I’m undergoing quite a lot of shifts in my creative work these days, and as a result, I’ve been reflecting on my reading habits.
Bit not good, as Sherlock would say.
I read woefully little fiction. My bad.
If you want to be writer, you need to read. And read lots. And I do read lots. Its just that most of what I read could be loosely classed as ‘self help’ and history. Let me explain:
A little while back, everyone was raving about Philippa Gregory’s Cousins War novels, which tells the stories of the women involved in the Wars of the Roses, during the late Medieval period. I’d read Gregory’s ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’ when it first came out, because I’d read something similar by Jean Plaidy as a girl, and liked it well enough. I tried the first book in the series, The White Queen, but couldn’t get on with it. So, on the basis (again) that I had read something similar by Jean Plaidy, I decided when The White Princess came out, with its plot about Elizabeth of York, mother of Henry VIII and wife of Henry VII, that it was for me. I bought the book and settled down for a good read.
What a miserable book.
I have clawed my way wretchedly through it. I’ve only got a few chapters left, but every time I pick it up, I am seized with a bout of miserable gloom and depression that can go on for days. I just can’t stand it. I’m determined to finish the beastly thing, just on the basis that I refuse to let it beat me, but dammit if it isn’t the most spirit-crushing book I have ever read. And I’ve read ‘Middlemarch’! Now everyone is telling me that I must read Hilary Mantel’s ‘Wolf Hall’, and I just know that’s going to have the same effect on me.
Is it any wonder that I return repeatedly to Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books?
I want a book to entertain me, and leave me panting for more. I want to be riveted by every turn of the page. Its not that I don’t want conflict. I love conflict. Conflict is what makes a plot irresistible. Without it, fiction is just a mushy mess.
But why does every book that gains acclaim have to be so bloody depressing?
Is it so much to ask for something to be a bit witty? Is it so hard to make a book hopeful in some way?
Maybe it is that I read mostly first thing in the morning, to help me wake up and while I wait for the day’s medication to kick in, and last thing at night before I sleep. What you read first thing can set the tone for your day, which is why I try to choose something uplifting. And late at night, you want to read something that will help you sleep, not leave you lying awake worrying about death and betrayal and being hung, drawn and quartered.
I have a heap of novels that friends have lent me. They seem to be mostly about the Second World War and the Holocaust, which doesn’t bode well. I tried reading Kate Mosse’s ‘Labyrinth’, but it felt too cheesy, and worryingly like Dan Brown’s ‘Da Vinci Code’, which is the only book I’ve ever actually physically thrown at the wall in disgust because it was so badly written. (How that man has the gall to teach creative writing beats me!) I love historical fiction, but I want to read good work that is recently published. And I’m fine reading contemporary set books. Why is it so hard to find something that isn’t going to make me want to slash my wrists?
Maybe I’ll just see if I can get the latest Alice Hoffman from the library. I used to read her. She was good. But if you have any recommendations that fit the ‘positive’ bill, please leave a comment below. I’d love to hear about your favourites.
UPDATE: went to the library and found Andrew Miller’s ‘Pure’. First few chapters are beautifully written, even if it’s a dark story. I’ll let you know if I’m inclined to slash my wrists at any point.