Five Questions: Reading Matters
1. Why do you blog?
I initially started my reading blog as a means of keeping track of the books I had read. It was simply an online extension of something I’d been doing in a notebook since 1991.
But last summer I decided to experiment a little, and started writing other book-related posts, not just reviews. I even introduced an online reading group, which has given me a focus for my own reading and hopefully encouraged a few others to read something they may not have considered until I brought it to their attention.
I don’t have a degree in English literature and I don’t work in the book trade, so my blog isn’t particularly highbrow. For instance, I don’t write lengthy posts about literary theories or particular genres, because other bloggers do that so much better than me. But I love books and reading, so the blog is about sharing my enthusiasm with equally enthusiastic readers.
What’s more, as a professional print journalist who has spent her working life having to abide by space constraints, time pressures and budgets, I love the freedom of writing whatever I want without the pressure of deadlines! I love the immediacy of the publishing process and the fact that readers can interact and leave comments straight away. Not only is it great to have a constant stream of feedback, I love finding out things from my readers, such as good books to read or authors to try. (Although this is also a little negative: my wish-list has tripled in the past 12 months, simply through recommendations I’ve noted from the comments left on my blog!)
This to me is the real beauty of blogging: the interaction with readers and the feeling of community that it generates. Through my blog I have met an incredibly diverse and interesting bunch of people from across the globe, something that continues to amaze and delight me.
2. Which author and/or book has most influenced you?
Over the course of my reading life I have fallen in love with many different authors and books, but the one that stands out above all else is George Johnston’s My Brother Jack. This Australian classic won the Miles Franklin Award in 1964 but is not much known outside of Australia.
Johnston, who died in 1970, was a war correspondent turned novelist who emigrated to the UK and then later Greece. This book is semi-autobiographical (aren’t they all?) and is about two brothers who grow up in suburban Melbourne between World I and II. The elder brother, Jack Meredith, is the epitome of the macho Aussie male who is full of bravado and wants nothing more than to fight for his country, while David, the narrator, is more introverted, unsure of himself and lacks self esteem. Ironically, it is David who gets to see the front line as a celebrated war correspondent while Jack, through one misfortune after another, never passes his army medical.
As a person who never re-reads books (there’s too many other unread tomes to make my way through), I have made an exception for this one and have read it several times now. Strangely it becomes more enjoyable – and more profound – with each reading. I first read it as a teenager (it was on my school syllabus), then again in my twenties and more recently in my thirties. I particularly identify with the narrator, because he is a journalist who becomes an expat Australian, which is kind of the story of my life too.
This book has been described as a quintessential Australian novel which explores two Australian myths, that of the man who loses his soul as he gains worldly success, and that of tough, honest, Aussie battler, whose greatest ambition is to serve his country. But the reason I love it is because it is such a powerful read about a man struggling to come to terms with his own sense of self and sense of country at a time when such things were not discussed. The prose, too, is wonderfully evocative of another time and era, and it’s always refreshing to read about your homeland when the book world is dominated by Northern Hemisphere writers.
3. Which three blogs do you most visit?
Have you seen my blog roll? Honestly, it’s the longest in history. And I’d be loathe to single out “favourites”. But if you were to ask me which three websites I visit most I would say Google, BBC News and The Age (Melbourne’s daily newspaper).
4. Why do you read fiction?
I read novels primarily for entertainment purposes, but to also learn something about the world and the human condition. I particularly like the darker side of fiction (and non-fiction) because I’m interested in what makes people do bad things to other people; what motivates them to commit crimes or violent acts? I’m also fascinated by smaller misdemeanors – affairs of the heart and so on – and how ordinary people behave when confronted by extraordinary circumstances.
5. What makes you laugh?
I could say dirty jokes and seeing people slipping on banana skins, but I won’t. Instead I’ll mention an episode of Black Books – my favourite TV show – called The Grapes of Wrath in which the wonderfully depressed and dishevelled bookstore owner Bernard (played by Dylan Moran) and his kooky assistant Manny (Bill Bailey) house-sit for a friend. In the wine-filled cellar lie 10 priceless bottles of plonk and – you guessed it – Bernard and Manny end up having the most expensive drinking binge you’ll ever see! Throughout the episode there are some very funny literary references, including Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, which are uproariously funny – even if you have seen the episode a dozen times as I have done!
Kimbofo blogs at Reading Matters, which can be found here: http://kimbofo.typepad.com/readingmatters/