I ’ve always been a reader. I was encouraged to read from an early age and a good book would always take priority over the TV. My favoured books as a child included The Magic Porridge Pot (Paul Galdone), the Moomin series by Tove Janssen and, of course, Enid Blyton’s Famous Five. As I matured, so too did my choice of reading material. My sister introduced me to Sebastian Faulks (Birdsong is still one of my all-time favourites) but I also lost myself in psychological thrillers, the odd romance novel and numerous autobiographies.
As a writer, I’ve never been more aware of the importance of reading. Firstly, why should I expect people to read my work if I don’t read the work of others? Secondly, reading is learning. Whether it’s the use of grammar, the structure of a sentence or the imaginative use of language, by reading regularly we are able to expand our knowledge and appreciate the power of the written word. Occasionally, I still stumble across an unfamiliar word and relish the opportunity to search my dictionary for its meaning. Reading also allows us to identify what works on the page and what doesn’t and, perhaps most importantly of all, it stimulates our imagination.
I’m staggered when people tell me they don’t read, particularly when they cite lack of time as the reason for their reluctance to enjoy this age old pastime. Those same people, by their own admission, spend countless hours glued to their mobile phones. The fact that they prefer to indulge in petty bickering on Twitter, comment on what their friends had for breakfast on Facebook, or search for a so-called inspiring quote on Instagram is absurd. This endless scrolling eats up hours of precious time and breeds negativity.
It is widely accepted that social media is linked to depression and anxiety, particularly in teens and adolescents. The constant pressure bred from staged images, false lives and unrealistic expectations is damaging to mental health. But it’s not just youth who are consumed by social media. Adults too are addicted to the pointless exercise of scrutinising the false lives of strangers, commenting on the posts of celebrities they’re never likely to meet and driven by the perverse need to attract more followers.
Over breakfast this morning, I devoured two chapters of a rather captivating novel. I was impressed with the author’s style of writing, the clever way his plot unfolded and the quirky traits of his characters. Of course, I could have scrolled through my Instagram account (yes, I do have one), reactivated my Facebook account (not used for over five years) or read whatever blurb our world leaders were churning out on Twitter. I chose not to, preferring to read something well written and imaginative over the trivial nonsense available online. I shall do the same at lunchtime and, more than likely, before I go to bed. And I shall repeat the pattern tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after that, keen to discover what happens next.
Authors can spend years learning their craft. They make untold sacrifices and endure hours of solitude purely for the pleasure of telling their story and entertaining their readers. The very least we can do is read what they’ve written.
Rather than encouraging negative thoughts and unnecessary anxiety, a book takes you on a journey of discovery. Depending on the book, it can inspire you to write, to cook or to travel. It can teach you about history, geography or science. It may be humorous, emotional, intriguing or suspenseful. A good book can awaken your senses and transform you into a wondrous world of imagery that’s so much more rewarding than anything online and, when you consider the time wasted on other pointless pastimes, a book is a healthy and welcome diversion.
Of course, it could be argued that books are no less make-believe than the fake stories found on your social media feed. A novel is fiction, after all. However, it is written with your satisfaction in mind and aims to bring delight, gratification and joy. Compare that with those posting their own stories on social media where their intention is to please no-one but themselves. True, a book may be fictional but at least it’s promoted as such; it makes no secret of its content or its intentions. The make-believe we are subjected to by certain bloggers, vloggers or instagrammers (or whatever else they like to call themselves) is fantasy dressed up as reality. To use an age-old cliché, it’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing so don’t be surprised when it bites you.
Reading a book is time well spent and, without your phone as a distraction, you have more time to read than you think.
I must confess, I’m a lover of imagery when it comes to novels. Some authors can transport you to a French marketplace, an African village or a quaint English harbour in just one clever sentence.
Their descriptive language and awareness of the senses are key to bringing the story alive, allowing the reader to identify with the characters and become engrossed in the tale.
One of my favourite books, based on imagery alone, is A Heart Bent out of Shape by Emylia Hall. Based in the Swiss city of Lausanne, her descriptive language brings the city alive, demonstrated perfectly by her use of metaphor:
‘The Hotel Le Nouveau Monde was wedding cake white, laced with wrought-iron balconies and capped with tangerine awnings.’
The image conjured by this simple sentence is far more beautiful than any photograph taken and shared on Instagram. This is where the minds of both writer and reader combine to produce a lasting picture only visible to those prepared to take the journey.
The French Affair by Susan Lewis is equally enchanting. Not only does it describe the French countryside in glorious detail, and the cuisine with mouth watering brilliance, it also includes a surprisingly unexpected twist.
Another master of imagery is Carlos Ruiz Zafón. This is taken from The Shadow of the Wind:
‘Dusk fell almost surreptitiously, with a cold breeze and a mantle of purple light that slid between the gaps in the streets.’
Such is my love of books, it would take forever to list my favourites. And of course, you should choose your own preferred authors and genres. It’s not for me to dictate what you read, only to encourage that you do.< Back