Dirty Little Reading Habits

I saw this fun tag on the blog 50 a Year and could not resist joining in. It’s all about those silly little rituals us gourmand and gourmet readers like to build up around our favourite activity.

Do you have a certain place at home for reading?

I can read anywhere, in any position, even if my legs and arms get pins and needles. But I will always read at least a page or two (usually a lot more) propped up on lots of pillows in my bed at night, just before going to sleep. It helps me fall asleep more easily and forget about any of the day’s less glorious moments.

Bookmark or a random piece of paper?

I do prefer a bookmark and have quite an extensive collection of them scattered all over the house. However, bookmarks have a secret life of their own and have been known to disappear suddenly when you need them most (especially on planes). So I’ve been known to use boarding passes and even banknotes as an emergency bookmark.

Can you stop reading any time, or do you have to stop in a certain place?

Always at the end of a chapter. I hope that any choking child or burning house will have the courtesy to wait until I’ve reached that perfect point of interruption!

cherriesDo you eat or drink while reading?

As a child, during my summer holidays, I would read perched up in a cherry tree, so I did develop some fruit-eating habits whilst reading a book. Later in life, this led to quite a bit of reading/snacking marathons (on crisps and chocolate, mostly), because I didn’t want to interrupt the story for a proper sit-down meal. I try not to do it so much nowadays, not just for my own health, but also for the health of the books (no nasty chocolate smears on the pages or greasy thumb prints).

Can you read while listening to music/watching TV?

I say I can, but it does mean that the music/TV just gets completely drowned out and I have no idea what is on in the background.

One book at a time or several at once?

Am I really weird that I do have more than one on the go at any given time? I usually have about three in the mix, so that I can choose what to read depending on mood, time of day, how much time I have to read etc. I always have a crime novel close by (that’s my comfort read, even if I like them quite dark and gruelling), something in a foreign language (too much hard work to read it without occasional light relief) and then a literary novel or a volume of poetry or something non-fictiony. I don’t usually read three in the same genre and language at the same time: that would cross those dainty little wires in my brains.

From leapfrog.com
From leapfrog.com

Reading out loud or silently in your head?

I am almost a speed-reader (not really, I haven’t done any proper training, but I am quite fast), so far too fast to read out loud! However, I do love to read out loud if given half a chance. I used to bore my poor mother to death reading from the Mallory Towers series and The Little White Horse when I was a child, and I really enjoyed bedtime stories with my own children. Sadly, they won’t let me ‘perform’ for them anymore. I miss those cuddly, sharing moments.

Do you read ahead and skip pages?

Only if the book is really, really boring but I have promised to read it for reviewing purposes and I am trying to find its redeeming feature. Sadly, in most such cases, I will end up refusing to review it.

In my misguided youth, I may have peeked at the very last sentence of a book if I cared a lot about the characters. Unfortunately, the final sentence usually doesn’t give a lot away… and then I would have that on my conscience for the duration of the book. Not worth the guilt, I say!

Break the spine or keep it new?

Most of my books look virtually new and unread, so I expect to see them returned in that very same condition when I lend them to others. (!!!) Alas! I’ve often learnt that a bookworm friend might have very different reading habits from mine (bent-down corners, broken spines, even scribbles and greasy pawprints, to name just a few pet peeves).

But, before you think I’m too anal about it, I have to admit that I do have some well-thumbed, less pristine books in my collection. These are my faithful old companions that have followed me across borders for over thirty years now and have been re-read many, many times.

No, not my books! From RestorationSOS.com
No, not my books! From RestorationSOS.com

Do you write in books?

(Whispers) I used to. I feel really bad about it still.

I might do it in textbooks or reference books (the ones I own, of course, not the ones I borrow from the library, of course), but not in novels. I have a notebook to scribble my thoughts in for later reviews, but I don’t always have it to hand, so the best thoughts just fly away…

I’d love to hear all about your own secret little reading habits, if you want to let me know in the comments below. Or, who knows, maybe even join in the tag on your own blog?

What Got You Hooked on Crime, Mel McKissock?

Melbooks2

Mel McKissock is another fellow crime fiction aficionado that I met via the excellent virtual Crime Book Club organised by Rebecca Bradley. Based in Melbourne, Mel makes almost superhuman efforts to join us at the monthly book clubs, in the early hours of the morning (her time). You can find Mel on Twitter at more sociable hours and she always adds a touch of Australian knowledge to her reading passions.

How did you get hooked on crime fiction?

Like so many other avid crime fiction fans, it was Agatha Christie who gave me my first taste of crime fiction. My parents had a complete set of her novels, and I steadily worked my way through them in my early teens, starting, I think, with ‘The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.’ I moved on to more of the Golden Age crime writers, such as Dorothy L. Sayers, Margery Allingham and Ngaio Marsh.

Are there any particular types of crime fiction or subgenres that you prefer to read and why?

These days I enjoy contemporary crime novels. I love learning about new places and cultures, so anything with a strong sense of place is particularly interesting.  I love Scottish noir and Scandi noir, one of my favourite Scandi authors being Karin Fossum, who can bring out the pathos of a crime like no one else. I’ve recently discovered the Jungle Beat series, by John Enright, set in Samoa, and the Edie Kiglatuk series, set in the Arctic Circle, by M.J McGrath. Both of these series have taught me a great deal about their respective settings and I enjoy anything that really immerses me in a whole other world!

If you had to choose only one series or only one author to take with you to a deserted island, whom would you choose?

Only one! Well, it would have to be a prolific author, to keep me occupied. I think it would be a toss up between James L. Burke and his Robicheaux series, set in and around New Orleans, and Louise Penny and the Inspector Gamache series, set in the intriguing Canadian village of Three Pines. Both are a series of long, extremely well-written books with many layers, all of which can stand re-reading.

MelbooksWhat are you forward to reading in the near future?

That’s an easy one to answer, as we have a long weekend coming up here in Melbourne, and I have been keeping a book to savour over the weekend. It’s ‘The Dying Beach’ by Angela Savage, set in Thailand in the 90’s and featuring PI Jayne Keeney. This is the third book so far in this witty and clever series, and I’m really looking forward to reading it over our Cup weekend.

Outside your criminal reading pursuits, what author/series/book/genre do you find yourself regularly recommending to your friends?

One book which made a huge impression on me is ‘Elemental’ by Amanda Curtin, an Australian author. A beautiful, lyrical book, it tells the story of ‘Fish Meggie’, her upbringing at the beginning of the twentieth century in Scotland, and her subsequent move to Australia. As a work of historical fiction, it’s very different to my usual fare of crime novels and I’d encourage anyone reading this blog to take a look at it!

Thank you for your excellent recommendations, Mel! I’m also a fan of exotic settings both north and south. Angela Savage and James Lee Burke are two authors that I am ashamed to say I haven’t read yet, but will certainly follow up with them (you are not the first to highly recommend them). As always, my TBR list is the biggest victim of this interview series. What do you think of Mel’s choices – have you read any or all of them?

For previous participants in this series, please look here. And please, please, please do not hesitate to let me know if you are passionate about crime fiction of any description and would like to take part. 

 

What Got You Hooked on Crime, Mrs Peabody?

It’s been a while since I last had the pleasure of interviewing some of my favourite book bloggers about their criminally good reading habits. So it’s doubly delightful to welcome the very well-read and thoughtful Mrs. Peabody to my blog today. Mrs. Peabody is the pseudonym of British academic Katharina Hall, Associate Professor of German at Swansea University and fellow international crime fiction lover. Her blog is a constant source of information and delight. She has also been featured on the Radio 4 series on European fictional detectives ‘Foreign Bodies’ (a series I keep referring to all the time).

Marina Sofia interview photo (1)How did you get hooked on crime fiction?

Like many fans of the genre, I discovered crime fiction as a teenager through family copies of Agatha Christie novels. I remember loving the clever solutions to The Murder of Dr. AckroydMurder on the Nile and Murder on the Orient Express, and still have a soft spot for her work. Those were followed by an encounter with John D. MacDonald’s macho ‘Travis McGee’ novels, whose more worldly content was an eye-opener, although their gender stereotyping annoyed me even then.

After that, there was a bit of a gap. I studied English and German at university, and spent the first decade of my academic career focusing on ‘high’ literature – although I can see with hindsight that I was often drawn to authors who played with crime conventions, such as Thomas Pynchon and Günter Grass. My friend and former colleague Barbara takes the credit for my full conversion to crime. A few years ago she found a German crime novel at the back of a store cupboard at work, and passed it on to me. It was Self’s Punishment by Bernhard Schlink, author of the international best-seller The Reader, and featured a detective who was a former Nazi. That’s when I started thinking about representations of National Socialism and its post-war legacies in crime fiction, and became properly hooked. I’ve been reading and researching international crime fiction ever since, and set up the ‘Mrs. Peabody Investigates’ blog in 2011.

Are there any particular types of crime fiction or subgenres that you prefer to read and why?

I love all kinds of crime, from cosies through to historical crime fiction and noir, but will always favour quality, intelligent crime fiction that’s free from gratuitous/misogynist violence. I have a particular weakness for the following:
 
a) Scandinavian police procedurals by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö (Sweden), Jan Costin Wagner (Germany/Finland), Henning Mankell (Sweden), Håkan Nesser (Norway), Leif G.W. Persson (Sweden) and ArnaldurIndriðason (Iceland). And of course TV police dramas such as The Killing. These intelligent, socially-engaged crime narratives have finely drawn protagonists and absorbing plots. I adore them!
 
b) Off-the-wall hybrid novels that fuse crime genre conventions with those of sci-fi or apocalypse literature, or with literary forms such as satire. Examples include Ioanna Bourazopoulou’s What Lot’s Wife Saw (Greece), Hugh Howey’s Wool (USA)Ingrid Noll’s The Pharmacist (Germany), Ben Winters’ The Last Policeman (USA) and Simon Urban’s Plan D (Germany)I love these kinds of crime narratives because they’re hugely original, thought-provoking and enjoyable. They push the boundaries of crime fiction in highly creative ways and show just how flexible the genre can be.  
 
c) Crime narratives featuring strong, interesting female protagonists, such as Gillian Flynn’s Dark Places (USA), Elly Griffiths’ ‘Ruth Galloway’ series, Peter Høeg’s Smilla’s Sense of Snow (Denmark), Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy (Sweden), M.J. McGrath’s ‘Edie Kiglatuk’ series (UK/Arctic) and Daniel Woodrill’s Winter’s Bone (USA), as well as the TV dramas Cagney and Lacey (USA), The Killing (Norway), Top of the Lake (New Zealand) and Happy Valley (UK). They show women fighting the good fight in an unequal world and celebrate their abilities, courage and determination. What’s not to like?
 
d) Crime trilogies or quartets, by which I mean a set of three or four novels that create a mind-bogglingly intricate literary universe through their characters, settings and themes (as distinct from longer, more diverse series). I’m thinking here of David Peace’s ‘Yorkshire Noir’ quartet (UK), Leif G.W. Persson’s Decline of the Welfare State’ trilogy (Sweden) and Andrew Taylor’s ‘Roth Trilogy’ (UK). I admire these authors for taking crime fiction to a new level and for providing us with an utterly engrossing reading experience.
What is the most memorable book you have read recently?

Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites, the impressive debut novel of a young Australian author who spent time in Iceland as an exchange student: she describes it as her ‘dark love letter’ to the country. Set in northern Iceland in 1829, it explores the case of Agnes Magnúsdóttir, the last woman to be executed there for murder. The figure of ‘the murderess’ tells us a lot about the gender, class and power relations of the time, and the picture the author paints of every-day, rural Icelandic life is fascinating. The story, setting and their links to the Icelandic sagas have stayed with me since I finished it a few days ago.

If you had to choose only one series or only one author to take with you to a deserted island, whom would you choose?

Such a difficult choice! At the moment, I think it would be Leif G.W. Persson’s ‘Decline of the Welfare State’ trilogy: Between Summer’s Longing and Winter’s End (2002), Another Time, Another Life (2003) and Free Falling, as in a Dream (2007; about to be published in the UK). Collectively, these explore Sweden’s big, unsolved crime – the 1986 assassination of prime minister Olof Palme – against the backdrop of twentieth-century Swedish, European and Cold War history, with a cast of beautifully complex characters and highly compelling narratives. They have a wonderful streak of black humour too, which I suspect I’ll need on a deserted island… When I start talking to myself, I can adopt Johansson’s ironic catch-phrase ‘I’m listening…’. Crucially, they’re extremely long and are the kind of novel you could read repeatedly without tiring of them.

What are you looking forward to reading in the near future?

Here’s a small selection of the books I’m keen to read: D.A. Mishani’s Possibility of Violence (the second in the Israeli Avraham series), Natsuo Kirino’s Out (and more Japanese crime fiction by women in general), Jaume Cabré’s Confessions (a Catalan bestseller with elements of crime), Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries (New Zealand Booker winner drawing on crime conventions), and Patrick Modiano’s Missing Person (a 1970s crime novel by the French 2014 Nobel Prize for Literature winner). I’ve made peace with the fact that there are too many crime novels out there for me to possibly get through. I’ll simply plod on as best I can and enjoy the one I have in front of me in the here and now.

The-Spirit-LevelOutside your criminal reading pursuits, what author/series/book/genre do you find yourself regularly recommending to your friends?
At the moment, it’s Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett’s meticulously researched and highly readable The Spirit Level, which uses data from studies all around the world to show how social equality creates a better society for everyone, using indicators such as health, life expectancy, educational performance, teenage pregnancies and crime. The sections on crime are particularly fascinating: the authors describe social inequality as a form of ‘structural violence’ which in turn breeds actual violence – data shows that homicide rates are consistently higher in unequal countries. The book is hugely pertinent for us all, and should be a compulsory read for every politician!
 
What an intriguing list of authors, some well-loved by me and some completely new to me (that’s what I love about doing this series – it opens up worlds)! What do you think of Mrs Peabody’s recommendations – which of them have you read and what did you think of them?

For previous participants in the series, just follow this link. If you would like to take part, please let me know via the comments or on Twitter – we always love to hear about other people’s criminal passions!

Comparing Reading Cultures

www.whytoread.com
http://www.whytoread.com

Every three years or so the literary magazine Livres Hebdo  in France does an IPSOS survey of not just its readers, but the wider French reading public. The latest edition of this survey (April 2014) reveals that reading remains the second favourite leisure activity of the French (after ‘going out with friends’). 7 out of 10 French read at least one book a month and about half of them claim to read every day.

However, e-readers have not made that much of an inroad yet into French reading habits. Its popularity has grown only by 3% in the last three years.

And what are the favourite genres? Crime fiction (known as ‘polars’) tops the list, unsurprisingly, followed by spy thrillers, self-help books and historical essays/biographies.

So, are there any causes for concern? Well, the French admit that reading does seem to be a pastime associated with the middle classes, the better-educated and economically better off. This finding holds true in the survey of reading habits in England commissioned by Booktrust UK. In fact, there has been talk in Britain of a ‘class division’ in reading culture, with a clear link between deprivation and lack of reading enjoyment.

But perhaps the English are further down the road of using digital media to do their reading. In England 18% of people never read any physical books, while 71% never read any e-books. A quarter prefer internet and social media to books, nearly half prefer TV and DVDs to books. Only 28% of people in England (and I think it’s important to point out that this data is only for England, not for the UK as a whole) read books nearly every day, so considerably lower than in France. Fitting in nicely with the stereotype of ‘highbrow French’ reading books with boring covers and impenetrable titles?

DSCN6650Worldwide surveys of reading habits do tend to confirm somewhat national stereotypes. Self-help books are popular in the US, while in the UK there is a marked preference for celebrity autobiographies and TV chefs. The Germans, meanwhile, prefer travel/outdoor/environmental books, while the French, Romanians, Italians seem to prefer fiction.

But the most interesting result may be found in Spain. Once the nation that read fewer books than any other in Europe, since the recession hit the country so hard, it seems that books have become that affordable luxury and has led to 57% of the population reading regularly. It has also become one of the biggest book-producing nations, bucking all the publishing trends. And what do they prefer reading? A very interesting mix of Spanish-speaking writers (including South Americans) and translations from other languages.

And what are we to make of a 2011 study from the University of Gothenburg showing that increased use of computers in children’s homes in the US and Sweden have led to poorer reading skills as well as less pleasure derived from reading?

At the risk of preaching to the converted, I leave you with a conclusion which has been replicated in multiple studies around the world and which refers to leisure-time reading (of whatever description):

People who read books are significantly more likely to be happy and content with their life.