Readersforum's Blog

September 25, 2014

The top 10 walks in books

From Laurie Lee’s departure for Spain one sunny morning to Flora’s unfortunate sexual odyssey in Cold Comfort Farm, Duncan Minshull chooses the best literary journeys on foot.

WalkI’ve always been a walker. Age 10, it was the Sunday outing (family bonding); age 13, it was getting away from home (rebellion); and, as a student of 20, I tramped everywhere (no money).

Later I began examining the activity, which meant writing about it, and after that I corralled 200 walkers and their journeys into an anthology, just re-published as While Wandering. This contains characters from fiction, as well as passages from memoirs, plays and poetry. The purpose of the book was to shed some light on our desire to travel by foot.

John Hillaby said he had no idea why he walked, despite crossing deserts, roaming the length of Britain, and writing great books about it all. Funny, I’ve always believed the opposite. There are a thousand and one reasons for setting out, be they physical, psychological or spiritual, rational or bonkers. I like to think that the following people might inspire us to hit the road, too.

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The brilliance of Richard Brautigan

Fairytale meets beat meets counterculture: bursting with colour, humour and imagery, Brautigan’s virtuoso prose is rooted in his rural past – and that’s what draws me in.

Over the years, I’ve lived in a variety of places, including America, but I was born and raised in the Lake District, in Cumbria. Growing up in that rural, sodden, mountainous county has shaped my brain, perhaps even my temperament. It’s also influenced the qualities I seek in literature, as both reader and writer. In my early 20s, connecting with fiction was a difficult process. There seemed to be little rhyme or reason to what was meaningful, what convinced, and what made sense. There was a lot of fiction I did not enjoy, whose landscapes seemed bland and unevocative, the characters faint-hearted within them, the very words lacking vibrancy. This was no doubt empathetic deficiency on my part. I wouldn’t say it was lack of imagination – if anything, roaming around moors and waterways solo can lead to an excessive amount of making things up, a bizarreness of mind. I suppose what I wanted to discover was writing that served these functions, and I was in danger of quitting books.

Around this age I first read Richard Brautigan.

 

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April 23, 2014

Five perfect books for men who never read

RoadJust under a third of the male population don’t read books, says a Reading Agency survey. Here are five man-friendly page-turners they might enjoy anyway.

By

Nearly 30% of men have not read a book since school, according to a survey commissioned for World Book Night, an annual event that hopes to change their ways. The reasons men don’t read are varied, but “not really wanting to” seems to be the main one. However, if you are a man – or know one – who might agree to try just one book for the hell of it, these are my guaranteed-no-regrets recommendations.

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April 15, 2014

American Library Association releases its 10 most challenged books of 2013

BraveAs a fresh controversy arises in Delaware over whether parents should censor school reading lists, Dav Pilkey’s Captain Underpants series tops the list of books which received the most complaints.

By Alison Flood.

As debate rages in Delaware over whether parents should be able to screen school reading lists for “obscene content”, the latest list of the books most frequently challenged in US libraries shows it is not only classics that are being challenged.

Books from Fifty Shades of Grey to The Hunger Games have all drawn protests over the last year, with librarians reporting over 300 requests to remove books from shelves or exclude them from school curriculums.

According to local press, a board meeting in the Cape Henlopen school district in Delaware grew heated when two board members started speaking out against Aldous Huxley’s dystopian classic, Brave New World, and calling for parents to be warned before children begin studying it.

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April 9, 2014

Oddest book prize goes to How to Poo on a Date

Toilet humour ... cover art for Diagram prize winner How To Poo On a Date

Toilet humour … cover art for Diagram prize winner How To Poo On a Date

The Diagram prize, honouring the year’s strangest title, awarded to self-help guide to toilet etiquette.

By Alison Flood.

Powered by the British public’s unstoppable enthusiasm for toilet humour, the enticingly-titled How to Poo on a Date has carried off this year’s Diagram prize for the oddest book title of the year.

With previous winners of the award including How to Shit in the Woods, American Bottom Archaeology and Cooking with Poo – which innocently drew its name from author Saiyuud Diwong’s nickname, “Poo”, Thai for crab – the prize is beginning to show a dangerous trend. “Diagram devotees have spoken, and spoken in no uncertain terms: poo wins prizes,” said prize administrator Tom Tivnan, also highlighting the shortlisted title The Origin of Feces, which came in a narrow second to How to Poo on a Date in this year’s public vote.

Almost 1,500 votes were cast for the 2014 award, with the pseudonymous Mats & Enzo’s guide to dating toilet etiquette taking 30% of votes cast. Joint second place went to Are Trout South African and The Origin of Feces, with Working Class Cats coming in fourth.

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April 1, 2014

Ten rules for writing fiction

Get an accountant, abstain from sex and similes, cut, rewrite, then cut and rewrite again – if all else fails, pray. Inspired by Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing, we asked authors for their personal dos and don’ts

CityElmore Leonard: Using adverbs is a mortal sin

1 Never open a book with weather. If it’s only to create atmosphere, and not a charac­ter’s reaction to the weather, you don’t want to go on too long. The reader is apt to leaf ahead look­ing for people. There are exceptions. If you happen to be Barry Lopez, who has more ways than an Eskimo to describe ice and snow in his book Arctic Dreams, you can do all the weather reporting you want.

2 Avoid prologues: they can be ­annoying, especially a prologue ­following an introduction that comes after a foreword. But these are ordinarily found in non-fiction. A prologue in a novel is backstory, and you can drop it in anywhere you want. There is a prologue in John Steinbeck’s Sweet Thursday, but it’s OK because a character in the book makes the point of what my rules are all about. He says: “I like a lot of talk in a book and I don’t like to have nobody tell me what the guy that’s talking looks like. I want to figure out what he looks like from the way he talks.”

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February 21, 2014

William Burroughs – the original Junkie

JunkieOn the centenary of William Burroughs’ birth, Will Self on why he was the perfect incarnation of late 20th‑century western angst – self-deluded and narcissistic yet perceptive about the sickness of the world.
By Will Self
Entitled Junkie: Confessions of an Unredeemed Drug Addict and authored pseudonymously by “William Lee” (Burroughs’ mother’s maiden name – he didn’t look too far for a nom de plume), the Ace original retailed for 35 cents, and as a “Double Book” was bound back-to-back with Narcotic Agent by Maurice Helbrant. The two-books-in-one format was not uncommon in 1950s America, but besides the obvious similarity in subject matter, AA Wyn, Burroughs’ publisher, felt that he had to balance such an unapologetic account of drug addiction with an abridgement of the memoirs of a Federal Bureau of Narcotics agent, which originally appeared in 1941.

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January 27, 2014

Can reading make you smarter?

 Smarter: The New Science of Building Brain Power by Dan Hurley

Smarter: The New Science of Building Brain Power
by Dan Hurley

There is evidence that reading can increase levels of all three major categories of intelligence. I believe my discovery of Spider-Man and other comic books turned me into a straight-A student.

By Dan Hurley
When I was eight years old, I still couldn’t read. I remember my teacher Mrs Browning walking over to my desk and asking me to read a few sentences from a Dick and Jane book. She pointed to a word. “Tuh-hee,” I said, trying to pronounce it. “The,” she said, correcting me, and that’s when it clicked – the moment when I learned to read the word “the”.

Growing up in Teaneck, New Jersey, in the 1960s, I was what Mrs Browning called “slow”. During a parent-teacher meeting, she told my mother: “Daniel is a slow learner.” I sat during lunch in the gymnasium with the – forgive the term – dumb kids. I was grouped with them during reading and maths: the “slow group”.

And then, a year later, I was rescued by Spider-Man.

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December 11, 2013

State surveillance of personal data is theft, say world’s leading authors

Clockwise from top left, eight of the people who have signed the petition: Hanif Kureishi, Björk, Arundhati Roy, Don DeLillo, Ian McEwan, Tom Stoppard, Margaret Atwood and Martin Amis

Clockwise from top left, eight of the people who have signed the petition: Hanif Kureishi, Björk, Arundhati Roy, Don DeLillo, Ian McEwan, Tom Stoppard, Margaret Atwood and Martin Amis

• 500 signatories include five Nobel prize winners
• Writers demand ‘digital bill of rights’ to curb abuses

By Matthew Taylor and Nick Hopkins

More than 500 of the world’s leading authors, including five Nobel prize winners, have condemned the scale of state surveillance revealed by the whistleblower Edward Snowden and warned that spy agencies are undermining democracy and must be curbed by a new international charter.

The signatories, who come from 81 different countries and include Margaret Atwood, Don DeLillo, Orhan Pamuk, Günter Grass and Arundhati Roy, say the capacity of intelligence agencies to spy on millions of people’s digital communications is turning everyone into potential suspects, with worrying implications for the way societies work.

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November 21, 2013

Selfie is Oxford Dictionaries’ word of the year

Ubiquitous noun for social media self-portraits faces down newly discovered cute mammal the olinguito in annual contest

Selfie – “a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website” – has been named word of the year by Oxford Dictionaries editors, after the frequency of its usage increased by 17,000% over the past 12 months.

Editorial director Judy Pearsall said: “Using the Oxford Dictionaries language research programme, which collects around 150m words of current English in use each month, we can see a phenomenal upward trend in the use of selfie in 2013, and this helped to cement its selection.”

The word can be traced back to a post on an Australian online forum in 2002.

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