Is The Novel Dead?

The title of this blogpost caught my attention this morning.

“What?” I thought. “How could anyone think that?”

For me, the novel is most certainly not dead. There is still nothing as wonderful as escaping into a book and finding myself immersed in its setting, caught up in its action and carried away by the story.

Short stories and novellas are fabulous when life is busy, because I can achieve those escapes in the time I have available. But when time to read is more plentiful, a good novel is a marvellous thing.

The novel will never be dead as long as there are great books to read. I’m fairly confident that, given the quality of the new books I have been reading, it’s not likely to be happening in the foreseeable future.

And on that note, I take exception to the original writer’s suggestion that self-published books are rubbish, and therefore partly to blame for the demise of the popularity of reading. Blame the obsession with screens of whatever size, and with the Internet and social media, and I’ll gladly concur, but leave Indie authors out of it. As I’ve said plenty of times before, I’ve read some absolutely brilliant self-published books, and I’ve read – or attempted to read – some tragically bad traditionally published ones. Let each book stand or fall on its own merits, I say.

I feel sorrow for any reader who is so disillusioned by their reading that they believe the novel is a thing of the past. More than likely, they have simply been reading the wrong books.

If you’re interested in great Indie book recommendations, follow Book Squirrel.

Richie Billing

A couple weeks ago, an article by writer Damien Walter grabbed my wandering attention. The title: I STOPPED READING NOVELS LAST YEAR. I THINK YOU DID TOO.

I was curious. So I had a read and discovered that Walter is a professional book reviewer, even had a regular sci-fi column for The Guardian. He’s experienced and well-respected and fed up of the novel.

Why?

For Water, the novel lost its magic. It no longer has the same magical feel as it did when he was a kid, “spending afternoons at the local library, selecting books as though I was selecting magical portals to step through. Then I would rush home and lose myself in the magic for hours, days at a time.”

Walter recognises the influences modern-day phenomenons have had on us. Here are some of my favourite quotes from his piece. I’d recommend reading in full too. He’s an…

View original post 859 more words

The Most Beautiful Reading Experiences

More than a year ago, I began my book review of Eric Tanafon’s fabulous historical paranormal fantasy novel ‘Robin Hood: Wolf’s Head’ with this paragraph: “Every now and then, as a reader, I experience an incredible moment of revelation when I take in an expression or image of something that is so powerful, it takes my breath away.” 

There is something incredibly magical about that moment when a writer’s words take my breath away. It doesn’t happened as often as one might like, but it has happened to me twice in the space of a week. 

Once was when reading Cortney Pearson’s steampunk mystery ’The Perilous In-Between’. The second was when reading Bridget Collins’ historical fantasy novel ’The Binding’. 

All three books are exquisitely written, full of incredible imagery, rich and imaginative world building, and powerful writing that make the reader’s emotions and mind soar. 

Proudly, two of those books are by independent authors, published without the support of big traditional publishing houses and the budgets that the other enjoys. But if you picked up all three, and read them, you’d be pushed to know which was which if you were using the quality of writing or production as your yardstick.  You’d only know by looking for a publisher’s imprint. 

It is true that there are some rubbish books produced by independent authors who don’t bother having their work edited, proofread or produced properly. It is also true that there are also some rubbish books published traditionally. I’ve picked up a few books in my time that have, in all honesty, made me wonder exactly how they got published at all. Other people may think they are wonderful — and they are welcome to them. 

And that is exactly my point. What makes a book ‘brilliant’ is highly subjective, and people will have many and varied reasons for the choices they make. Even so, the assumption that traditionally published books are of superior quality is becoming less and less valid as time goes on. 

It’s fair to say that independent publishing has come a very long way, and the industry has become quite proficient in setting and achieving very high standards. 

If you’re not reading Indie authors, you’re missing out on both discovering some incredible talent and reading some brilliant books. 

For great Indie book recommendations, follow Book Squirrel on WordPress, Twitter, Facebook or Instagram

A site offering access to 100s of Early English Books….

If, like me, you enjoy reading Shakespeare, Milton, Middleton, Johnson and the like, and studying English history, this site offers a wealth of resources and texts for your perusal.

There are a variety of ways you can search – by title, author, key words, dates… the options are many and varied. There are both fiction and non-fiction texts included. What a fabulous repository of primary sources and original texts!

Thank you to the murreyandblue blog for the heads-up.

murreyandblue

When I happen upon a new (to me) site that affords access to hundreds of sources, I am always eager to share it with everyone. Maybe a lot of you already know of this site but for those who do not, I stumbled on it by following a thread concerning Dugdale. Bookmark the link, it’s well worth it!

View original post

Romance Is Not Dead.

Today I was browsing in a bookstore when a guy nearby did the most romantic thing I’ve witnessed in quite some time. 

He took out his phone, made a call and said, “Hi sweet, I’m just at the bookstore… do you need anything?”

I was overcome with “all the feelings” and I’m sure I had a goofy smile all over my face, despite the realisation that my dream man was a complete stranger and in a relationship with someone for whom he is willing to buy books. 

And they say romance is dead. 
What I saw and heard today proves otherwise. 

What a guy!

Absurdity.

Am I missing something? Is there a new ‘Absurdity’ genre of stories that are not intended to make sense? 

I have read two books this week that promised much but delivered nothing other than almost complete bewilderment. They didn’t make sense at all. 

Yet both had received four and five star reviews. I have absolutely no idea how. 

Surely a basic requirement of writing a story for someone else to read is that it needs to make sense? It needs to mean something, to communicate an idea, or to at least not leave the reader perplexed.

I don’t understand how those books are meant to be enjoyable.
If someone else likes them, that’s great, but they are not for me.

Misunderstood Shakespeare: The Balcony Scene

Pretty much anywhere you go, whoever you talk to, if they know only one thing about any play by Shakespeare, it’s the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet. It’s possibly the most famous scene ever written. 

There’s just one problem with that:  there was no balcony. 

That’s correct. 

There. 
Never. 
Was. 
A.
Freaking.
Balcony. 

In the script, the stage direction is clear: JULIET appears above at a window. 

Not a balcony. A window. 

You can read the entire scene and see that not once is a balcony mentioned. 

I don’t know who invented it, but it was a killer idea that I bet Shakespeare would wish he had thought of, were he still alive today. 

Of course, directors can stage a play however they like, and make use of whatever structures and sets the theatre provides.

Filmmakers can do likewise, but one must keep in mind their tendency to just change whatever they want. Hollywood is notorious for that. The mayhem that comes from mass misunderstanding occurs when directors think they know better than the author, and when people watch a movie instead of reading the book.

It makes people and their assumptions about the original text wrong, and leaves them marinating in their wrongness until their wrongness is so commonly accepted that most people think it’s right. 

It just goes to show that what your English teacher always said is true: there really is no substitute for reading the book.

Well… That Ended Badly.

I read a book this week that I was really enjoying. It kept me hooked right to the end, and then came the death blow: a sudden, out-of-nowhere, poorly executed ending. Without warning, or even the slightest hint that it was coming, the story just stopped. 

I hate that. I hate it so much that I am deferring writing my review until I’ve got over my annoyance at it. The story was so good, and the characters so interesting, that I was completely absorbed in it. And then? Suddenly, POOF! It’s all over. 

I dislike cliffhanger endings to books at the best of times. 
This one was not even the best of times.
It wasn’t really a cliffhanger, either. It was more like the whole book got snatched out of my hands and thrown over the cliff, and might never be seen again. 

It was possibly the worst sudden ending to a story I’ve ever experienced. It made me think that maybe the author did not know how to properly end a story, even though they obviously knew how to write the rest of one. 

I fully understand why authors design those suspenseful endings – they want to keep readers guessing and anticipating what comes next so they’ll read the next book. 

Here’s the thing, though: if the book is good, I’m going to buy and read the next one anyway. If the writing or editing is poor, or the storyline is weak, a cliffhanger isn’t going to make me buy or read the next one. 

If there has to be a sudden ending, or a cliffhanger, there should at least be enough resolution in the final chapters to answer some of the questions raised in the book. By all means, leave questions unanswered. Just— not all of them. 

I do quite like suspense and anticipation.
I love the sensation of looking forward to the next book.
I do not enjoy an ending that leaves me wondering if the author’s computer crashed and the final chapter was irretrievably lost. 

I read a lot of books, and for me, a quality conclusion is as important as the opening paragraphs. You can win or lose readers right there, regardless of how good the rest of the book might be. 

A Favourite Shakespeare Play: ‘Julius Caesar’

‘Julius Caesar’ is a brilliant play in which Shakespeare demonstrates his genius is in taking a story we all know and making the characters familiar in a personal and almost tangible way. Shakespeare takes one of the most famous men in history and portrays him as fully human, flawed and even vulnerable in different ways. It’s not the way we’re accustomed to thinking about ‘historical giants’ like Caesar., but Shakespeare makes it all seem quite natural. 

At the beginning of the play, even while he is being celebrated as Rome’s all-conquering hero, his first interactions cast him as a husband who is acutely aware of his wife’s childlessness. We don’t know if his instructions to Calpurnia and Antony are motivated by sorrow or by his desire for an heir to whom he might pass his empire, but either way, Caesar doesn’t miss an opportunity that might make a difference.  

Before long, we see him as a man afflicted by disease when he is struck by a seizure, and is obviously bothered by the fact that is happens in public. He may control all of Rome and its empire, but he cannot control his illness. 
We also see him as a man keenly aware of popular opinion, sen in his public refusal of the crown not once, but three times, yet ignorant of the way his own senators feel about him personally. Regardless of his aspirations, he is astute enough to know that actually accepting a crown as Emperor is not the best move for him at this point in time. 

In these things, the audience begins to see the great historical hero Julius Caesar as a complex, thoughtful man, one who holds a variety of responsibilities and obligations that he takes very seriously. He is very much human, in contrast to the Roman tendency to venerate their heroes almost as gods. We see his humanity rather than his pride, although we know that exists because it is his hubris that brings about his downfall. 

Shakespeare’s portrayal of other characters is equally powerful.

Caesar’s assessment of Cassius is profound: “Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look; he thinks too much: such men are dangerous.” In those few words, Shakespeare establishes a vivid image that shapes our perception of the man and positions the audience to distrust the character. 

Brutus is shown as a moral man struggling with a dilemma that weighs heavily on him. A strong sense of foreboding settles on the audience when he puts his trust in Cassius, making himself vulnerable to a man whose thoughts and conspiracies are indeed dangerous, particularly for Caesar. At this point, even though both Caesar and the audience like Brutus, his destiny as one of the conspirators is sealed. 

In all of this, Shakespeare makes expert use of dramatic irony and foreboding to keep the audience in suspense as Caesar’s train speeds ignorantly toward its derailment. This is established right at the start of the play with the mysterious soothsayer who delivers the warning, “Beware the Ides of March”. 

While it is a history play, it has some elements of  a tragedy in that Caesar is completely oblivious to the fact that his actions are contributing to his own eventual demise at the hand of the conspirators whom he still perceives as friends and allies. The pathos of his question to Brutus: “Et tu, Brute?” — “You too, Brutus?” makes the moment of his all-too-late realisation one of almost palpable betrayal and sorrow. In that moment, Caesar dies knowing that he is truly friendless and alone.

It’s important to note that the play makes it clear that assassinating anyone is not a good idea, and the assassins do not prosper as the result of their actions. It wasn’t in Shakespeare’s interests to be seen to promote or condone assassinating the established ruler, as he was reliant on the good favour of Queen Elizabeth I and, after her, King James. He wasn’t encouraging anyone to try to kill their leader: he was showing that, historically, doing so didn’t actually achieve what the conspirators hoped it would. 

It’s a very direct and straightforward play – there are no real subplots and the political undercurrents are all really obvious because they are what drives the play. This makes it a great play for a “first Shakespeare play” for those who are just beginning their Shakespeare journey. 

For the word-nerds, this is the text from which we get great, still commonly used phrases like “It’s all Greek to me” and “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears”. It’s also the source of the title of John Green’s enormously popular novel ’The Fault In Our Stars’. 

Why I Started Book Blogging

I discovered this post on the abooknation today. It reminded me of starting my own book blog, although my reasons were slightly different.

Like this blogger, I have always been an avid reader, but it was really only when my first book was published that I began to understand the true value of a review for an author.

It’s really the only feedback you get from readers.

A negative review can crush your soul until you think about the fact that you haven’t liked every single book you’ve picked up, either. Sometimes it’s a matter of taste.

A thoughtful review helps you improve your writing and motivates you to keep going. And if someone praises your work, it’s incredibly satisfying and fulfilling because you know you’ve connected with a reader’s soul.

The fact that such a small proportion of readers leave reviews does not really surprise me, because I had never done so before, either.

Once I recognised the need for reviews of Indie books, I saw that this was an opportunity for me to use my love of reading to help other Indie authors by leaving an honest, constructive review.

Thus, Book Squirrel was born.

After developing my confidence with book reviews, Book Squirrel’s blog extended to include author spotlights and interviews, book events and, recently, a range of integrated Indie book promotion services.

I love blogging about books and supporting other Indie authors. I enjoy giving back to the Indie author community and showing others how positive and proactive Indying is done.

Book Squirrel brings me, and others, joy.
And that is the best reason ever to keep going.

abooknation

I’m not sure if I’ve actually ever mentioned why I got into book blogging but if I did I don’t think I made a blog post about it so… HUR WE GOO:

I’ve always loved reading but I feel like I went through phases where I went on a bit of a (very) long slump until I read a book that hooked me back into reading! I’m someone with the shitest memory, even now when someone asks me for book recommendations I have to skim through my posts to jig my memory of what books I’ve read. So around 4/5 years ago when I got back into reading, I had no idea that book blogging was a thing, I thought why would anyone want to hear my rambling thoughts about a book I’ve read??????

Whenever I finished a book I would write up a review and literally just leave it…

View original post 117 more words

Thursday Thoughts: I’m Textually Active.

If you’ve been following my blog for any amount of time, you’ll probably know that when I’m not blogging, reading or writing, or strutting my stuff on stage in musicals, I’m a teacher. 

Teaching is demanding and tiring and stressful, but I am always up for a great booknerdy discussion with my students, who I happen to believe are some of the coolest kids on the planet. That is one of the parts of my job that I really love. 

Last semester, my Year 9 English class studied ‘Beowulf’ and Year 11 studied both ‘Richard III’ and ‘A Christmas Carol’

The fun continues this semester. I’m excited to be teaching four more texts I really enjoy. 
My Year 9 English class are going to study ‘Much Ado About Nothing’  and ‘Treasure Island’
My Year 11 English class will be studying ‘The Complete Maus’ and ‘The Book Thief’. 

Teaching teenagers can be a tough gig sometimes, but it also has its perks.

If you had a teacher you liked, I’d love to know what it was about them that appealed to you or inspired you. Leave a comment and inspire me!