The joy of books

Yesterday I went out for lunch with some ladies from the village I live in. This is a rare event for me as I am not usually one of the ‘ladies who lunch’. It was good to have the opportunity to chat as I hadn’t seen most of them for several months since I left our Book Group. I had been a member for several years and thought long and hard about my decision to leave. However, life moves on and I needed some time out to sort through the issues in my head and reset my priorities. This is an ongoing process but I am feeling more settled now than I have in some time. Leaving the group was the right decision but it was still good to catch up with a few of the members yesterday. They are a lovely, friendly group of ladies with some strong and interesting views. I enjoyed the conversation we shared over our meal.

One of my greatest pleasures is to read a good book. I enjoy a good film but I love books. I generally prefer fiction to fact, although I do read some history, science and media books. I dislike autobiographies and memoirs, particularly when they promote a modern day celebrity or spin a yarn as truth which is subsequently discredited. My antipathy towards this genre has been challenged by the works of Doris Lessing and Roald Dahl as their memoirs told such interesting stories that they could have been fiction. They did not come across as promoting themselves but rather as telling an interesting tale. Their stories were well written; development of the plot mattered more than the main characters.

When a book that I have enjoyed is made into a film I often avoid watching the adaptation. I do not wish the wonderful images in my head to be spoilt by someone else’s interpretation. I become particularly annoyed when a perfectly good ending is changed, or when a key storyline is ignored. The film of ‘The Time Traveller’s Wife’ was an example of this. It seemed so weak when the book had been so powerful.

There have been adaptations that I have enjoyed, such as ‘The Remains of the Day’. There have also been films that stand up well even if they do not follow every thread and nuance in the book on which they are based, such as ‘The Lord of the Rings’ trilogy. The sheer length of these films allowed much of the key character and plot development to be covered. I still don’t understand why the film changed the detail of Sauruman’s demise but I enjoyed the films despite discrepancies with the book

Adaptations of books for television often give scope for more detailed coverage although the budget may constrain the quality of the finished product. I enjoyed the BBC’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’ right up until the end (why did they have to kiss!?!) and found ‘Cranford’ more engaging than I had the book on my first reading. Having watched the television series I reread the book and enjoyed it more.

My film and television viewing is via DVD so I will generally be watching something well after others have seen it. Last year I bought my son the George R.R. Martin books from the ‘Song of Ice and Fire’ series. My son raved about these books so I decided to get him the television adaptation ‘A Game of Thrones’. I ended up reading the first book on which series one is based at much the same time as watching the show. This was not ideal but I was still impressed with both. I found the television series rather too graphic with it’s nudity and sex scenes but it follows the book closely and is well acted so I put up with my discomfort. With the DVD box set of series two due to go on sale next month I am now reading the second book.

Having read a good book I enjoy discussing it with others which is why I joined a Book Group. Over the years the group introduced me to some excellent books and authors that I may not otherwise have come across. My views of the books we discussed often ran against the general consensus. There were no complaints about this although in the end I was feeling uncomfortable expressing myself. I think this was indicative of my wider malaise at the time.

Books feed my imagination and broaden my experience and understanding. They make me think through issues and question my perspective and principles. I love to discuss a book as each reader is affected by what is written in a different way depending on their views and life experiences. A good book is an escape but also an education. I feel fortunate to have friends who have written books, both published and self published authors. I have the highest regard for these intelligent, fascinating, self deprecating individuals.

What makes a book good is an interesting question. The best seller lists are full of formulaic thrillers, chick lit and soft porn; none of which I enjoy. I want to be challenged and educated by well written prose and original thinking. However, if we all liked the same sorts of books then there wouldn’t be the breadth and depth of choice available and we would have less chance of finding the next, inspiring work. Getting people to read books matters, whatever they choose to read. To quote Haruki Murakami, whose books I have enjoyed: ‘If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.’ Choose carefully what you read, but do it.

Song of Ice and Fire Books