[Posted 28 February 2010]
I always carry a book with me wherever I go. You never know when you might need one! On the tube, waiting around, eating lunch in the park (weather permitting)... there are opportunities to read everywhere. And I like to make the most of any opportunities that arise.
So when did this reading habit begin? To be honest, I cannot remember NOT reading by myself. I was a competent reader before I started school, and, much to the dismay of the teacher, was unwilling to accept books with large pictures and only 4 or 5 words per page. Janet & John did not go down well with me - I preferred mythical heroes and dark fairy stories! I think I read the entire set of Andrew Lang's Fairy Books before the age of 8 or 9 and Celtic, Norse or Greek myths were also firm favourites. Then I discovered Narnia... a life-long love of Fantasy was born.
Through my teens I read Anne McCaffrey: The Ship Who Sang, the Pern novels and the Talents series. A firm favourite was Z for Zachariah by Robert O'Brien, through which I discovered post-apocalyptic fiction. Granted I also had an Enid Blyton and Elinor M. Brent-Dyer boarding school phase, but given I grew up in Northern Ireland during the troubles, that was a fantasy world too! Many of the books I read back then were considered 'boy's books' and so I had 'issues' with most of the books selected for study at school. Some, like To Kill A Mockingbird and The Diary of Anne Frank became firm favourites but the majority I can barely remember what they were.
The one area where my convent education has fallen down is with regard to classic literature. The set texts chosen for O Level English Literature included 'Villette' by Charlotte Bronte, 'The Trumpet Major' by Thomas Hardy and Shakespeare's 'The Taming of the Shrew'. I hated them all and got a grade U (unclassified) for slagging them off in the exam! The net result being that now I avoid 'classic' literature wherever possible... no, I haven't read Pride and Prejudice, Wuthering Heights or Tess of the D'Urbervilles. The TV series versions suit me just fine! And I don't feel like I am missing out either... overly descriptive writing getting in the way of a good story, in my view.
It was at college that I was introduced to science fiction proper. I was reading a lot of Stephen King, James Herbert and Clive Barker at the time, when a boyfriend gave me a copy of Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A Heinlein, mainly because I was a massive U2 fan, and the title was a favourite track on the October album. I loved it, and still have that original copy today. Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, Margaret Atwood's A Handmaid's Tale and The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham soon followed. These books could be considered dystopian fantasy rather than sci-fi per se, and this is the direction I have followed ever since. I don't like 'hard' sci-fi with overly complex technology or space battles. I didn't get on with Larry Niven's Ringworld or The Forever War by Joe Haldeman. Cyberpunk passed me by in favour of more feminist writers like Ursula Le Guin, Sherry Tepper, and Octavia Butler. I chose to read Marion Zimmer Bradley, Joan D Vinge and Katherine Kerr over Neal Stephenson, Iain M Banks or William Gibson. And these trends continue today.
While I admit to a preference for female authors such as Jacqueline Carey and Anne Bishop (and a guilty love of urban fantasy and paranormal romance!), there are new male writers coming through today that appeal to me and my taste in reading. Mark Chadbourn's Age of Misrule trilogy and Chris Wooding's The Braided Path are two fairly recent examples. Towards the end of 2009 I read Mark Charon Newton's Nights of Villjamur, it being highly recommended by various book bloggers (and the author himself!) who I 'met' through Twitter. This, combined with meeting lots of similar 'book people' on Twitter, has opened a new world of up and coming writers of quality fantasy for me. A new publishing house, Angry Robot Books, has released a wave of new talent in the world of speculative fiction and horror.
I have a TBR pile that currently has some 50 books in it, plus a list of pre-orders on amazon that would scare my bank manager! New male authors like Blake Charlton, Sam Sykes, and Stephen Deas are battling for shelfspace with new female writers such as Kaaron Warren, Aliette de Bodard and N.K. Jeminsin. I no longer wander round the Kingston branch of Waterstones (huge SFF section!) selecting books on the basis of the blurb on the back cover, but instead am more informed by reading book blogs written by friendly people who share my tastes. Sadly it is all too easy to use the "One-Day 1- Click" button on amazon and find the book(s) discussed on Twitter on my doorstep when I get home from work the next day!
Some great book review blogs (in no particular order)