Tuesday 31 December 2013

What reading is...

Many of us will never have a conversation with a friend or lover that's as intimate as those we've had with the books in our lives.

There are few opportunities to open ourselves as deeply as that provided by a book that hits just so. I can say things on a page that would never leave my mouth. I can take from someone else's pages things that I would otherwise never have had in my life.

I don't claim any great art but if you've read my books it's likely that there are moments between those covers that meant something to both of us. And with the classics of literature there are passages that echo through generations.

With a film we get the creator's vision, but generally the broadest brush strokes of it, fed to us through the committee of professionals who constructed it on the screen. Films can be powerful, beautiful, moving, but in the end they're the work of a team.

A book is the closest you can get to touching another person's imagination. It's a singular relationship between the reader and an author just a keystroke away on the other side of the page.

It's a sadness that so many people don't find the time to read in these days of iPhones and Facebook, streaming movies and multi-player console games. I know I'm starting to sound like a white-haired old-folk complaining about the young-folk in between yelling at them to get off my lawn ... but I am (although aging) a child of the computer era - or at least a teenager of it, and perhaps a child of the books and Lego era.

It's not so much that I regret the lost sales ... though of course I do :)    It's more that a world in which those private, silent, variously deep or funny or thrilling, conversations that take place between a reader and a writer - on buses, trains, in living rooms, bedrooms, at the kitchen table, hell even on the toilet... a world in which those conversations grow fewer, in which 'you read' becomes an oddity, an accusation even... such a world seems less colourful to me, more homogenized.

Connecting us all together is a great thing, with a million potential ups, but one potential down is simply the standardizing of taste. If we all watch the same 100 multi-million dollar films, if we all play the same 100 block buster games ... we've lost something of the diversity and brilliance that 100,000 books bring to the stage. Books are one of the last cottage industries. One author, unconstrained, throwing their thoughts and imagination at the page. Their readers numbered in hundreds, thousands, sometimes tens of thousands, more rarely hundreds of thousands. All those conversations going on... keeping the world full of magic.

The year's page turns from 13 to 14 tonight. I hope our book pages keep turning as long as there are years to count.

Have a HAPPY


  1. This is such a powerful post. No matter how stellar Jorg could be portrayed on the big screen they would never be able to capture his inner turmoil the way that the book does. Hats off to you Mark, and wishing you a wonderful 2014.

  2. Happy New Year man!!! Great post - you hit all nails (as always). You made this year that tiny bit better for me. Hours spend in Jorg world I count among best hours this year. I'm sure Prince of Fools is going to be just as good (or better).
    Wish you fat sales, less trouble, and more brilliant ideas.

  3. Happy New Year, Mark.

    Reading is an investment that can pay enormous dividends. But you have to be willing to make that investment.

  4. Happy New Year to you, too, Mark.

    My husband just read somewhere (on the net, of course) that most college graduates go on to read only one book. One book!

    It is both sad, and probably inevitable, but for my part, at least, I'll keep reading (and reading your work) until the day I die (we'll have to hope that is far far into the future). ;)

  5. Brilliant - I loved this piece. You're so right about the connection between reader and author - even if it's only in the reader's mind when they pick up a book. Just sometimes you read something and it really does feel quite personal, as though that comment was written with you in mind. That's what makes books so unique I suppose. that everyone takes something different from them.
    Hope you have a fantastic 2014 and already looking forward to your next book (which I've even preordered!)
    Lynn :D

  6. This, a thousand times this. I forget who said that the man who doesn't read only lives one lives, but the reader can live a thousand. My life has been enriched beyond measure by the pages that I have perused, the characters who I've let rent out my head space for a days, weeks and sometimes years. In our microwave, 140 character culture, people who read voraciously are an oddity. But we odd folks are still at the forefront of our culture, ahead of the curve as we see these characters we know and love adapted and spread to those who we hope will crack the pages of those beloved sources. A Happy New Year to you and yours, Sir. Thanks for this, it was just what I needed.

  7. Here Here to you Mark for this wonderful, timely, timeless post. Every parent, teacher, friend, mentor that gives a child the gift of the love of reading makes this world a better place. And those of you brave enough to share with the world your gift of storytelling make the world brighter.
    Happy New Year!!!

  8. I lament a humanity without words. I have always read voraciously (thanks to my father), however the last ten years or so I've worked 100-120 hours a week and about a year ago I came to realise that I hadn't read a novel, any kind of fiction, for almost five years. It shocked me.
    So repulsed was I that I made it mandatory for myself to spend at least an hour a night reading fiction.
    Pretty soon I was reading 4-5 novels a week (not my old volume, but adequate). I even began writing again myself - in some small fashion.
    Importantly, the reading has made an appreciable difference to my demeanour, my ability to think laterally (I am a commercial negotiator), and my general situational enjoyment. I had not realised just how dulled my senses had become around the edges.
    The words of which you speak are not only in and of themselves of substance in the immediate sense, but they lubricate the mind and provide a catalyst for for further thought - a cascade effect.
    Without this, and given the growing pressure and demands of work and society in general, it is all too easy to become, at the sharp end, a monochrome drone - with the imagination and lateral capabilities to match.
    So then here's to words: to those who pen them, and those who read and savour them. I hope we don't do to ourselves as a race, what various despots have tried to do by force, and turn ourselves into bland utilitarian sheep with no imagination - and no time for imagination.
    I have hope however. I bought novels for my all my nephews and nieces at Christmas. They have all already finished the books and have been badgering their parents (and me) to get them more - each saying how the respective author knows exactly what they are thinking - that they 'connect'. These are all teenagers - and even they had forgotten what it was like to just read.
    So please keep writing and we'll keep reading - and we'll all be the richer, saner and closer for it.
    Here's to a great 2014

  9. Whenever a kid asks me why do I read, I tell them: for the story. Not to criticise movies or even videogames ( I'm an avid gamer myself and believe strongly in the medium's potential for strong story-telling), but, as you've said, those are the products of a team, with multimillion budgets and sales expectations to match. A book, even though it goes through editors and is still a commercial product that has to turn a profit, operates in a completely different scale. No other medium has the same potential for original and provocative narratives, and the broken empire trilogy is a perfect example of that.

    Not to mention the other elements of a book, the beauty and power of the written word, the silent conversation between the pages and the reader, but for me the story remains the first and foremost reason to read, and books deliver the very best.