Those that can, write, Those that can’t, write too.

                I attend a book club at my local library. It consists of about eight gentile old ladies-[I am including myself in this description although the gentile part is the most inaccurate]. On the whole I love my fellow old ladies. They are smiley, mild mannered, self-deprecating. We talk about a wide variety of subjects-most recently hearing aids, the sights of Rome and foot ailments. Occasionally we come around to discussing the novel we have been allocated by Tracey, the enigmatic librarian. Given that we have all had a month to read said novel we should, by rights have plenty to throw into a discussion about it, however we are almost always as earnest as schoolgirls in our lame excuses.

                ‘I’ve read it but so long ago I can’t remember it’

                ‘I read some of it’

                ‘I couldn’t find it until this morning’-

The Book Club equivalent of ‘the dog ate my homework’.

                The problem lies, I believe with the kind of books Tracey chooses for us [or rather, the set of books that has become available for us]. They are rarely riveting, or if they are, I’ve generally read them already. Hence several recent issues have been, for me unreadable.  

                One of the ladies has literary tastes which are in direct opposition to mine. If there is an odd book that I enjoy I know she is going to declare it ‘rubbish’. One such book was The Great Gatsby, which I had read many years ago and enjoyed rereading. Other tales, such as the very popular ‘One Day’ by David Nichols did nothing for me but gave her much pleasure. You would think, would you not, that such discrepancies in reactions to books would lead to interesting and lively discussion, yet this has still to happen.

                I’m sorry to say I blame Tracey for this lack of debate. Were she to arrive at our table armed with provocative questions the conversation would be sustained and would not veer off on to subjects such as bunions or where to buy fruit teas. We could discuss characters, plot lines, whys and wherefores. We could say why we did or did not get something from the read [or lack of read]. Really there is no excuse, since many novels come ready pressed with the book club questions and stimulants all there at the end of the narrative.

                Just for once though, last week the opinions were unanimous. Everyone was agreed that the novel was one of the very worst we’d ever been given. The book? It was Richard Madely’s ‘Some Day I’ll Find You’.

                Richard Madely is a lightweight journalist and TV presenter who made a name co-presenting a daytime TV chat show with his wife and subsequently as a TV Book Club host. Now I understand completely what makes someone who is interested-even passionate about literature become motivated enough to take up the pen themself. This has happened to me. But the difference between myself and Richard is not associated with writing ability. It is that he, with all his lack of talent has simply thrown into his novel every cliché, formula and hackneyed device he has encountered and produced a tired story which he has not had to send to every literary agent known to man in order to get published. He can sell his boring book on the strength of his name.

It goes to show that reading, whilst useful to aspiring writers does not a writer make. Do I sound jaded? Indeed I am!

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The Fickle Art of Reviewing

                How wearying it is that reviewing has become such a cynical marketing ploy, instead of the useful consumer tool it was invented to be. It is no surprise, these days, to learn that companies such as publishers and tour operators are prepared to pay vast sums to get positive evaluations, but saddening all the same, that large conglomerations see us, the consumers, as so easily manipulated.

                I was ‘stung’ a couple of times myself when trawling through the cyber aisles on Amazon. I was seduced into buying ‘One Day’, a shallow rom-com [never a favourite genre of mine], which was eulogised about by hundreds of gushing reviewers. I did, at least manage to get to the predictable end of the book. Then there was ‘Shantaram’, which also achieved massive acclaim, and which I assumed would be more my style-it concerning travel in exotic locations, and which I deleted after less than two chapters. I also vented my spleen by writing my own vitriolic review of this egocentric and tedious story.

                None of this, of course applies to my own, lowly and self-published contribution to Amazon, my debut novel, ‘The Year of Familiar Strangers’ [by writer Jane Deans]! The book has managed to elicit two reviews so far, contributed by such acquaintances as I have persuaded to press finger to keyboard following their purchase. Between them they have bought it three and a half stars, hardly meteoric acclaim, but nevertheless respectable for a first go. Verbal feedback, however, has been startlingly gratifying. In another life, where I’d have begun to write novels in my youth, I might even have achieved the limitless wealth that could have bought me hundreds of rave reviews. Who knows?

                I get through a number of fiction novels each year, though I no longer look to Amazon to suggest the selection. It is tricky, as an innocent consumer, to know where to look for a good read. How can you be sure to get unbiased opinion? I go, often to book prize long-lists, which can be a reasonable guide; not so my recent purchase, the Booker choice of Richard House’s ‘The Kills’, which I found incoherent, confusing, boring and frustrating. I had more luck with Christine McKenna’s ‘The Misremembered Man’-a quick, light, amusing read with stereotypical characters but plenty of comedic, Irish, homespun philosophy.

                But I suspect my ‘big reading hit’ of the year will be the current occupant of my Kindle screen; A M Homes’ ‘May We Be Forgiven’, which has started explosively, a stonking rollercoaster of a story, darkly, bleakly comic in its exploration of a dysfunctional American family. It was an Orange prize winner, but gets mixed reviews, although I very much doubt anyone was paid to write them!