My kindle book collection is bigger than your kindle book collection

As a supply teacher, on my lunch, I usually read my kindle because I don’t know anyone and because I’m rubbish at small talk with strangers. I’d always rather read than have a banal conversation about the weather or whatever. Usually people are polite enough to leave me to it but occasionally the kindle itself becomes the focus of conversation. This happened recently when the guy sat opposite me – also a supply teacher and also with kindle – started to cough in that deliberate way that lets you know they want your attention. Okay, I thought, maybe he’ll ask what I’m reading and we can talk about books. It could be worse.

In fact, the first words out of his mouth were, “how many books have you got on it? Have you got lots? I’ve got..” Well, I’ve forgotten his exact number but it was a lot and a lot more than me. I had to say that I didn’t know. He seemed surprised. He went on to detail all the book collections that he had, the complete works of Tolkien, George R. R. Martin and many others that I’ve forgotten. The bigger and bulkier the better as if the knowledge that you should be reading a weighty tome somehow added to the pleasure of reading on the kindle.

I hadn’t really thought of my kindle as a possible repository for every book I have ever wanted to read so that you could be carrying around your very own version of the British Library. Needless to say, he hadn’t read that many of them but that didn’t seem to be the point. The collecting was everything.

This is the very opposite of my attitude to my kindle. Until very recently, I didn’t have any books other than the one I was reading and the ones I had read. I would read a book and then when it was getting near the end, buy another. I didn’t want to be faced with making a decision about what to read next when I am out and about, I suppose. Now, I have two or three unread ones, thanks mostly to the daily kindle deals which seem to good to be missed. Still, I don’t want the kindle to turn into the main repository for my books. I still buy physical books and standing in front of my bookshelves trying to decide what to read next is a pleasure in a way that flicking through titles on the screen just isn’t.

In the end, I asked him what he was reading and it was one of those Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter type books which he gushed about for a bit but he still didn’t ask me what I was reading. His parting shot, I’ve lots more books on my memory stick if you want some. I’ll show you, if you like but I had to decline the offer of a visit to his virtual library as the bell rang for lessons to start again. Just as well, really.

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My Reading Year

It’s been a good year for reading. I’ve read almost twice as many books as last year (60 compared to 31). I’m not entirely sure why this is but I know I have not felt as enthusiastic about reading for an awful long time. There are a number of reasons for this.

The biggest reason is probably the kindle. I’ve got used to using it now and I have found that you can get some excellent books at a very low price. As well as some free classics. It has made it so much easier for me to read on the go.

I made a decision quite early on with the kindle that I wasn’t ever going to pay full price for a book on it. There were two reasons for this: one, I felt that if I was paying 6.99 for a book, I wanted to have the flesh and blood thing in my hands and two, it was pointless to pay full price when you could get very good books for 2.99 or less. This has changed the way I buy books for the kindle and it may seem a little odd. (Certainly, it is not the way I would think in an actual book shop.) But it has meant that I have experimented more and found some excellent authors into the bargain. (Josh Lanyon, Simon Lelic and Patrick McCabe spring to mind.)

The other main reason is I started to use the recommendations on Goodreads to help me choose. This has led me to many new authors – in fact more than 50% of the authors i have read this year have been new to me. I feel like I have climbed out of a reading rut and am very excited by the thought of what I will read next year.

I’d also like to thank the Eclectic Reader Challenge for helping to fire my enthusiasm. This led me to read genres I wouldn’t normally think of and helped me to broaden my reading horizons. I managed to do the challenge twice which was pleasing and I am already thinking about what I might read for next year’s challenge.

As for the best books I’ve read this year, I’d have to say The Road by Cormac McCarthy was a favourite. A devastatingly bleak version of the future that seemed all too possible. The bleakly sarcastic world view of Charlie Brooker was another excellent read – I can Make You Hate is a collection of his columns and articles from over the last few years. And very entertaining it was too. Food for thought, definitely.

I’ve included a list of all the books that I’ve read this year along with their ratings from Goodreads. I’ve included links to the ones that I’ve reviewed.

Adventure

Detective Fiction

Dystopia (By which I mean, a story set in a world of the future which is similar to ours but with certain details changed or exaggerated.)

Erotica

Family Drama

  • Empty Mansion Empty Heart – Everett Beich 1/5
  • Where Angels Fear to Tread – E. M. Forster 3/5
  • The Weight of Silence – Heather Gudenkauf 3/5
  • I’m the King of the Castle – Susan Hill 3/5

Historical Fiction

Horror

  • Something Wicked This Way Comes – Ray Bradbury 4/5
  • Glamorama – Bret Easton Ellis 4/5
  • Under the Skin – Michael Faber 3/5
  • Rosemary’s Baby – Ira Levin 4/5
  • The Butcher Boy – Patrick McCabe 4/5
  • The Island of Doctor Moreau – H G Wells 3/5

LGBT

Literary Criticism

  • Margaret Atwood – In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination -currently reading

Memoir

Satire

Science

Science Fiction (By which I mean a story set on a different planet or universe with great advances in technology.)

  • The Player of Games – Iain M. Banks 3/5
  • An Alien Heat – Michael Moorcock 4/5
  • Slaughterhouse Five – Kurt Vonnegut – 4/5

Short Stories

  • How it Ended – Jay McInerney 4/5

Supernatural

  • A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens 4/5
  • The Haunting of Hill House – Shirley Jackson 3/5

Travel

Young Adult

A Change in Reading Habits or How I learned to Love my Kindle

Those who read this blog regularly will know that I have been ambivalent – to say the least – about the rise in reading on kindles and the like. And I still prefer reading an actual paper book. Especially a second hand book where you can romantically imagine all the other eyes that have feasted on the very same words. There is no better place, in my mind, than a second hand bookshop. And there is nothing romantic about the kindle.

I’ve had my kindle for about eight months now and it has taken that long to get used to. One of the first things I did was buy a cover for it so that it was a little bit more like holding a book in my hands. Even so, it is different looking at a screen for a length of time rather than a page. Not particularly better or worse, just different.

The kindle has changed my reading habits for the better. Because so many books are so cheap, I have experimented much more and as a result, I have read a lot of new authors – Josh Lanyon, Michael Faber, Charles Todd, Brandon Shire, for example – which I might not have discovered in a book shop.

Also I have read more classics than I would normally. I always say I’m not really a classics fan – and I think the majority of my reading will always be contemporary fiction – but as they are often free, I’m much more willing to take a chance and have read Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Conan Doyle’s The Lost World and Forster’s Where Angels Fear To Tread so far this year, all of which were very enjoyable.

(Actually, the kindle can’t take all the credit. I’ve started to use the recommendations on Goodreades when I’m choosing the next book I read on the kindle and this has proved very useful.)

There are still things that I find annoying about the kindle. This nonsense about the percentage that you have read. To me, that is meaningless. I like to know how many pages I have left to read but being up to 79% through a book, that could mean anything depending how long the book actually is. Of course, you can make some judgements by how quickly the percentage changes but it is not the same as moving physically through a book or as being able to work it out with page numbers.

Also, if you want to check something back in the book, that is more difficult as you have to turn past every page you have read so I don’t bother which sometimes leaves me a little confused.

Minor quibbles though. In fact, I’d definitely miss the kindle if I didn’t have it now and it is my constant companion on the journey to and from work on the tram. It might never replace reading actual books – for me anyway – but it is an alternative that I have definitely come to terms with.

A nostalgic longing for the past.

Earlier in the week, I watched a preview screening of Josh Radnor’s new film Liberal Arts. It a film about growing up and is filled with a nostalgic longing for the past, for all those things that everybody claims are lost or dying – reading, letter writing, burning a CD and it left me with a longing for my university days when there was such pleasure in receiving a long letter, hand written and heartfelt, from a friend in a different part of the country. None of us – that is me and my school friends  – communicates like that any more even though we are still scattered all over the place. We don’t even e-mail any more, just message on Facebook or texts. Of course, it is a sign of how busy we all are. There are easier options now then having to find the time to write a letter but part of me still wishes that we had to do it, that there was no other option but to sit down and ponder what news we had to tell. Of course, I could still do it but it would be a bit pointless. Everyone knows my news anyway – facebook has seen to that – and I know their response to it as well. All in far less time then it would take for a letter to arrive and be read. This is progress, apparently.

Early in the film, Radnor’s character, Jesse, is walking along the street reading a book and I was struck   immediately by how this scene would never work with someone walking along with a Kindle.For a start, you would not be able to see what was being read. At least part of the point of reading in public has to do with showing off what you are reading. Not only could you not bear to put this book down but you are showcasing your taste and, possibly, your intellectualism. I know that it irks me that when I read my kindle on the train, no one can tell what I am reading. I always try to see what other people are reading as well. But also, it wouldn’t suggest the same sort of romantic idealism if Jesse was carrying a grey plastic oblong rather than a book with a beautiful cover.

There is a sense of nostalgia at the moment for the loss of something that hasn’t disappeared yet but it seems inevitable that it will. I have seen several articles in the last few weeks about the death of books once everyone has a kindle or the equivalent. And it does seem inevitable. I was never going to have an I-Pod, a kindle or join Facebook and Twitter. Now I have both those things, have joined both those things. I always succumb. Eventually, I guess, books will be like the rows and rows of LP records in my spare bedroom – only present in the houses of people over a certain age.

In some ways, it is strange that so much fuss is being made about the way in which something is read or listened to. Does it matter whether you’re reading from a electronic screen or from a paper page as long as you are reading? Obviously not. I know that some of the sixth formers I taught found it much easier to read from a kindle than from a book. And obviously that pleased me. But this is not a cold logical argument. It is emotional, nostalgic and romantic. It is obviously romantic to take the time to talk about books, to search in second hand book stores for hard to come by editions. It is more romantic to write long handwritten letters rather than a one sentence update on Facebook which someone will then like. And it is far more romantic to hand over a CD you have burned with a handwritten card than to send someone a playlist on Spotify. (Although arguably not as romantic as making a mix tape.) Similarly, when it is my birthday I will still be asking for physical books and CDs. The thought of some sort of electrical exchange seems cold and somehow not real.

Liberal Arts is like a love letter to all these things. All the things that are more time consuming, more difficult but ultimately more meaningful. Reading brings people together in this film and it teaches them how to live their lives. You have to hope that this will still be the case when everyone is reading books from a oblong of grey plastic

So I can call myself a writer now….

So it is out in the open now. I have written a novel and it is out on Amazon. A wider circle of people now know. I can safely say to be people that I am a writer. They can ask that question and I can say ‘Oh, a novel.’ Previously, I always avoided using the word writer. Even though every spare second was spent writing. Anyway, I had an real job. And that was what I gave as my occupation if anyone new asked. It would have been pretentious to use the word writer before this point. And a little embarrassing. I’m not sure why I thought that I needed the solid proof of being published but otherwise, I think, it would have seemed a little too much like intellectual masturbation.

I was always writing though. I think that as I have not previously mentioned it, people think Shattered Reflections appeared fully formed in the months since I have been unemployed. However, this is a work that has been years in the making. Writing sentences, paragraphs whenever I had the chance: on the train to and from work, when I had finished planning lessons, instead of reading in bed at night, while I ate my breakfast. Notebook upon notebook which then had to be typed up, checked and checked again. Without the last months of employment freedom, I would never have managed the final steps but the actual novel was virtually finished by then.

But now I am getting used to saying it. Although still with a small feeling of silliness. As if it is still not quite real. Perhaps because I am not making very much money from it at the minute which means I will have to get a ‘proper job’ when the money starts to get a bit low. And I’m getting used to the ‘oh I’ve always thought I would like to write a book but I wouldn’t know where to start.’ Well, you just start. For me, there was never any choice but to write. I’m not expecting to become a best-seller or make millions. (I mean, it would be nice, obviously but it is not my main motivation.) Regardless of how many copies I sell, how much people like it, I will always write because I have to and because I enjoy it.

Strange Days, Indeed

I wasn’t really sure it could get any stranger. The whole process of publishing Shattered Reflections has seemed surreal. But now that it is out in the world, potentially being read right now, I have to admit that it feels a little bit weird.

Part of it is nerves, undoubtedly. Obviously there has been feedback, checking and what have you before but this is different. For a start, people will actually be paying for it. Previously, it didn’t seem quite real.

Everyone close to me has been superbly supportive. Immediately, people are buying the book, liking my facebook page and I am hugely grateful to them. But it does make me nervous, people I know reading it. It is rude in places, violent in others with a fair bit of bad language thrown in for good measure. I’m not sure I want people who know me to be able to see into the darker reaches of my mind.

My book. My novel. They are exciting words, good words. Not like the words what next. They are frightening, difficult words, no fun words. But they are the ones that I will be working on over the next few weeks.

Shattered Reflections: Now on Amazon

At last. Shattered Reflections is on the shelves in Amazon (Is it still a bookshelf if the bookshop is virtual?) and will be available on Kindle in the next couple of days. It is both exciting and absolutely petrifying. I feel like it is the most amazing and the most stupid thing I have ever done. It’s like letting people into a corner of my mind – a pretty scary place at the best of times.

It is strange for other reasons as well. I will never have to edit or re-read this book. It is finally finished. Over. It is out of my hands. I will never have to think about the characters again and as I have grown quite attached to them over the years, this makes me a little sad. It feels like having a friend move to the other side of the world – I may have occasional contact with them but, in fact, they don’t belong to me any more.  I have to hope that people enjoy reading about them as much as I enjoyed writing about them.

Now I have to decide which of the myriad scribblings which are currently waiting patiently in the draw of my desk I should start work on now. A whole new set of characters to get to know and develop. Of course, there is the matter of promoting this book and I know that this will take up a lot of my time but that seems more like work. Starting a new writing project is definitely a pleasure.

Check out Shattered Reflections on Amazon here