Random Musings: Why I read

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Why do we choose to read books? Perhaps we wish to learn, to gain empathy, to escape. As a reader it is possible to climb inside the pages of a book and imagine ourselves living a different life in a place beyond our dreams. There we may find love, become somebody elses hero, enjoy the adulation that will never be experienced in reality.

I have read that when the ‘Grey’ books were first published they proved particularly popular amongst middle aged women. There was speculation that these readers wished to live out fantasies when their own sexual lives had gone stale. Despite being a member of this demographic the phenomenon is beyond my comprehension. Having watched the film (I have not read the books) I cannot understand why anyone would desire such experiences.

I understand that desires are as individual as each person and would not wish to limit or condemn whatever others choose to read. When I am offered books to review I will always state that I do not enjoy romances. I try to avoid stories which involve a woman requiring a man for fulfilment, or a man using a woman as arm candy and to service his physical cravings.

A romantic plot thread can be written with depth, humour and originality without descending into lengthy detail. As ‘Pride and Prejudice’ demonstrates, suggestion can be a powerful device. My antipathy is not towards the background to a mutual attraction but towards the reason for the intimacy and the way it is described. I have written of my dislike of gratuitous detail before, here.

Yet this was not always how I felt. When I was in my late teens I devoured easy to read romances by the dozen. Through my twenties I read books involving peril and rescue which often ended with the handsome hero taking his beautiful conquest to bed. The stories have not changed but I have. My life experiences have darkened my views and I now look at that couple and extrapolate their future. In my eyes, happy ever after is Icarus before his fall.

If books are an escape from reality then perhaps our choice of book reflects the place to which we each wish to travel in our dreams. Some look for the heady excitement of a new romance. As a mother of teenagers I fantasise about being held in some regard rather than contempt.

I enjoy books involving strong characters who can hold their own against attacks on their being, to read of relationships founded on mutual respect rather than outward beauty. My heroes can stand alone against the world; they do not require another for fulfilment. When their life presents a trial they do not blame others or look to them for a fix. They appreciate their moments of happiness but can move on.

Books offer a window to the world and I choose to avoid voyeurism. I seek out varied settings that I may expand my learning of other cultures, the characters thoughts enabling me to empathise with why people think as they do.

I read more fiction than non fiction because I also wish to be entertained, to immerse myself in a story as if I were there. I rarely travel and have few people interested in conversing with me so perhaps this is my way of experiencing life.

What do you choose to read and why?

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: Tokyo

TOKYO_FINAL_ARTWORK_1602 for print

Tokyo, by Nicholas Hogg, is a story of loss and of the anchors that are grasped when a life is cast adrift. The writing demanded pauses for appreciation. It was a pleasure to read.

Social psychologist Ben Monroe studies group behaviour: the power of community, an individual’s desire to fit in, the benefits and drawbacks of crowd co-operation, and cults. Through his interest in the latter he meets his wife, Lydia. She is a strong willed woman who dismisses her husband when their toddler daughter, Mazzy, nearly drowns whilst in his care. However much Lydia may blame Ben for his momentary lapse it is nothing compared to the blame he heaps on himself.

Rejected by Lydia, Ben leaves her and Mazzy in California, traveling first to England and from there on to Japan. Whilst exploring this teeming yet fragile country he meets a beautiful young woman, Kozue, with whom he has a brief affair. Conflating good sex with love he struggles to forget her when he returns to England:

“this woman could bring me back to life”

Ben writes a book which will make his academic name and is subsequently offered the chance to return to Tokyo as a visiting professor. He persuades Lydia that Mazzy, now aged fifteen, would benefit by joining him there for six months. On her flight out she meets a young Japanese man, Koji. They speak only briefly but, unbeknownst to Mazzy, Koji becomes obsessed with her. It is not his first obsession.

Ben struggles to see his daughter as the beautiful young woman she is becoming. In trying to deal with his superficial perception he misses that underneath she still needs care. He takes to leaving her to pursue his will-o’-the-wisp of Kozue, a distraction that, once again, puts Mazzy in danger.

The style in which this book is written reminds me of Japanese authors I have read with its slightly surreal plot development and imagery. Characters are introduced but remain opaque. The reader is offered only glimpses of their depth, shadows emerging briefly as from behind the paper screen doors of the houses in which they live. Suggestion is powerful and no more is needed.

Japan is brought to life. I loved the observations on the irrelevance of so much that is valued by man:

“The earth moved […] oblivious to the act played out upon its surface”

When Ben visits the Fukushima exclusion zone he observes:

“In a shopping arcade grass shoots up from the steps of an escalator. How quickly the earth reclaims its space from our feeble endeavours.”

From “the safest country in the world”, despite the earthquakes, tsunamis and radiation, the descriptions of Japan darken as the tale progresses. The historical sex trade, where the geishas have morphed into hostesses, is explored alongside the attendant drugs and extortion. As the tension builds this distasteful side of Tokyo is offered up in contrast to the previously lauded order and honesty.

The plot of this story is compelling but it is the psyches of the protagonists that drew me in. The author captures the weaknesses of the middle aged man, the truculent teenager, and the let down wife with brutal honesty. He also takes the reader inside Japan, a country that I have never visited but, having read this book, feel I now know just that little bit better.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Cargo.