Friday, December 11, 2015

Past is Prologue

Do you read differently now than you did as a teenager?

by Paul D. Marks

A younger me
In a word, yes. In another word, I don’t remember. In still another word I didn’t read much for pleasure as a teenager. I was too busy, well, being a teenager—having fun. I did, of course, read for school, both fiction and non-fiction, but even then I blew off as much as I could. Remember, I was too busy being a teenager.

When I was a younger kid (elementary school age), I did a lot of reading, both fiction and non-fiction. I particularly liked Landmark Books, history books put out by Random House, which were often kid—Guadalcanal Diary by Richard Tregaskis, The Witchcraft of Salem Village by Shirley Jackson and many others. They were one of the foundations that instilled a love of history in me that continues to this day. And of course, comic books, including Classics Illustrated—do they count as “reading”?
versions of adult histories. Books like

To be honest, I really do barely remember most of what I read in high school. A lot of the classics. Shakespeare. Greek mythology. Things like that—the usual stuff—but mostly for English class and not on my own. And everyone was also reading Kafka and Hesse then.

But maybe during high school and/or after, I read Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Proust. Dumas. Borges, still a fave, and all that fun stuff, as well some literary works of the day. And I might have snuck in a thriller or two. I read The Day of the Jackal and was blown away by it, especially because I knew that de Gaulle hadn’t been assassinated, but Forsyth still held me all the way to the last page. So then I read his The Odessa File and became a confirmed Forsyth fan. Also read The Godfather—who didn’t? And others. And, of course, The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge by Carlos Castaneda. Sort of required reading for the time.

And yes, I think I read differently then than I do now. I probably didn’t think as critically then as I do today. Didn’t see the seams holding it all together. But, of course, part of that comes from being a writer. So we know how the sausages are made. We can see when an author is trying to manipulate us. Plus I was more of an idealist then, less cynical, both in terms of reading/writing and life in general. And just like my writing then was more juvenile, my reading skills were as well. Just as I would have been or was a different writer then, I’m a different reader today than I was then.

When you’re 16, 17, 18 you don’t have a lot of life experience to filter what you’re reading through. When you’re an adult, with a few miles under the hood, you read things through the prism of your life experience. And that colors how you see and read things. You’re more equipped to agree or disagree with the author, more equipped to form your own assessment of what you’re reading instead of being spoon-fed someone else’s opinion of the work, whether a teacher, critic or anyone else.

My tastes have also changed, though now I’m referring more to being a young adult in my twenties. Then I read more classics and serious literature. I didn’t really start reading mysteries until later, maybe in my early thirties. I always loved old movies, film noir, etc. And my mom had a two-volume mystery collection—A Treasury of Great Mysteries—sitting on her shelf ever since I was a little kid—now in my collection. It was filled with classic mysteries from Agatha Christie, Erle Stanley Gardner, Rear Window (originally published as It Had to Be Murder in Dime Detective) by William Irish/Cornell Woolrich, and more. I always remembered it because of the striking two-part picture on the spines of the books. The first novel in volume two, and the first thing I read in the collection, was The Big Sleep, which I’d seen as a movie many times, so I gave it a shot. I’ve been hooked on Chandler ever since.

Then somehow I got magically joined to a mystery book club—that I never actually signed on for. These mysterious mystery novels and books began appearing in my mail. I don’t know how I got signed up for this club, but I wanted out. So I contacted them and told them I was out and I wasn’t going to give the books they sent back since I didn’t order them in the first place. One of those books was a collection of three Ross Macdonald novels, The Galton Case, The Chill and Black Money, so I read all three (all three of which are still my favorite Macdonald books) and I got into him too. And from there my love of mystery reading took off.

I still like reading a wide range of things, though I probably read more mystery and thriller these days, but I still read literary books and classics. And non-fiction. And while I may not have “loved” reading as a teen, being exposed to good literature at that time, even though against my will to some degree, gave me a foundation to fall back on so that when I became an adult I fell easily and gladly into the reading habit. There’s an ongoing argument as to whether kids should be exposed to this or that at young ages, forced to do things—like reading or listening to music they don’t like, etc. I think they should. Then they have something to fall back on. Exposure at an early age often comes back to us later. If I hadn’t
been exposed to various types of music or books as a kid I probably wouldn’t enjoy them today.

My biggest problem re: reading today is not enough time. My wife reads/listens to audio books in the car, but I work at home and I find it hard to concentrate on audio novels. My mind tends to wander. And I’ll read on the iPad or Kindle, but I still prefer the tactile sensation, both touch and smell and words on a page of a “real” book.

But ultimately I agree with what Sam said on Tuesday, “I still read for the same reasons I did as a child--to be astonished and delighted.” And that’s really what it’s about, isn’t it?

*** *** ***
And now for the usual BSP stuff:

And speaking of Christmas, how ’bout picking up a copy of Vortex, Coast to Coast: Murder from Sea to Shining Sea, White Heat or LA Late @ Night—hey, don’t blame me, I didn’t invent commercialism at the holidays.

And the e-book version of Vortex is still on sale for $0.99.

Click here to subscribe to my Newsletter: Subscribe to my Newsletter
Please join me on Facebook: and Twitter: @PaulDMarks
And check out my updated website

Thursday, December 10, 2015

All I want for Christmas is . . .

By  Catriona

Do I read differently now from when I was a teenager?

Not really. Then, as now, I read voraciously, constantly, and one book at a time. My dad used to have an upstairs book by his bed, a downstairs book by his chair and a book at work for his breaks. They were often all thrillers. I still don't know how he kept them straight.

And while I'm dobbing in my nearest and dearest, I didn't then and don't now read the end first. Who does that? My oldest friend, that's who.

I've always been a big re-reader too, especially in times of stress. Back then I would re-read Enid Blyton school stories and DLS. Right now, I've got Juliet Stevenson purring Mansfield Park in my ear at bedtime, so I can stop editing the WiP and, if I'm lucky, not dream about it.

Audiobooks didn't really exist when I was a teenager. (Listen to this kids: I remember cassette tapes being invented.) But I always loved listening to stories read aloud, if I could find someone to read them to me, and have been hooked on BBC readings since I first missed poptastic Radio 1 on the dial and stumbled across the ear-cuddle that is Radio 4. If anyone hasn't yet discovered Radio 4, this week's Book at Bedtime is Nancy Mitford, Book of the Week is Stephen Fry's autobiography and also currently online are Ruth Rendell's final novel, contemporary scientists' letters to Darwin and Bono's tribute poem to Elvis. (And new shorts from the Arab world, and "Meet David Sedaris" and Some JG Ballard and Muriel Spark and that's just this week.)

Is anyone still here?

One thing that has changed is - when I was young, I always finished every book I started.  I remember clearly the moment that ended: I was in the Borders (Barnes and Noble? Okay, I don't remember that clearly) flagship store at Lincoln Center Square in New York on Christmas Eve sometime in the mid 00s (again, cloudy on this detail!). And I wasn't enjoying the book I was reading. It struck me that on the day I died, the world would full of great books I hadn't read. Since then I've read 100 pages of anything I pick up and if I'm still checking page numbers at 100 I put it down.

And another thing that's changed is this: I had so much time when I was a teenager. I was a lazy school pupil, winging it and chancing it through all six years of secondary education. I didn't do much in the way of chores and didn't play any sports. And of course there was no internet. Telly was grim too. So I just read, all the time, hours every day.

These days I recreate teenage bliss for two weeks every year, between knocking off for Christmas and going back after twelfth night. I start gathering these books around my birthday in October and hoard them like a miser, looking forward to hitting the couch and devouring them. I keep them by my bed and sometimes I stroke them.

Here's this year's final pile:

Not long to go now . . .

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Confessions of a book lover - by Cathy Ace

Do you read differently now than you did as a teenager?

Of course my teen years provided me with school and university reading lists, so I certainly did my fair share of reading “great works” as part of syllabus-stipulated English literature and language classes. To be honest, I enjoyed most of what I “had to study”. Especially Shakespeare – we would read it aloud in class and I loved the feeling of the words on my tongue. Iambic pentameter feels so natural.

What I chose to read was a bit different. By the time I hit my teens I’d consumed every Enid Blyton, Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, Ellery Queen and Tolkien the shelves of local libraries (and my mum) could provide.

Some of the books I brought with me to Canada (Photo by author.)
Then I moved to Llwyn-y-bryn Comprehensive School for Girls. It had two libraries: the Upper Library contained thousands of volumes of what one would call “The Classics” – those books from around the world that had distinguished themselves somehow. So I began reading works by Mann, Nietzsche, Zola, Goethe, Camus, Sartre, Joyce, Austen and Dickens, poetry by Chaucer, Dylan Thomas, Hopkins, Elliot and Proust, as well as plays by Congreve, Wesker, Yates, Pinter, Ibsen, Osborne, Shaw, Wilde, and, of course, Shakespeare, for fun.  I understand now this is somewhat unusual behavior for a young teen, but, at the time, it seemed perfectly normal to me. When I turned sixteen it was decided that the Lower Library would be closed, and all the books were to be sold off at sixpence per volume (I think that would equate to about 5 cents). As a volunteer-librarian I spent weeks sneakily transferring books from the Upper to the Lower Library (and saving the money I earned working at a shoe shop) thereby ensuring I could snap up a wonderful selection for myself. (I might not have been reading many crime novels at the time, but I was certainly acting them out!)

I still have those books; they are my old friends, so, of course, I shipped them to join me when I moved to Canada. The photo here shows some of them. Certainly not all. I’ve read and re-read most of them, and am always delighted to discover how much more insightful the authors seem to become as I get older. Now in my mid-fifties, I am just beginning to understand how stunning it was that Zola had a vision across twenty novels – and that he had that plan when he was in his twenties! I’m so glad I found the books I did in my teen years, and not just because of what it has led me to read in later years; every rom-com I’ve watched on the screen takes me back to Jane Austen’s blue-print for those tales.

So, in my teen years I inhaled the classics - the Nobel prize-winners’ works, the lauded and the famous titles. I’m not sorry I did it. I learned a great deal, and my eyes were opened to a world far beyond the library walls of my school in Swansea.
Little did I know when I first read Lowry’s Under the Volcano, back in the early 1970s, that I would end up mirroring his migration from the UK to British Columbia, and would find myself living not far from where he wrote that book.  (Photo by author.)

After that I put in more than a quarter of a century of wide reading, however, I hate to admit it, but I don’t now read as much as I’d like to. That said, I could happily read for thirty hours a day! When I do read, if I’m not revisiting old favorites, I read crime fiction. If there isn’t a crime, a puzzle, a conspiracy, or a dead body in a book I keep waiting for one to present itself. I can’t help it. It might be seen as some sort of sickness, but, for me, it works. There are so many crime fiction authors – living and dead – whose works I have yet to discover, or at least fully enjoy, that I know there are enough books to see me happy when I do sit down to read.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Addicted to Reading

"Do you read differently now than you did as a teenager?"
- from Susan

Funny moment to be asking me this. I am reviewing the final pre-print proofs for Mixed Up with Murder, reading revisions to a new book for an editor, and reading enough of my new NaNoWriMo draft so I can finish the last scene, which I had to set aside to re-read and sign off on the final revision for the new edition of Murder in the Abstract (a long and somewhat painful exercise, another story…) I read a lot of my own books now, not always with great enjoyment!

Pre-college, I read hugely on my own, everything I could get my hands on. Lots of Thurber, Michener, Mary Stewart, O’Henry, Shirley Jackson, anything in The New Yorker…I can’t remember every author but lots of costume sagas and quirky stuff, modern Irish stories, historical novels. Pretty much all fiction. I read all the time. In school, Shakespeare, Harper Lee, Mark Twain, sanitized biographies, classics, nothing edgy unless you consider Macbeth edgy, which I emphatically do. It was my writing education.

In college, still in my teens and just beyond, I read James Baldwin, Virginia Woolf, Galsworthy and Flaubert, Tolstoy and James Joyce, Homer, Chaucer and other Early and Middle English tales, more Twain, albeit with a twist (“Come Back to the Raft Ag’in, Huck Honey” was the mind-blowing piece written by one of my wonderful teachers, Leslie Fiedler), reams of bardic Irish literature, and lots of poetry, a feast of poetry. Good stuff, the balance of my education as a writer and source of my passion.

Skipping a few years to today, what do I read? Mostly crime fiction. Almost never fiction in The New Yorker, which generally bores me. Periodically I buy a literary book award winner, and most of those – not all – leave me feeling in need of a blood transfusion. I read much more biography and history and regret that I waited until now to read all of Beowulf, although it’s Seamus Heaney’s 2000 translation that makes it such a tense and colorful tale. I’m re-reading Mrs. Dalloway because I know it’s considered a masterpiece, but, until this reading, wasn’t convinced. These books are refresher courses in what makes good writing and reminds me how much I still have to learn.

But, chiefly, I now read crime fiction. New books – lord, there are hundreds, many of them by people I know – and classics, and series I missed out on first time around. New and waiting for me: Terry Shames’ two latest, Stuart Neville’s two latest, Catriona’s latest, Colin Cotterill, Tim Hallinan, Michelle Gagnon…looking at the shelf makes me feel guilty. Classics I am aching to re-read by Tey, Sayers, Stout, Nabb… And these, too, are education. In plotting, in character arcs, in what the market wants and what today’s readers like.

So, no, I guess I don’t really read differently. I read as voraciously as I did when I was 13, still getting my education through the work of great writers.