Monday, 23 July 2012

Why Read?

Reader Beryl asked a rather tough question a while back: 

"What makes you add a book to your reading list?"

I don't think I've ever made that much of a conscious decision about why I will or won't read a book.  I grew up reading, in a reading family.  I read almost like other people eat or breathe.  I do know that my tastes have changed from children's books (though I do sometimes still enjoy them) to historical romances (some of which sadly were those silly bodice rippers), to mystery novels and non-fiction (how-to books) and other types of historical novel.  Lately I've been into biographies (of women, mostly), history and social history as well. 

So how do I chose books to read?  There are loads of reasons why I might select a book:

I enjoyed another (or several) books by the same author (Dick Francis, Geraldine Brooks).

It's about a character I like (Peter Wimsey, Phryne Fisher).

It is set in a time period I find intriguing.  This can be generally anything in the last two millenia, though present day settings don't often make the cut unless it relates in some way to the past.  Most of all I love the inter-war period, largely because of the romanticised notion of the upper class lifestyle.

It's about a person who intrigues me.   I have zipped through biographies of celebrities and nobs, but some of the most interesting biographies for me are those of women writers from the inter-war period, like Margery Allingham and Vera Brittain.  I think it was Brittain's Testament of Youth that brought home to me the impact of the First World War, both on individuals and society.

It's set in a place that intriques me.  I read G.M. Trevelyan's English Social History (given to me free) because I wanted to better understand my adopted country.   The Trevelyan family estate being Wallington Hall in Northumberland he also shed a great light on events more specific to this area, which I much enjoyed.  I'm currently plowing through The Seven Ages of Paris and trying to fit together what I know about English and American history alongside what it reports.  I keep meaning to re-read Shadow of the Wind to remind me of Barcelona.

It teaches something I'd like to learn to do.  Reading The Tightwad Gazette newsletters made me aware of how many things I could usefully learn to do for myself, like cook or sew.  I'm still much better at the former than the latter, but I've read books about pressing flowers, gardening, home decorating, all sorts of crafts, how to unclutter (Bill still laughs when he encounters that title), not to mention How to Live without A Salary, and How to Live on Practically Nothing and the like.

Someone recommends it to me.  I trust my sister-in-law Jane's taste in books; she's not steered me wrong yet.  Hazel, a lady in the sewing group saw me at the community centre book sale and recommended The Island by Victoria Hislop.  For 50 pence I took a risk and she was right; I really did enjoy it, not least because Bill and I have seen Spinalonga.

It's an old friend that comforts me.  I've read Mom's collection of Dick Francis probably fifty times over the years.  The books he published after 1990 I can't share with her, but I love them all the same.  Louisa May Alcott's books and all the Harry Potter's are very much along these lines.  

Off the top of my head, this list pretty much explains why I might choose a book.  Why do you choose the books you read? 


Beryl said...

Thanks for your reasons. They are pretty similar to mine. I also read some books just so I will know what everyone else is talking about.

Anonymous said...

Hm, I'm often influenced by a friend's recommendation OR by a good review. My favorite kind of book is a historical travelogue OR those by non-Americans visiting the states.

LR @ Magnificent or Egregious said...

Great reasons Shelley, I love biographies and design books right now. Sometimes I'll go by recommendations too.

Shelley said...

Beryl - I'm always last to the party! I keep thinking I need to join a book club, but I'm not prepared to buy the books they read, so I'd have to be able to get them at the library.

Terri - I'm not aware of having ever read either an historical travelogue or a travel book written by non-Americans visiting the States. The closest I can come to that is Bill Bryson's Notes from a Big Country. Must think about this some more.