Bookish or Literary?

Books old and new

I think it is a case of stating ‘the bleeding obvious’ to write that I love books. I grew up in a house full of books; I’ve always lived with books; I’m bringing my children up in a house full of books. It’s a standing joke that we could open a library, but due to space issues I have actually given away & (occasionally) sold many hundreds of books over the years that if I could I would have kept. I love books.

I don’t read anywhere near as much as I used to. As a teenager & early twenties I’d easily read a minimum of 100 novels every year. This dwindled over time to around 15 or 20 post-children which is why I’m making a concerted effort to read (and finish) novels (for me) this year.

Picture books don’t count for this ramble. We’re going to reach the 300 different picture books read this year by the end of May, but that won’t mean we’ll get to 600 by the end of the year. In fact, I’ll be surprised if we reach 400 different picture books across the year, because favourites cycle over and over.

I am digressing massively from my planned ramble. Which is that I love books. We own thousands. I’ve read thousands.

However, I am not in the slightest bit literary. I do not particularly like literary fiction or make much of an effort to read it. I don’t really like classics. I’m aware of the titles and authors; of famous first lines; of general plot points; and of certain characters. But I have no particular desire to read Dickens or Austen; Melville or Tolstoy; Bronte(s) or Hardy.

Another digression: I had to read certain things at school. Which put me off classics for life. Silas Marner, Jane Eyre and The Mayor of Casterbridge were dull and lifeless and uninteresting. I never bothered finishing them outside whatever we were prescribed in lessons. I think I was working my way through Stephen King’s back catalogue outside lessons at the time (age 14/15) Earlier (age 11/12) I didn’t mind Tom’s Midnight Garden, The Children of Green Knowe, My Family and Other Animals, even Of Mice and Men but getting towards GCSE it got more and more boring. Apart from A Room With a View, which may have had a lot to do with our middle-aged English teachers giggling at that scene in the film adaptation…

I’m not bothered about literary awards. I don’t chose what I read based on what award it’s been nominated for. I once (as a teen) read the first page of Foucault’s Pendulum (Umberto Eco) about a dozen times and it was at that point I decided I would read what I liked. If the synopsis sounded interesting but the writing didn’t appeal, I’d stop reading. Sometimes I’ve attempted books three times before finishing and loving them; sometimes I’ve given up and never bothered to finish. I’ve never read Foucault’s Pendulum.

I am bookish. I am not literary.

I only have C’s in English GCSE; and have not studied any humanities subjects beyond GCSE level. But I am well read. I have read a lot. I don’t know the technical terms for grammar, but I know how to use it (when I can be bothered) because I’ve read so much. I have read widely, despite my preference being in fantasy and science fiction. I can spell quite well because I read so much when I was younger.

I learnt from books because I was introverted and I loved to read. I can spell words I can’t pronounce because I read them in a book at some point! I don’t confuse pacific for specific; or albeit as all be it; or for all intents and purposes as for all intensive purposes because I read them before hearing them.

I’ve been lucky in my life to have always been described as intelligent. Being quiet and wearing glasses can be a useful stereotype! My lack of reading literary fiction has not dumbed me down. Not knowing the technical terms for grammar has not stopped me being able to write. My point in all this ramble is that people should read whatever suits them. Whatever it is. Literature should not be snobbish. I find myself utterly switched off by pretentious twaddle in book reviews websites and newspapers but because I love books I carry on reading what I want when I feel like it.

My new favourite author blogger is Matt Haig. He writes much sense at his own blog and Booktrust. He’s written (with far more authority) on what’s wrong with ‘literary’ fiction and literary snobbism and why people don’t read. I recommend you read them all. And then carry on reading whatever you want, including literary fiction if you like it!

4 responses to “Bookish or Literary?

  1. I’ve never read Foucault’s Pendulum either..! Totally agree that literature shouldn’t be snobbish and people should read what suits. I remember years ago talking to a woman who wasn’t a regular reader, but had decided to try a well-regarded literary novel of the day, and wasn’t getting on with it at all – she seemed to assume this was her fault, not that it was just maybe not the book for her. It struck me at the time that it was a shame she didn’t feel entitled to abandon the attempt and seek out something she would actually enjoy.
    I did an English degree, but these days I read for pleasure (and variety, and professional curiosity). Maybe we should regard ‘literary’ as just another genre!
    Alison Mercer recently posted..After I Left You: the story of my second novelMy Profile

    • People thinking they’re not good enough to read something (rather than that the book is not for them) is part of the thinking behind the post. I suppose I have a bit of a chip about being ‘looked down on’ for reading fantasy and children’s books! I just think we should all read what we want. Some people really enjoy literary fiction, and others (me included!) don’t (most of the time, some books are just right even if they’re outside our usual favourite genres!) Thank-you for the comment 🙂

  2. Ha ha – I have read Foucault’s Pendulum – inside it was a great book trying to get out!

    I too am bookish. I am well-read, not qualified beyond English Language O-level, but have pretty good grammar etc – gained with practice and lots of reading. I read a wide mixture of books, but have found that my reading has changed with the decades. In my teens and twenties SF&F dominated, around my thirties, I swapped most SF&F for contemporary fiction, including some rather pretentious stuff (but did enjoy it, and still do now and then). Then, in my late 40s, I started reading some earlier 20thC fiction, and occasional classics. Now I’m in my early 50s and I just read anything and everything! 🙂
    Annabel (gaskella) recently posted..Still shocking after all these years …My Profile

    • I *wanted* to read Focault’s Pendulum from the description, but I just never could get my head around it! Now I have small children and less time to read, a lot more children’s books are in my reading pile but I do try to read anything that takes my fancy regardless. I think we should just read what we want – which includes ‘literature’ and ‘literary’ but I feel that there is a bit of snobbishness about it all sadly. Never would have guessed you’d not studied English since O-Level from your blog (which I love) Thank-you for the comment 🙂

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