All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Thoughts On: The Innocent Reader by Debra Adelaide

on October 9, 2019

The Innocent Reader: Reflections On Reading & Writing 
Debra Adelaide
Picador
2019, 272p
Copy courtesy Pan Macmillan AUS

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Books are impractical companions and housemates: they are heavy when you are travelling, and in the home take up a lot of space, are hard to keep clean, and harbour insects. It is not a matter of the physical book, it is the deep emotional connection that stretches back to my early years. Living without them is unimaginable. These collected essays share a joyous and plaintive glimpse into the reading and writing life of novelist, editor and teacher of creative writing Debra Adelaide. Every book I have read becomes part of me, and discarding any is like tearing out a page from my own life.

With immediate wit and intimacy, Adelaide explores what shapes us as readers, how books inform, console and broaden our senses of self, and the constant conversation of authors and readers with the rest of their libraries. Drawing from her experiences in the publishing industry, the academic world, her own life and the literary and critical communities, she paints a vibrant portrait of a life lived in and by books, perfect for any student, bibliophile, editor, or simple: reader.

I don’t think I’ve ever really reviewed a collection of essays before. I find short stories difficult to review and tend to avoid reviewing collections for that reason. Funnily enough I think the last lot of short stories I reviewed was also by Debra Adelaide. But I am interested by people who love books as much as I do and I thought I might identify with this specifically as a reader. After all I think most readers have books that they feel influenced their formative years and Debra Adelaide writes a sort of love letter to one of hers, The Lord of the Rings trilogy here. For her, that was eye opening and she read them at a time when they weren’t hugely popular, unlike when I read them, which was in conjunction with the release of Peter Jackson’s epic movie trilogy. I’d read The Hobbit years earlier and I’m not afraid to admit that I tried the LotR trilogy at about 12 or 13 but got bogged down in the Tom Bombadil section (I don’t think I’m the only one) and I didn’t revisit them until the movies came out. I actually watched each movie and then read the book which is not the usual way in which I do things, but for that it was what worked for me. Adelaide mentions reading the trilogy to her son and him getting bored the first time around – later she realises that if she skips the bits that Jackson skips in his movies, it works much better and I think I kind of felt the same way!

Like the author, I read voraciously as a child, much to the chagrin of older people often within my sphere. I heard quite often, the ‘get your nose out of a book and go and get some fresh air’ or ‘you’ll damage your eyesight’ etc because I was always reading. I also am not sporty and related a lot to the essay in which Adelaide talks of how organised sport can be a form of torture for the uncoordinated, people who would just rather be reading. I hated sport in high school and P.E. – at least as we went up through the years we got more priority to pick and we could pick things less “sporty” like ten pin bowling. Adelaide found a way to avoid sport by simply not signing up and going to the music room to read which worked well until she was caught. I must admit I feel a bit disappointed I never tried such a thing myself. When I got to year 12, we no longer had to do sport so sometimes I’d go to the library. It would be quiet – all the other years were off doing sport, a lot of the year 12 kids went home early as sport was the last three periods on a Thursday. I’d book a computer or find a book and read until it was time to get the school bus home. That was my ideal way of passing a few hours and most of my friends found that a bit weird. I didn’t have any ‘reading friends’ in high school after about year 9, when one of my only kindred spirits moved away. From then on I learned not to talk about books much – no one cared and reading became a solitary thing. I think even now sometimes it’s amazing to me that there are a whole bunch of people out there that love it as much as I do and actually want to talk about it.

There are some other really interesting pieces in here too – I found Adelaide’s talk of reading getting her and her son through after he was diagnosed with leukaemia quite heartbreaking. Her child was probably just a bit younger than my youngest is now and it’s terrible to think of such young children being diagnosed with those types of illnesses and having to put their bodies through the gruelling treatment. Adelaide is quite frank about how reading helped her survive – she read beside his bed as he fought fevers, she read to him when he was well enough, to help distract him I suppose and in a way, continue his education. She didn’t make him do much actual work, but kept up with reading, which I think is really wonderful. I have never had a child become ill like that but I too have found solace in books during really dark times in my life and so I can honestly understand how books were a lifeline for her, something constant to lose herself in.

Adelaide seems to be quite experienced in numerous bookish things – she’s been a reviewer (or written reviews for publication), an editor, is published etc. There’s quite an interesting essay in here on book reviewing which…..I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. It doesn’t seem complimentary in some ways (no qualifications, no standards etc). It’s kind of hard to go past this quote:

Book reviewers might flatter themselves that their critical words make a difference, but if they do then it is not a difference felt by the author. In fact the main reaction to a book review, the lasting reaction on the part of the author, is that he or she loathes the reviewer forever. He or she generally forgets the favourable comments and fixates on the unfavourable ones, even if they have occupied a small space in the overall review. Genuine critical reviews, those that engage with a book’s shortcomings, are arguably a waste of time: an author cannot recall the book and rewrite it, and authors wounded by savage comments never consider the criticisms to the extent that they improve the next work….

Yikes. Look I’m not a book reviewer, I’m a book blogger and there’s definitely a difference. But I feel that regardless, reviews are for readers. They’re for people to decide if this is a book they might enjoy engaging with. I don’t know anything about writing as a craft, just what works for me as a reader. And what works for me might for others as well. And conversely, what doesn’t work for me might be what others adore. Reviews give readers a bit of an idea about what they might be able to expect prior to going into a story. Some people enjoy a certain type of read…..and they won’t buy something if it doesn’t give them the happy ever after they want or if like, me, they hate surprise cancer books. Adelaide does qualify with the fact that she’s written reviews and knows their impact and tried to be critically professional but also respectful of a new author. But ultimately once it’s out in the world, it’s for readers (something Adelaide herself states in this book) and everything that comes after that, is for the readers.

6/10

Book #157 of 2019


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