Why Bother Reading the Classics?

Books like Tolstoy’s War & Peace, DH Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby are all classics which have entered into the popular consciousness as cultural touch stones of literary significance.  With many people these days’ simply struggling to read a book, it is common to find yourself asking a simple question: why should I read the classics? In this blog posts we will attempt to address this issues and provide a relatively straight forward for giving these literary classics a good thumb through.

A Larger Vocabulary

When you read older books written in times gone by you quite often come across words that aren’t commonly used anymore. Figuring out what these words are and how they fit into the English language gives you a fuller arsenal of to use in when expressing yourself. This makes you more interesting to talk to and gives you greater scope to describe your concepts and ideas.

Improved Writing Ability

It’s a common cliché that the best writers are the best readers. This is because when you expose yourself to the best writing you subtlety learn how to use language more effectively. If you find yourself being swept up in exquisite prose then you are more likely to want to follow this style of writing in your on works, rather than rely on common tropes and worn expressions.

Becoming a Conversationalist

Nobody likes a dullard. Being able to carry a conversation in an interesting and engaging manner is not only a benefit for you, it’s also a great experience for those around you. If you are a better speaker, writer and speaking then fundamentally you are going to be a superior thinker. Being able to articulate yourself will make you stand out amongst your peers and hopefully make you a thoroughly more interesting person to be around.

New Ideas

Some might consider it ironic, but going through the classics is a brilliant way to both create and be exposed to new ideas. The reason these books have become classics is because they changed the way people thought when they were first published and to this day resonate with a modern audience. They express timeless ideas and relatable concepts that keep them constantly fresh and relevant. Some call this being in touch with the sublime, which is one of the most powerful things that you can expose yourself to. This is why going back to the tried and true can be a great way to find new ideas.

Why Young Adult literature matters

grady_YAbannerDo you remember growing up? If you do in any detail then you’ll most likely remember how strange the experience of being a teenager was. Not only is your system flooded with hormones significantly altering the way you think and your physical appearance, there is also the budding sexuality and as yet unexplored romantic emotions beginning to surface. Not only this, but then there are kids out there who grow up different, and during this time finding literature that offers them not only validation but also escapism can be a literal lifeline. This is part of the reason why Young Adult fiction plays such an important role in our society.

What is Young Adult fiction?

Young Adult fiction (or YA as it is colloquially know) is generally defined as novels and other works of fiction aimed at individuals between the ages of 14-24. However recent research has shown that over 50% of YA books are purchased by those over 18, which goes to show the universality of the themes this genre generally expresses. One of the most popular narratives explored in YA is that of the ‘problem novel’. These novels generally engage with some type of personal or societal struggle in the form of a realistic fictional cannon. The themes addresses are generally problems that Young Adults themselves might be struggling with such as, drug and alcohol abuse, sexuality, social isolation, family difficulties and many more.

The Function of YA

In this day and age it is common for people to point to the wide variety of inclusive television and movie characters that represent a huge cross section of adolescent experiences. However there is only so much depth that a character can develop over a 30 minute television show or a 2 hour movie, the novel on the other hand offers a far broader and deeper exploration of issues and themes. YA then can function as a type of reassurance that what someone is experiencing is valid and offer not only a means of identification but also function as a means to help them with their own personal struggles.

By being able to identify and read about characters that are dealing with issues similar to their own, young adults can identify and deal with some of their own personal struggles. This can sometimes be a real lifeline for those who are feeling isolated, and it can even change their lives in a really positive way.

 

Innovative Approaches to Publishing

Books don’t have to be arranged in a traditional format – there are many writers looking to change the traditional sentence and paragraph structure. For a very long time, much writing has been arranged in a paragraph-by-paragraph format, which is easy to read and what most people are used to. However, if the text itself is concerned with breaking traditional rules of storytelling and narrative, it fits that the way the story is visually told to the reader would change as well.

Many would see traditional methods of laying out print on a page to be too restrictive and traditional – and would also see breaking with these conventions similar to how a film-maker can alter traditional methods of visual storytelling and narrative to approach viewers in a different way. When one thinks about it, there’s much less for a writer to do visually than there is for a director or film-maker. It’s often been considered the case that a writer has to work within the paragraph and sentence format seen (with the exception of footnotes) in every book, and use their writing itself to alter the ways in which a story is told to the reader. Just as a filmmaker has to display their film in the traditional projected-on-to-a-screen, square format, a writer has to use sentences, paragraphs and traditional book typeface layout to tell their story – no matter how unconventional it is. However, there are some writers who are choosing to buck these conventions.

The book ‘House of Leaves’ subverts a lot of these conventions by arranging paragraphs all over the page, beginning and ending sentences in odd places, and making odd formatting decisions throughout the novel. It all adds to the book’s sense of claustrophobia and things not being quite right.

The work by William Gibson, ‘Agrippa’, is a poem that exists entirely on floppy disk within a larger book that does not actually contain the poem. The book itself has type that is designed to fade and decay as it is exposed to light, and the poem is part of a program that essentially deletes itself once the poem has been viewed once – it self-encrypts and cannot be accessed again. This is a way of highlighting the possible transitory nature of memory, and removing the ‘concrete’ nature of movable type by creating a ‘one-use-only’ kind of work that denies the reader the usual

Can Books Be Scary?

scaredAs media develops and starts to cross the traditional boundaries between books, films, art, media, video games and God knows what else, the question rises up time and time again. Can a work of fiction in a readable format really be considered ‘scary’? Many would say so, as they have had the living daylights scared out of them by a work like something by Stephen King. But the question is, in a world where so much of what affects us operates on more of a visual and auditory level than a ‘word-based level, can you really scare people purely with description? I would say you would. Perhaps not in a jump scare kind of way, but more of a psychologically intense level.

There is a lot of fiction out there that makes one scared to read farther, to continue this reading experience, and this is something that movies can achieve but also have some trouble with. Movies can scare the hell out of you with a jump and loud noise, but unless you’re watching it at home and have oms kind of control over the film, then you’re not able to pause it and not want to go ahead – like a book. However, films are ‘unstoppable’ in the sense that you might not want it go on but it does anyway – which is something that they capitalise on, but haven’t really addressed in-film.

Books, however, allow you as much as time you need to read them – and this can sometimes be a blessing and curse. If you’re reading something truly scary, then you’re likely to stop reading and go very stop-and-start – knowing that you must finish this text, but there’s like to be some horrible and frightening stuff coming up. It’s not like you can just write in all caps to scare someone, but it’s still something that’s considerable – whether you’re going for a visceral, intense horror or something more deep and psychological, then you’re looking at an interesting and approachable way to go about writing horror. Many writers like Clive Barker alternate between psychological and ‘gross-out’ horror – what some would call ‘torture porn’. It’s never as visceral as in the films, of course, but still – there are many descriptions of acts and situations where you would really take offence, and words that worm into your brain and give you some serious difficulty continuing. Books can indeed be scary.

 

Alt Lit

There are plenty of approaches to the world of English literature, which has long seemed to many to be somewhat stuffy, insular and difficult to approach – particularly if you are a young person or outside the traditional scope of what a ‘writer’ is. When faced with this, many writers are turning to the concept of ‘alternative literature’, or a way of publishing and writing that is far removed from what you think of when you first imagine the world of writing and literature.

As the internet becomes more and more prevalent in everybody’s lives, there are a large number of writers who are incorporating much of the language and culture that the internet has spawned (particularly in youth culture) into the world of literature and writing. It’s an interesting meeting between the worlds of Gmail Chat, emojis, Tumblr posts and traditional writing mores. As such, it’s definitely intended for a fairly specific audience – the same kind of people who write alt lit are more than likely to be the ones who read it, as well as English Literature students and any kind of young person involved in or with a liberal arts degree. This isn’t to mean that these are the only kinds of people who can read this kind of literature, but in terms of cultural references and writing style, it’s clearly aimed towards them.

There are many who argue that the style of writing in alt lit is a little too ‘thrown away’ and doesn’t carry the same kind of weight or meaning that other fiction has. Much alt lit is extensively clinical, detached and dry in its writing style and narrative – in extreme cases, it seems like every alt lit story is disaffected mid-twenties white people taking prescription drugs and talking blandly, with plenty of play-by-play description of what people are thinking. This can be see neither as an attempt to convey the thought processes of the modern ‘alternative’ person, or as something that alt lit writers now expect they have to do.

At the very least, alt lit can be seen as a reaction to how prevalent technology, widespread dissemination of culture and absolutely instantaneous gratification have become integral parts of society throughout the world – and particularly for people under the age of 30 who have come to expect these kind of things to be completely natural and a part of life that will never go away.

Tips for adapting a book into a screenplay

Adapting a novel for the screen is an extremely challenging undertaking, but considering the following tips may make it easier for you.

Don’t try to be too faithful to the book – doing this will drive you crazy. Certain things work in a novel format which will simply not translate to screen. A script needs a clear cause-and-effect plot sequence that will keep the pace moving, and you need to keep this in your head throughout the process. You may need to combine or delete whole plotlines, and you will also have to be imaginative in how you show the internal journey of a character.

Know the work; your faithfulness to the real heart of the story will depend on your knowledge of it. The first time you read it, just let it wash over you and try to experience it as a casual reader. This is a good way to get a sense of the tone your film will take. The second time, be more analytical and look at it through a filmmaker’s eyes. This will involve picturing characters, scenes, and settings.

Be willing to let go of characters. If they are not serving the plot and the momentum of the story, or the film’s real message, get rid of them. You’d be surprised how much the creativity of cinema is about economics. You may also want to edit the personality of certain characters to reinforce a central theme or motif.

Ensure that the novel you are working on will give you ample fodder for visual material. Certainly many successful films have been made from books that aren’t obviously visual, but if you decide to do this you really are setting yourself a huge challenge. A novel charting a single character’s internal journey is probably not the wisest choice.

Be prepared to face some pretty harsh criticism, whether it’s from fans, from the producers and the studio, or the author.  The industry is rife with harrowing tales of authors who have absolutely hated what a screenwriter and studio did to their work. Some famous examples include PL Travers (author of Mary Poppins), Steven King (author of The Shining), Roald Dahl, who hated the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory film, Anthony Burgess (author of A Clockwork Orange), and Winston Groom (who wrote Forrest Gump) – just to name a few!

Most importantly, though, be passionate. If you are passionate about the story you are telling, chances are you will do the best job you can.

 

 

6 of the Most Expensive (Non-Religious) Books Ever Sold

Think you’re paying too much for the latest novel in your favourite series? Spare a thought for the passionate collectors who have shelled out big bucks for these expensive books in exclusive antique auctions! Not counting bibles and other religious texts, several books and documents have achieved amazing record priced at auction. Here’s a list of some of the most expensive books ever sold.

1. Codex Leicester – Leonardo da Vinci – ~1500s – $30.8m – 1994, NYC
This notebook is an original from da Vinci, a collection of his scientific writings comprised of just 18 pages.

2. Magna Carta – sealed under oath by King John – 1297 – $21.3m – 2007, NYC
There are only four surviving original iterations of this document, which historically limited the powers of the English king and protected the rights of his subjects. The copy in question is now owned by the Australian Government, displayed at Parliament House in Canberra.

3. The Birds of America – John James Audubon – 1827-1838 – Various

A copy of John James Audubon’s early 19th century illustrated book on the native birds of America was sold less than four years ago for a record $11.5m. Ten years before that, another copy (only one of 119 known) sold for $8.8m. Two other copies have been sold for several million each.

4. Geographia Cosmographia – Claudius Ptolemy – 1477 – $4m – 2006, London
The Geographia Cosmographia was the world’s very first printed atlas, and the first to make use of engraved illustrations, which remained popular for years to come. It features a beautiful embossed leather cover and, like many antique and ancient books, needs to be stored and handled under strict archival conditions.

5. The Tales of Beedle the Bard – J.K. Rowling – unknown date – $3.98m – 2007, London

The Tales of Beedle the Bard was a fictional book-within-a-book in the Harry Potter series, and played a pivotal role in the final two books. J.K. Rowling produced seven copies, but only one was ever offered for sale, in a charity auction. It was estimated to fetch £50,000 pounds, but achieved a much higher hammer price in the end. The buyer was Amazon.com – what they plan to do with it remains a mystery.

6. Don Quixote – Miguel de Cervantes – 1605-1615 – $1.5m – 1989

A first edition copy of Don Quixote, the famous Spanish novel, sold for what was (at the time) a record high price for a fiction book, in 1989.

Magna Carta
Magna Carta

 

5 Fun Book Club Ideas for Adults

Whether you’re new to running a book club, or have been meeting with your club for years, it’s important to keep the discussion fresh in order to keep everyone interested in reading the books month after month. There are lots of different things and new ideas you can introduce to your book club, whether it’s to do with the books you choose, the activities you have at your book club, or even what you serve for refreshment during the discussion. Here are our top ideas for book clubs:

1. Theme your food and décor around the book

Reading something set in France? Why not serve French cheese and wine at your book club meeting?! Reading a novel set in south east Asia? Try making your own Asian-style street food – there are plenty of simple recipes online. You could even try serving a food or drink that’s served in the book itself – Chocolat, anyone?

2. Extend the book

Ever read a book and felt like you were left hanging about what happened next in the characters’ lives? You could try imagining your own futures for all your favourite characters, writing them down, and sharing them at your book club meeting. It’s a great way to ignite debate and discussion about effective characterisation.

3. Casting

Imagine your book club book is being made into a movie. Who would play each character? Where would the movie be shot? What kind of director would you choose to direct it? This is a fun and interactive way to discuss how you imagine the characters looking, as well as their mannerisms and style. It can also be fun to revisit with your club if your book is a bestseller which does eventually get made into a film.

4. Costumes

This is one for the brave – especially if you’re reading a fantasy novel or a period piece! Arrange with your club to arrive in the costume of the time and place in which your book was set. This is easy to do if the book was set any time in the last fifty years. You could even meet up with your book club members to check out vintage stores and op shops before the meeting.

5. Write to the author

Want to know more about the process that the author went through to write your book club pick? Why not write to them?! Visit your author’s website or look at the ‘About the Author’ page in the book for contact details. The club can vote on a question to ask them, ask for a discussion question direct from the author, or if it’s a local author and you’re feeling lucky, you could even request a Skype chat or a visit!

‘Guilty Pleasures’ in Reading

The idea of a guilty pleasure is one that I think should really be removed from the cultural canon. It says something about the Western world that we can’t simply just enjoy media like books, music, movies , films graphic novels, and all kinds of consumable items without feeling some guilt if we feel like something is ‘beneath us’. What a crock! We shouldn’t be hidden beneath all these layers of irony and ‘aloneness’ so that we strangle the very thing that makes us human – our capability to empathise with other people, enjoy their stories, regardless of their leaning or how we feel about ourselves.

The idea of cultural snobbishness here really speaks volumes about sexism, racism, and classicism in the modern world. Not to get on a pulpit about this, but what’s wrong with reading absolutely anything you like? I remember when the Harry Potter books came out and there were separate printed editions with more ‘adult’ covers, as if this someone make it more acceptable to read Harry Potter as an adult, rather than reading the same book with a cover more targeted towards the target audience. It didn’t even matter anyway – young and old alike read those books, many without any guilt at all. And good for them, I say. No matter what you’re feeling about the books, you can admit that ere shouldn’t be some sort of dividing line between low and high culture, between texts for adults and for young people. Read what you want, and what makes you feel happy – really, this is what it’s all about. The idea of escapism through published works isn’t something evil, and time should be given to every viewpoint when it comes to this. The people who want to escape form their daily troubles and the daily grind should be given their time, and likewise those people who want to feel righteous and like they’re reading something that’s educating and shaking them to their core should read those too. And there should be real interplay between the two crowds! Honestly, if you want to read something, do it.

Nobody is stopping you, except people who have too much time on their hands to dole pout criticism on what you should or shouldn’t be reading. It doesn’t harm anyone else to read what you want and isn’t dumbing down the world as so many would like to attest. Go right ahead.

The Calming Effect of Books

paper-tea-cupHaving trouble sleeping or relaxing? One thing I’ve found that works wonders for me is reading a good book. Just take the novel that you’re reading at the moment and get stuck in – I’ve always found that books have a truly relaxing quality that not many other things have. From my young years when I was opening random pages of Dune to have  a look, to my later years of reading Neuromancer just to get a sense of sameness and ubiquity that would really put me to sleep, I’ve found books to be an invaluable sleeping aid.

There’s even something tactile about them that’s reassuring, friendly and soporific – turning pages, feeling the feel of paper on your hands. Even if I’m going through a second-hand book, it’s easy for me to fall asleep right away when I have good book in my hands. I would really advise you to do the same – grab yourself an excellent book, have a look and have a turn of the pages, really looking at what’s going to help you go to sleep. It’s easy to find a book that’s not even one you would usually read – in fact, they can work just as well. The great idea here is that you’re getting something that would normally b ore you and using it to your advantage – the boredom can really work to your favour, as you’ll be so bored by the book that it’ll put you right to sleep.

The only way this can backfire is if your boredom makes you angry and you get all vexed about how much you dislike it, and then you should really get going on something you like more. A reassuring thing to do is read the book you’ve re-read the most – if indeed that’s what you do – because then you get lulled into sleep by repetition and familiarity, which is what most people love in books.

There’s really something to be said for repetition in literature and its soothing effect on the mind – take a look for yourself, find a copy of something that’s nostalgic and reminds you of days gone by and then just read it! You’ll absolutely love how sleepy and tired it makes you, and it’s a great way to get a good nights’ rest. Take a look for yourself right away – you’ll have an excellent time. It’s easy to do.