The 26-week challenge – an interlude

When I first started this amended challenge I said that there were questions I was not going to answer for various reasons. Over the past weeks, however, I have mulled them over and come to the conclusion that while I will not actually answer any of those questions, there is merit in discussing exactly why I won’t do so, since in many cases this touches on my feelings about books in general. This is, therefore, the first interlude to explain why I will not be giving you a book that makes you happy.

The very short reason for why I won’t be doing so is because every good book makes me happy, and I cannot possibly list all the books I have ever read.

Elaborating on this is not all that easy. For all that I spend most of my evenings tapping away on a keyboard these days, my first ever hobby was reading. I went to the library very regularly and always came away with three or four books. At age eight I was reading books intended for children of thirteen and up, and I vividly remember the argument my mother had with the librarian who had the audacity to suggest that maybe those books were a little above my level.

I played with my friends, sure, but I was a painfully shy child, small for my age, and any spare time I had I spent with my nose in a book. My best memories of that time are of the books by a Dutch author called Paul Biegel. His books were magical, fantastical, conjuring up images of strange lands in faraway places, where children had to overcome magical dangers to retrieve a lost loved one – a father or a friend. I’m sure my love of Fantasy was seeded by this wonderful author.

As an aside, I was terribly afraid that my memory of these books was tainted by the fact that I was a child when reading them. I also used to adore Enid Blyton’s Famous Five books, but when I tried to read them as an adult I found them unbearably twee and I couldn’t get past ten pages. Because of this, on a recent trip to the Netherlands, I went to the library and spent a few hours reading one of the books I remembered as a favourite.

It was just as good as I remembered it to be. A children’s book, of course – these books are pitched even before YA level, but the language… Beautiful. Which is saying something, because I personally could not write a book in Dutch. Anyway, as a result I spent four or five hours at the city-wide book market that year, buying every single book I could find by Biegel, since all my old favourites are long out of print. The title shown here, Twaalf Sloeg de Klok, is one of those favourites, and I could not find it. Nor could I find De Zeven Veren van de Papegaai (The seven feathers of the parrot), and I’m still gutted about it. Still, I got about fifteen books, maybe more, and I was over the moon (unlike my poor husband, who had not believed me when I told him I would spend all day at this book market).

What I think I’m trying to say here is that books are magical. They take you away to somewhere else, and make you forget about your own life for a while. That’s not just Fantasy books, by the way. I’m sure that every genre has that magic, as long as you like that genre. I’m not a fan of literary fiction myself, but for those people who love that stuff I’m sure the experience is the same. They transport you, and once you’re done reading you’re not quite the same person you were before.

(I shall add an interlude to this interlude here. I drafted this post yesterday, ready for publication today, because I was going to spend most of my evening at my local branch of Waterstones for An Evening with Robin Hobb. She read a small excerpt of her new book, The Wilful Princess and the Piebald Prince, and then spent the remainder of that hour answering questions from the people there. She is absolutely lovely, and it was wonderful to get some insight into her thought processes and writing habits. She did a booksigning afterwards, and when I mentioned that I’m an aspiring author myself, she wrote a lovely dedication in my book: “Persevere in your writing. It’s the only trick I know.”  It made me squee in delight. Inwardly, thankfully. I maintained my dignity.

I did not, however, maintain my dignity in the gushing fan letter I wrote to Scott Lynch a few weeks ago. I wasn’t really expecting a response; I just wanted to tell him how much I loved his books, but today I got a response from him. His words? “Many, many thanks for one of the kindest notes I’ve ever been sent by a reader.”

That kind of left me speechless, and very, very happy. Today has been amazing. Anyway, back to the main post.)

Now, I’m not saying that every book I ever read was like that, but there have been so, so many… Even if the book has a sad ending, they’ll still make me happy for having read them. And that’s why I won’t give you a book that made me happy. There are too many, and they are the only books you should ever read. If a book bores you, annoys you, baffles you – put it away and read something else. Life’s too short, and there are too many better books out there.

Not that I’ve always followed my own advice, but more on that next week…

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