I am a writer but a reader too. Reading brings me so much pleasure it got me thinking about what I look for in a novel.
There are many great writers out there but reading is subjective (a little like music, TV and food) where our tastes vary. For example the type of literature that wins the Booker Prize is rarely likely to end up on my reading list. Many years ago, I belonged to a book club and whilst I enjoyed some titles, others I found too heavy, written in a style I didn’t like, had horrible characters or were grindingly boring, to the point where I gave up. Reading should be a pleasure, so why waste precious reading stuff you hate?
With no desire to be ‘intellectually challenged’ I have identified the one vital ingredient that keeps me turning the pages. A book has to be engaging. I want loveable characters who I will gun for and a writing style that is moving, thrilling and stirs my emotions. A good book is one that stays in my mind for a long time after I have finished it.
I’m not going to reveal my TBR list – nor am I going to compile a list of my favourite books from last year – I will save all that for another post.
But I would like to set a challenge…
Re-written below are three passages from three different novels but which one do people find the most engaging?
It was a baking hot day and Sammy wondered what the lads were getting up to in Romford. Some of the clothes they chored they kept for themselves. Anything else, they sold to Bob the Fleece who drank in the Beacon.
Usually, Sammy and his pals would spend their ill gotten gains on records, booze and cigarettes. But these past few weeks they’d be saving every penny. Next weekend was the Dagenham Town Show, the biggest local event of the year. The fairground was awesome and it had been Sammy’s idea they club all their money together so they could go on as many rides as possible. The fair stayed for a couple of weeks after the actual Town Show and it was a cool place to hang out. Sammy loved the atmosphere of the playground. An air of excitement surrounded it and he couldn’t wait until next weekend.
The effects were sweet while they lasted. Her mind filled with clouds and she became oblivious to everything, her limbs like liquid as they took her upstairs and locked her up again. She sensed she was in her room, lying on the bed, covered in a blanket. The lamp was still on, casting a pretty pink haze around the walls; the noises around her distant, fading in and out subliminally as she hovered on the edge of sleep. She seemed to be floating.
Engulfed in softness, she felt as if a layer of cotton wool had been wrapped around her. Her mind started swimming – gentle memories. She could picture her mother with her soft brown eyes and warm smile, the chime of her voice as she sang along to songs on the radio. There were times she had kissed her and tucked her in at bedtime with her teddy bear.
The next memories conveyed the protective presence of her father; days when he took her to the park to swirl her around on the roundabout or push her on the swings – a trip to Southend-on-Sea with rides at the fairground and ice creams. Like episodes in a TV drama she let the memories run on. She felt as if she was re-living her childhood with the knowledge that she could never have those days again…
So when we talk about these horrible things she did to me when we were kids, it automatically begs a question, doesn’t it? Did I have anything to do with her death?
– I haven’t asked that question.
You don’t need to. It’s there, between us. It’s hanging over everything; it has since she died. The messed-up little brother. I’ve never told anyone about the things she did – for that reason; that question would rear its head. It’s like when someone dies and the first suspect is the partner. That’s fucked up, but they’re also the most likely killer. That’s what we are as a species, as a society. We’re these strange mutant apes that got too big for our boots and spend our time killing each other. Did I kill my sister? No. I didn’t know her well enough to kill her, if you get what I mean. We were like strangers. I rarely visited Inverness, and she never came down to London to see me. It was like we were colleagues who’d worked together and gone our separate ways.
Some names have been changed to disguise the books they are but I’d love to know your thoughts. So please feel free to comment.