First and foremost, thank you all for your good wishes and for you kind comments to The Bears. They would like you to know that CAKE has been postponed to Saturday, which is also a special day in our household, and that there is a fair chance that there might be some on Sunday as well. We would invite you all round but I’m not sure that their good nature extends to the sharing of cake!
In fact, they have been extra specially kind and loving Bears over this past weekend because my goddaughter, who has grown up telling them all her secrets and bringing them all her sorrows to be mended, found out on Saturday that one of her closest friends had been killed in the Malaysian Airways crash. As you can imagine she has been distraught, the more so because it is the first time that one of her contemporaries has died and I’m sure we can all remember what it was like when we first had our own mortality thrust into our consciousness. In the face of such senseless destruction there is little of any use that you can say. Perhaps that is why The Bears have been such a comfort; they do know when to keep quiet and just be available to be hugged.
Thank you as well, for your suggestions as to what I might read while I was laid low. A number of you mentioned audio books but as I was having problems concentrating they didn’t work because it is so difficult to go back over anything you may have missed while your mind has been wandering or you’ve dropped off to sleep for a couple of vital pages. In the end, knowing that a new trilogy was just about to begin, I picked up the last two volumes of Robin Hobb’s The Tawny Man sequence so that when Fool’s Assassin became available I would able to read straight on. In doing so I realised just how long it is since I read any adult fantasy and yet at one time it was my major source of relaxing reading. I know I was still reading it when my younger goddaughter (who has just left primary school – where did those years go?) was born because her mother borrowed and read the entire Katharine Kerr series while she was pregnant, but somewhere in between it has been replaced by crime fiction, in particular, the police procedural.
This brought to mind a piece by John Sutherland that I was reading last week in which he discusses the phenomenon of genre fiction.
Readerships and bookshops have always played a decisive role in the emergence and mutations of a genre. Readers tend to be genre-loyal (‘addicted’ might be a better word) – and voracious. It is estimated, for example, that sf fans, who tend to be young, male and college educated, will consume up to a dozen titles a month – burning up the new book shelves.
It was the word addicted that resonated with me because I think that was true of my own behaviour in my fantasy reading days and might equally be applied to my consumption of crime fiction now. I like the term because it implies that there is something unhealthy about the mono-diet that such reading habits suggest and I know that when I have really over indulged my brain begins to feel fugged and I have to force myself to read something different to (and I am aware of the irony) awaken the little grey cells again.
Perhaps Sutherland lights on the reason for this when he writes about women’s popular romance.
It is the peculiarity of women’s popular romance that it likes a high degree of plot repetition between novels – with only small variations. The imprint websites nowadays have rules to be followed as regards narrative formulae. Nurse Smith finds true love with Dr Brown, Nurse Brown finds true love with Dr Smith. My grandmother, who was addicted to ‘romances’ borrowed, or sometimes nicked, from her twopenny library, would put a cross … on the flyleafs of the novels she had read, to spare herself the waste of reading them again.
His grandmother was not alone. You can certainly find a wide range of such identifying marks on the inside back covers of the Mills and Boon publications in any of my local libraries. But it is that fact of repetition that I find really interesting. As a teacher I knew that for many children it was the repetitive nature of Enid Blyton’s plots that kept them coming back for more. And, where some of them were concerned, I encouraged that. If they were still in the process of becoming a confident, independent reader then having their expectations met meant that they were likely to feel that reading was something they could succeed at and consequently an activity to which they would return. It was also my job, however, to recognise the moment when that support was becoming the crutch of addiction and gradually begin to feed them other material, weening them away from the repetitive grooves that they might otherwise never be able to get out of.
For ultimately, addiction is bad for us. It prevents us from thinking for ourselves. I was talking to a student the other day who had taken a year out between her Masters and Doctoral studies and who was bemoaning the fact that in that twelve months she had read nothing but crime fiction and now was finding the discipline needed to read anything that demanded she react to it as an individual piece of work rather than as an example of a known pattern very hard to re-establish. And, I know what she means. If it wasn’t for the fact that I have to read other people’s selections for the book groups to which I belong I think I could very easily fall into that same trap. There is nothing wrong with a good dose of genre fiction every now and again, but when it becomes the sole item on the reading menu then the spectre of addiction rears its head and, I think, needs seeing to before it becomes a habit you can’t break.