that they would have gotten along well.  More on this below.  Contact with the Holy Spirit is suggested to place one in a similar state of near nirvana to Buddhist mindfulness or meditation.  In fact there are references to the benefits of mindfulness on nearly every page, and although Thich Nhat Hanh is a master teacher of Buddhist mindfulness, and he has written books on the subject, there is no prescription for reaching near nirvana.

(When I was much younger, the company I worked for put its sales people on a course in meditation taught be a man named Jeff Coats.  The reason for the course was that sales people needed to have a constructive escape from the stress of selling.  I can recall reaching a meditative state only once, but it was quite sublime.)

The author takes issue with the Roman Catholic church on its implied position that it is the only true religion.  He makes the point that this can lean to real conflict and it inhibits constructive dialogue.  I agree.

While the ethos of Christianity and Buddhism may be similar, there are two important points on which the two diverge,  Buddhists do not believe in an immortal soul; Buddha taught that the soul, like the body is constantly evolving and therefore impermanent.

Thich Nhat Hanh says, “A good theologian is one who says almost nothing about God, even though the word ‘theology’ means ‘discourse about God’.  It is risky to talk about God.  The notion of God might be an obstacle for us to touch God as love, wisdom and mindfulness.” and “The Buddha was not against God.  He was only against notions of God that are mere mental constructions and do not correspond to reality, notions that prevent us from developing ourselves and touching ultimate reality.”  It seems to me that there are several problems with this.  Christians believe that Jesus, as part of the Trinity, is God, and He is not a ‘mental construction’.  Thich Nhat Hanh seems to accept the reality of the Holy Spirit, also part of the Trinity; is the Spirit a ‘mental construction’?  In the last sentence quoted above, the author uses the word ‘reality’ twice, without being clear about what ‘reality’ he is referring to.

When I imagine a meeting between Jesus and Buddha, I don’t think it would be entirely friendly.  In my scenario, Jesus chastises Buddha for being a ‘man of little faith’.

For this reason, I found Living Buddha, Living Christ to be a book of little value: it focuses on relatively minor similarities while ignoring the important differences.

Review: Daemon Voices

Daemon Voices by Philip Pullman, master storyteller, attracted my attention because it is  collection of essays on storytelling.  I thought is might include some tips from an expert.  The book, when it arrived from Amazon turned out to be a hard cover edition of 460 velum pages.  The essays are mostly presentations given at various literary events, and compiled by Simon Mason, who writes for adults and children and his fictional works have won and been shortlisted for literary prizes.

Wikipedia says this about Philip Pullman: “Philip Pullman, CBE, and fellow of the Royal Society of Literature (born 19 October 1946) is an English novelist. He is the author of several best-selling books, including the fantasy trilogy, His Dark Materials and a fictionalised biography of Jesus, The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ. In 2008, The Times named Pullman one of the “50 greatest British writers since 1945”.  In a 2004 poll for the BBC, Pullman was named the eleventh most influential person in British culture.

Philip Pullman

“The first book of Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, Northern Lights, won the 1995 Carnegie Medal from the Library Assocaiation, recognising the year’s outstanding English-language children’s book. For the 70th anniversary of the Medal it was named one of the top ten winning works by a panel, composing the ballot for a public election of the all-time favourite. It won the public vote from that shortlist and was thus named the all-time”Carnegie of Carnegies” in June 2007. It was adapted as a film under its US title, The Golden Compass.”

Daemon Voices contains 32 essays covering a wide range of topics: childrens’ literature, education, religion, science, folk tales, fairy tales, Pullman’s books, other writers, culture, the writer, and on the practice of writing.  Since most of the essays are oral presentations, they come across as informal, but learned and interesting.

There are many detailed references to particular stories, some of which is valuable and unique, but much I found myself skimming as it did not assuage my interest in technique.  What was of particular value to me were his remarks about stories in the present vs, the past.  (He prefers the past as it is less limiting, while I prefer the present as conveying a sense of immediacy).  He reveals specific instances of stories in a mix of past and present tense.  Also valuable were his thoughts on the use of various narrators, including devices where a character becomes a narrator.  Much of this is contained in his essay The Writing of Stories.

I took particular exception to his drum beating for atheism, particularly his essay, The Republic of Heaven: God is Dead, Long Live the Republic.  As I understand it, his atheism is based on there being no proof of God’s existence, and scorn for the evil deeds committed in the name of religion.  What this fails to recognize is that God can exist for a host of reasons without any proof of his existence, and that evil deeds committed in the name of religion (of which there are many, many) are actually committed by human beings, there being no necessary relationship between the evil acts and the existence, or not, of God.  It also fails to consider the enormous number of human beings (two of three billion?) who believe in God, and each of whom has a personal experience which accounts for their belief.

Daemon Voices is of particular interest to those who are fans of Philip Pullman.

Lemn Sissay

Lemn Sissay was interviewed by Stephen Sackur on BBC’s Hard Talk a few weeks ago.  At the time, I was impressed by this man who lifted himself from ignorant child immigrant to intellectual star in the most adverse circumstances imaginable.

Lemn Sissay

Sissay’s mother, an immigrant from Ethiopia and pregnant with him, arrived in England in 1966.  He was born in Wigan, Lancashire in 1967.  The social worker responsible for his mother renamed him ‘Norman’ and gave him to foster parents with the suggestion that they should consider it an adoption, while his mother went to Bracknell to finish her studies.  She refused to sign the adoption papers, saying that she wanted her son back when she was more settled.  Social services ignored this.

Sissay’s adoptive parents, being strongly religious, wanted to rename him Mark after the Christian evangelist and give him their surname: Greenwood.  They were very strict parents, but kind in their way.  When Sissay reached the age of 12, he became somewhat difficult to manage.  The Greenwoods, who by then had three children of their own, decided he was possessed by the devil, turned him over to social services, and announced that they wanted nothing more to do with him.

From the age of 12 to 18, Sissay was held in four childrens’ homes where he was physically, emotionally and racially abused.  When he left the care system, he was given a flat with no bed; the head of social services said he should be taught a lesson, but what was the lesson?  Sissay asked to see his files from social services; he had no family, no papers and no photos.  His life history was contained in those files.  He was given only two documents.  One showed that his real name was Lemn Sissay.  The second was a letter his mother had written to the social worker when Sissay was one, pleading for his return.

He continued to request his files.  In 2015, after being told that the files were in remote storage and had been lost, he was given his files and an apology by Wigan Council.

In 1988, after a long search, he met his birth mother in Gambia where she was working for the UN.

At the age of 17, Sissay used his unemployment money to self publish a pamphlet of poetry .  He released his first book of poetry in 1988 at the age of 21 and he has been a full-time writer since the age of 24, performing internationally.  He has written eight books, and eleven plays, four for BBC radio, many featuring his maltreatment as a child.

In 2009, he was made an honorary doctor of letters by the University of Huddersfield and the following year he was appointed an MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire).

In June 2015 he was elected Chancellor of the University of Manchester for a term of seven years.  In January 2016, Sissay wrote an article for The Guardian in which he said, “How a society treats those children who have no one to look after them is a measure of how civilised it is. It is scandalous that a prime minister should have to admit, as David Cameron did last autumn, that the care system ‘shames our country’ and that Ofsted should report that there are more councils judged as ‘inadequate’ than ‘good’ for their children’s services.”

Simon Hattenstone, a journalist with The Guardian, said, “Sissay is an old friend of mine. He is one of the funniest and warmest people I know, extraordinarily animated with a life-affirming laugh. He is also one of the most damaged people I know, suffering paralysing depression that forces him to withdraw into himself and disappear for months at a time, sometimes longer.”

During the Hard Talk interview, Sissay made the following observations which I think are memorable:

  • Our families are the repositories of our histories and therefor of our memory.  Without family we are amnesiac.
  • Forgiveness of the injuries we have suffered leads to healing of those injuries.
  • “Define me by my healing not by my suffering.”
  • “Forgiveness lets you live in the present.”

 

Ten Steps to an Unputdownable Book

A group of seven bookworms called New Novel offers three packages to help fledgling novelists with the novel-writing process.  Their packages involve the use of the Internet, email, and, in the case of their best package, telephone.  Their aim is to provide both direction and motivation.  I have no experience of their packages, but I thought their Ten Steps make sense.  I have inserted my comments after each step, and I have quoted Now Novel where indicated.

Step 1: Promise revelation in your story premise.

This one is important. It involves presenting the theme of the novel on the first page in a way that is implied by the opening action.  It’s not necessary to say: “This book is about . . .”  Rather, what happens on the first page tells the reader what to expect, captures her attention and motivates her to keep on reading.

Step 2: Make each chapter beginning and ending tantalizing.

Like the first page, the beginning of each chapter should tantalize the reader to continue.  At the end of the chapter, there should be a situation in suspense to keep the reader’s interest.

Step 3: Master novel writing basics: narration and description.

I would add ‘and dialogue’.

Step 4: Make your characters great company.

Even if some of your characters aren’t people you’d want to spend time with, they should be interesting enough to arouse our curiosity.

Step 5: Mix seriousness with humour.

Good point

Step 6: Help the reader see place in your story.

Having an interesting place in the story that seems real and in which the characters live naturally makes a story both more credible and more captivating

Step 7: Write wish, wonder and surprise into your novel.

Readers tend to wish for something in a novel – for example that a heroine would get married.  Wonder is something extraordinary which occurs.  We always enjoy nice surprises.

Step 8: Keep the story moving with suspense and tension.

Amen.

Step 9: Make dialogue natural but interesting.

One way to keep it interesting is to keep it brief and a trifle ambiguous: did he really mean this or possibly that?  Remove any words which don’t convey meaning.  And keep control of the flow.

Now Novel says: “Showing characters’ personalities through the kind of language they use as well as how much or little they speak.  Writing dialogue that makes the reader feel like they’re eavesdropping. Characters should sometimes say things to each other that they wouldn’t  dream of saying in front of other people.”

Step 10: Know your audience.

Now Novel says: “Besides mastering novel writing basics such as writing good description and narration, make sure you know your audience whenever you start writing a novel. When you invent story ideas, ask:

  • Who would the typical reader of this story be?
  • What similar well-known books would they love?

Writing the book you’ve always wanted to read and writing to a specific imaginary reader whose tastes and interests you can anticipate will help you to craft an unputdownable book that ticks all of the ideal reader’s boxes.”

Judging a Book by its Cover

In the May/June issue of The Independent magazine, there is an article Converting Book Browsers to Book Buyers by Kristin Fields, Associate Editor.

Kristin Fields

The article is quite lengthy, but the part that I found particularly interesting concerned cover design.

Ms Fields says, “There are two deeply held misunderstandings about the nature and role of a book’s “cover” in trade publishing. First, that its main purpose is to be “liked,” when, in fact, its primary role is to motivate browsing. One of the “ugliest,” least liked covers Codex has ever tested was Tina Fey’s Bossypants (featuring Tina Fey with what appear to be massive, hairy, man arms), and yet it had phenomenal browsing impact and became the #2 overall bestselling book on Amazon for its publication year.

“Second, it’s essential to understand book buyers use the cover as the book’s message, relying heavily on it to tell them what the book is, why they should be interested in it, and to judge if it’s worth the effort of browsing—very similar to the role of a strong campaign slogan in politics—conveyed through word and image combined.

“Book publishers consistently make the mistake of undervaluing the cover as simply a piece of decoration, when in fact the data is very clear that it’s the combined impact of title, subtitle, reading line, author name, blurb, and design that together either move, or more often dissuade, a book consumer from browsing. We have to continually remind ourselves that book people are “word people”; they love and respond to words first and foremost. Nearly 15 years of Codex testing has consistently shown that a book’s title, subtitle, or reading line copy are in fact almost always the most important conversion factor in a book’s cover, not the art. While great cover art brings a very important added dimension, amplification, and visual recall to a book, great cover art alone rarely drives the book consumer to act, except in breakthrough examples like Bossypants.

“Here are some examples of past Codex Preview testing case studies to provide additional insight into some key findings on book conversion (buying decision):

“In a rebranding project on the For Dummies series, for example, two message options were tested: Staying Young for Dummies and Healthy Aging for Dummies. Because the Dummies brand audience skewed 55+, the “Healthy Aging” message spoke more powerfully to that audience, best fulfilled the brand’s values, and had the highest conversion.

 

“In another Preview test, when it comes to blurbs, less can be more. While one test version of the cover for The Freedom Broker by K.J. Howe was plastered with over a dozen “blurbs to die for” from some of the biggest names in thriller writing, category fans were skeptical, less hype with a single quote and an emphasis on the title.

 

“Using faces on a book’s cover can also be unpredictable. The biography of Apple co-founder and inventor of the personal computer, Steve Wozniak, is a good example. Codex results confirmed that few book buyers were even familiar with the author’s name, let alone his face. One test treatment featured a photo of a young Wozniak from the 1970s, which motivated far less browsing than a text-based presentation that emphasized the message “The Inventor of the Personal Computer Speaks at Last” highlighted by Apple’s iconic rainbow stripes. Faces can be unpredictable conversion drivers because of they may be unrecognizable, distracting, or unrelateable. It’s best to pre-test before committing if you’re unsure.

“While publishers and designers are deeply involved in a cover’s development over weeks or months at a time, it’s important to remember that a book browser typically relies on just a split second gut reaction to make a browsing decision.”

For the indie author, whose books do not usually appear in bookstores, the issues are slightly different, because decisions are not quite so instantaneous.  But, the indie author should still be trying for a cover which says, “Here’s what I’m about” and “Read me!”

Proofreading 101

There is a post on the Reader Views blog with this same title, written by Sheri Hoyte, Managing Editor, and President Book by Book Publicity.  Ms Hoyte is also a reviewer.

Sheri Hoyte

This post caught my eye, because I’m a terrible proofreader.  In the course of writing a novel, I will re-read what I’ve written at least half a dozen times, yet once I send the manuscript to a copy editor, it will be returned with corrections on every other page.  Admittedly, some of these corrections are quite minor, and most would probably miss the attention of the average reader, there are still too many (mostly punctuation) corrections.

One thing that’s good for me about the copy editing process is that I’ve learned some of the finer rules of punctuation and grammar, which makes the editor’s job easier the next time.

Ms Hoyte says, “Proofreading is the most basic of all editing functions.  It can also be the most overlooked or neglected function in the process of getting your book published.  Taking the time to check your document for punctuation and spelling mistakes, and grammatical and formatting errors, can take your finished product from good to great.  Proofreading should not replace professional editing.  Rather, proofreading should be done before sending the manuscript to be edited.  The cleaner the manuscript, the better the chances the editor will catch everything else through their special lens.  More importantly, the cost of editing a well finished manuscript will be less than a messy one for sure!.”

She then offers these specific tips:

  • Don’t depend on the spell checker and grammar checker built into your word processing program.  Spelling and grammar checkers are a great place to start, but they don’t catch everything and shouldn’t be considered the final word.
  • Patience.  Proofreading is about as monotonous as it gets, but rest assured that it does get easier with practice.  Set yourself up for success by creating a distraction-free zone; put the phone away and turn off the music.  Steer clear of anything that may cause your concentration to stray.
  • Don’t try to proofread something you’ve just spent hours writing.  Your brain and your eyes need a break.  It’s too easy to overlook errors when you are tired and have been working on the same thing for too long.
  • Proofread from a hard copy.  Online writing software is great, and I love technology – almost always; but there is something to be said for spreading your document out on the table and getting down to business with your red pen.  It’s easier to gloss over errors on a screen that oftentimes jump out at you on paper.
  • Read slowly and read everything.  Read every single word.  Slowly.  Again.  Get the picture? Oh, and don’t skim past the obvious places errors like to hide, such as chapter numbers and titles, page numbers, character names, addresses, capitalization, etc.
  • Have someone else read your work.  Often a fresh set of eyes may be just what you need to put the finishing touches on your masterpiece.  

Ms Hoyte is right about the spell and grammar checker.  I have found that the grammar checking function is nowhere near sophisticated enough and that the spell checker can be wrong.  If I re-read slowly and carefully – every word – assuming that there are errors buried here, I find I do a better job.  If I re-read just after I’ve finished writing, I’ll catch the glaringly obvious mistakes; the less obvious ones get caught months after writing in a hard copy review.  There’s something foreign about the hard copy which makes me unconsciously suspicious of its content.  Then, there’s my wife, who’ll say, “Are sure this is right?” and “This isn’t working for me.”

Can Reading Make You Happier?

Ceridwen Dovey
In her article, Ms Dovey says she was “given a gift of a remote session with a bibliotherapist at the London headquarters of the School of Life, which offers innovative courses to help people deal with the daily emotional challenges of existence.”  She was sent a questionnaire that asked about her reading habits and her personal concerns by the bibliotherapist, Ella Berthold.  There followed an exchange of emails with suggested readings.  For those who are interested, there are a number of particular novels recommended in the article for specific reasons.
Ms Dovey says: “In a secular age, I suspect that reading fiction is one of the few
remaining paths to transcendence, that elusive state in which the distance between
the self and the universe shrinks. Reading fiction makes me lose all sense of self, but
at the same time makes me feel most uniquely myself. As Woolf, the most fervent of
readers, wrote, a book “splits us into two parts as we read,” for “the state of reading
consists in the complete elimination of the ego,” while promising “perpetual union”
with another mind.
“Berthoud and her colleague, Elderkin, trace the method of bibliotherapy all the way back to the Ancient Greeks, “who inscribed above the entrance to a library in Thebes that this was a ‘healing place for the soul.’ ” The practice came into its own at the end of the nineteenth century, when Sigmund Freud began using literature during
psychoanalysis sessions. After the First World War, traumatized soldiers returning
home from the front were often prescribed a course of reading. ‘Librarians in the
States were given training on how to give books to WWI vets, and there’s a nice
story about Jane Austen’s novels being used for bibliotherapeutic purposes at the
same time in the U.K.,’ Elderkin says. Later in the century, bibliotherapy was used
in varying ways in hospitals and libraries, and has more recently been taken up by
psychologists, social and aged-care workers, and doctors as a viable mode of therapy.
“For all avid readers who have been self-medicating with great books their entire
lives, it comes as no surprise that reading books can be good for your mental health
and your relationships with others, but exactly why and how is now becoming
clearer, thanks to new research on reading’s effects on the brain. Since the discovery,
in the mid-nineties, of “mirror neurons”—neurons that fire in our brains both when
we perform an action ourselves and when we see an action performed by someone
else—the neuroscience of empathy has become clearer. A 2011 study published in
the Annual Review of Psychology, based on analysis of fMRI brain scans of
participants, showed that, when people read about an experience, they display
stimulation within the same neurological regions as when they go through that
experience themselves. We draw on the same brain networks when we’re reading
stories and when we’re trying to guess at another person’s feelings.
“Other studies published in 2006 and 2009 showed something similar—that people
who read a lot of fiction tend to be better at empathizing with others (even after the
researchers had accounted for the potential bias that people with greater empathetic
tendencies may prefer to read novels). And, in 2013, an influential study published
in Science found that reading literary fiction (rather than popular fiction or literary
nonfiction) improved participants’ results on tests that measured social perception
and empathy, which are crucial to “theory of mind”: the ability to guess with
accuracy what another human being might be thinking or feeling, a skill humans
only start to develop around the age of four.
“Reading has been shown to put our brains into a pleasurable trance-like state, similar to meditation, and it brings the same health benefits of deep relaxation and inner calm. Regular readers sleep better, have lower stress levels, higher self-esteem, and lower rates of depression than non-readers.  ‘Fiction and poetry are doses, medicines,’ the author Jeanette Winterson has written. ‘What they heal is the rupture reality makes on the imagination.’
“Elderkin says the number of books in the world is one of the most common woes of modern readers, and that it remains a major motivation for her and Berthoud’s work as bibliotherapists. ‘We feel that though more books are being published than ever before, people are in fact selecting from a smaller and smaller pool. Look at the reading lists of most book clubs, and you’ll see all the same books, the ones that have been shouted about in the press. If you actually calculate how many books you read in a year—and how many that means you’re likely to read before you die—you’ll start to realize that you need to be highly selective in order to make the most of your reading time.” And the best way to do that? See a bibliotherapist, as soon as you can, and take them up on their invitation, to borrow some lines from Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus: ‘Come, and take choice of all my library/And so beguile thy sorrow…'”
Thank you, Sue.

Review: The Kurdish Bike

I bought this book for two reasons: it won the gold medal for the best regional fiction in the Independent Publisher Book Awards, 2017 (I like to know what other indie authors are doing well); at because its setting in Kurdistan (which is part of Iraq, Iran and Turkey) interested me.

The author is Alesa Lightbourne, who, according to the biography included in her book “has been an English professor and teacher in six countries, lived on a sailboat, dined with Bedouins, and written for Fortune 50 companies.  She lives close to Monterey Bay in California where she loves to boogie board and ride a bicycle.”

Alesa Lightbourne

The Kurdish Bike is the fictional story of Theresa Turner’s experiences as a freelance English teacher working at a remote, but somewhat prestigious school on a hill top in a remote part of Kurdistan.  The school has strict regulation of teachers and students, very tight security – wealthy people’s children attend – and some odd characters teaching and working there.  Theresa obtains a bicycle, as her only means of exploration of the external world; in a nearby village, she meets Bezma a single woman of about 30 and her mother Ara, who is both wise and sour.  Bezma falls in love with Hevar, an egotistical, testosterone-fueled hunk of a man.  There is much to-ing and fro’-ing about the marriage, which eventually does take place.  Meanwhile, Theresa’s stateside finances fall apart owing to the existence of a spend-thrift ex-husband.  The schools manager, Madame, tempts Teresa to stay on for another year, in spite of some emotionally-disturbed management and teaching staff.  The students are, by and large, the only truly likable characters.  There are issues with FGM, which apparently runs at 95% in Kurdistan.  There are two suicides and one murder: plenty of stuff happens.

The Kurdish Bike gives a startlingly real picture of life, culture and the settings of Kurdistan: generally not a place to visit willingly, but the local characters, while extremely drawn in some cases are nonetheless real and captivating.  The story is generally well written.

My main concern is the last couple of chapters of the novel: they seem hurriedly written without supporting events.  One gets the feeling ‘there! everything’s sorted!’  Whereas, there are several crises building up in parallel, and are only resolved in the author’s afterword.  For example, Theresa seems to be thrown a lifeline by the Kurdish government when her contract with the school is cancelled.  This seems implausible since there was little groundwork laid for it.

The tone in the novel, written in the first person, shifts considerably from beginning to end.  It starts out being tentative and defensively emotional.  Toward the end, it becomes cocky, hip and aggressively emotional.  This is more an observation than a criticism; one wonders whether it was consciously intentional, because, to some extent, it is a natural transition for the main character.

One final comment about characters: none of them, with the notable exceptions of Pat, a fellow teacher, and Seema, a female student, are without major flaws, such that you wouldn’t want to spend much time with any of them.  The male characters are irredeemable idiots, a reflection, perhaps of Theresa’s attitude towards men, given the choice she made in a husband.

I think that The Kurdish Bike is a good read, and it’s hard to put down.  It is certainly thought-provoking about a very foreign culture.