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Books, For Pleasure Or For Pain?

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There is a famous saying ‘The eyes are the windows to the soul’; in many ways books are the same way. They offer a unique perspective on the writer. It matters little about the genre, or subject matter – the writing reveals so much. Writers live vicariously through their words.

All of my life I have been an avid reader, well almost all. There was a period in the early 1970s during which I lost all interest in books. That was mainly a result of the British Grammar School system, and in particular the subject of English Literature. Even today, four decades later, the mere mention of Thomas Hardy and The Mayor of Casterbridge will make me crawl into a fetal position until the demons pass.

Authors write books to be taken as a whole, not to be dissected character by character, page by page, like a frog on a laboratory bench. Microscopic examination of small aspects of a character, or a plot, is a pointless waste of time.

A book that I was forced to read and dissect was George Orwell’s 1984, and being asked to write an essay on how Winston Smith felt while in room 101 still haunts me. Winston was feeling the need to change his underwear! You do not need to analyze the scene further than that!

Becoming a book reviewer has only reinforced my opinions. Back in 1970 I would have loved to have been able to ask George Orwell what he thought about the teacher’s request. I feel pretty confident that Orwell would have told the teacher to ‘get a life’, or words to that effect.

Although I am relatively new to the book reviewing business, I have had the good fortune to interview many of the authors whose books I have read. It has been a fascinating journey of discovery. One observation that I have made is that I have yet to read a book where the main character is truly fictitious; they are always rooted in reality. It may be a combination of a couple of people, but they exist.

Many times the main character also reflects the wants and needs of the author, but that does not mean that you can read more into the story than is already there. Read the book, and take all of the book; the good, the bad, and yes, sometimes even the ugly, as a single entity.

I have yet to talk with an author who has crafted a book with the English Lit destruction derby high on their list of priorities.

There are times when I wish I could climb in that time machine and hold a conversation with my old English Lit master. I know it would be a lively debate.

My advice is to pick up a book and enjoy it for what it is. Just remember, it is the whole work, not the sum of the parts that counts.

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About Simon Barrett

  • And yet, sometimes, a slow, gradual deliberation of the book opens up so much more than you might have gotten from a quick read.

    Take the traditionally minimal prose writers, like Hemingway, or the crazy WTF stories of Tayib Saleh, both books that I’ve studied in school, books that I wouldn’t have understood fully if we hadn’t discussed them in detail.