I’m reading a lot of fiction at the moment and this, for me, is odd. I tend to read a lot of non-fiction, particularly biographies. I have a slight penchant for dead queens and Hollywood starlets of the Golden Age. (I also tend to like my subjects tragic and glamorous. Not sure why; I’m sure there’s something in it. Marie Antoinette and Jean Harlow are favourites.) Anyway, I’m trying to write some fiction of my own and, alongside factual research, I’m reading lots of fiction.
I read about 55 books a year, roughly, and I have a book that I list the titles of what I read. I also tend to have two books on the go: a paperback to read in the bath and either a hardback or a book on the Kindle. At the moment, the ‘bath’ book is When God was a Rabbit and the book on my Kindle is The Night Circus. I’m not fully immersed in either, to be honest. I find that a lot of writers write children badly- they are too precocious or too adult in the way they speak- and I’m having problems with this in both books. I’m also finding that The Night Circus is a book that would much rather be a film by Tim Burton than a novel. It’s highly stylised and I’m sure it will make a beautiful film, but I can’t ‘settle’ into it as a book. It’s odd, but I can’t explain it any better! I also don’t like that it’s written in present tense, but set in the past.
I think because I read so much non-fiction, I find the unpredictability of fiction difficult. If I pick up a biography, I know that the subject will more than likely die at the end and I’m interested in the person enough to pick up a book about them in the first place. Compared to this, fiction is more of a gamble.
What’s really odd is that as a child, I was a voracious reader of fiction. Non-fiction didn’t interest me in the slightest, apart from Anne Frank’s Diary and books about pets I was soon to acquire. Like one of my all-time favourite characters, Matilda, I quickly read most of the children’s fiction section (that I was interested in) in the library that we visited and moved onto to adult books at quite a young age. I wasn’t precocious, I was just curious. And Matilda was a role model of sorts, as she spoke like a real child. A telepathic, genius child who enjoyed reading Steinbeck at the age of six perhaps, but still a kid.
So, what’s changed in me that I dislike fiction so much? Do I need to retrain my brain? Am I lazy? I dislike the uncertainty of fiction, especially when very little is written in the blurb. I’m tired, I need something I can read easily (a lot of non-fiction is not easy reading though.) I also think my training as a writer of non-fiction is to blame; you read and write so much of it that it becomes second nature. Is there something wrong with me? Can I, and should I, do something to change my reading habits? I’ve also not read a great deal of ‘classic’ fiction- I’m not a fan of Austen, I find Dickens too long winded and I much prefer Emily and Anne to Charlotte Bronte. I feel like a fraud of an English teacher.
This year, I’ve also read Revolutionary Road, which is pretty depressing and claustrophobic (but the film is surprisingly faithful to the book) and The Night Watch by Sarah Waters, which has led me to fall head over heels with her work- I’ve not wanted to read so much of an author since I discovered Roald Dahl aged six. I enjoyed the complex narrative and found it fairly easy to get hooked into the story, despite the story working backwards. Strangely, I didn’t hate this.
So, I suppose I need to give fiction more of a chance to ‘settle’ before judging it and to accept that there is good fiction and bad fiction and that by reading both, I’ll hopefully discover a style I like that I can write in myself. If there are any suggestions for what I should read, give me a shout!