It’s been over a year since I’ve posted a reader interview so it’s great to be running one again.
*Welcome to Amanda Kent
Where are you from? United Kingdom
Please tell us a little about yourself.
Retired IT Programme/Project Manager. Labour Party activist and ward chair, currently campaigning to remain in the European Union. Member of local Amnesty International group. Fluent in French and German as well as English mother tongue. Married with two sons.
On average how many books do you read in a month? Approx 80–90-120 per year. Of these, I read a small amount of books in French and German each year, maybe 5% and hope to add Italian to this eventually. I don’t read translations of books that I can read in the original French or German.
A quarter to a third of the books I read will be re-reads, mostly genre fiction to unwind. A quarter to a third of the books will be by women. With a conscious effort, I managed to make it half and half last year, but it doesn’t really seem worth a conscious effort, because it was lowering the overall quality. More of the women authors I read seem to be crime or SF/fantasy than serious.
Where is your favourite place to read? Anywhere and everywhere. I almost always carry a book.
*What genres do you prefer and why? Do you have any genres you avoid?
I have no prefered genre though I’m finding that I read more non-fiction as I get older than I used to. As well as novels and non-fiction, I quite often read plays but only a little poetry, usually short poems.
I don’t like horror/ghost stories at all, or misery memoirs. I rarely read chick-lit/romance. I’m not usually much interested in travel books.
Why are books important to you and what does reading bring to your life?
Fiction, notably genre fiction, provides escape and relaxation. Non-fiction provides information and food for thought which may influence moral and political choices, as does quality fiction.
Do you have a favourite book or author? Why do you think you like this book/author so much?
No, I would spend hours trying to work out even a top 100.
What medium do you prefer – e-books, audiobooks or paper books? Would you care to expand on this?
I prefer physical books, paperback or hardback. If I re-read a paperback too often, I may need a hardback replacement because it fell apart. This happened to my childhood paperback of Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings – and the hardbacks of it which my sons have shared are now showing a pale skin pink under the leather of the binding.
Good covers, presentation, illustration do contribute to the pleasure of reading. I don’t like e-books, possibly because I was in IT: screen-reading is work not pleasure to me. I never really got into audiobooks – unless you’re travelling a lot by car or have a visual handicap, they just take too long compared with reading. Also most audiobooks are abridged and I want to read the real thing. That may, of course, change if I go blind in old age.
How do you usually find the books you read? For example: recommendations from friends, promotion on social networks, your local library, following authors you already know?
I read things I’ve earmarked from the Guardian’s Saturday Review of Books, friends recommendations and further works from authors I already know.
I buy books firsthand from Waterstones, Foyles, Daunts, second hand through Amazon marketplace(not from Amazon direct if I can possibly avoid it) or charity shops and I borrow books from friends and from the library, especially books where I have any doubts if I’m going to like them. Occasionally if I love a library book, I may later buy it to re-read.
When choosing a book what makes you stop and give it a second look? What makes you turn away?
Mostly I read books I’ve already identifed I want to read so what attracts my eye is a known author or title, very occasionally an intriguing cover and blurb.
Do you read reviews by others and if so do they influence your choice?
I rarely read on-line reviews but read some newspaper/magazine ones.
Do you “judge a book by its cover?”
Occasionally a cover will put me off reading a book, which sometimes I may return to a later edition of, but not very often and very occasionally a cover & blurb will attract me to a book I might have overlooked, but it’s definitely secondary .
What do you think is the most important aspect of a book for you? Plot, world-building, strong characters etc.? What turns you off?
Plot and the construction of the story is important in fiction/drama, except in poetry where form to a large extent takes over from plot. I hated Stephen Donaldson’s Lord Foul’s Bane because after a really interesting opening idea it went into chapter after chapter of he met some strange beings, did some unconnected stuff (repeat, repeat, repeat, stop) with no linking or development of character or apparent point to the tale. Fernando Pessoa’s Book of Disquiet I couldn’t read because of the absence of plot; there were beautiful passages but the lack of overall shape made it well nigh impossible to remember what you’d read 10 pages ago – it can only really be done as a kind of poetry and that’s hard.
Plausible characters and events are critical in fiction whether in a totally imaginary or a realistic tale. Style/narrative approach matter, at their best they reinforce the story e.g. Primo Levi: the Periodic Table or Jeannette Winterson: Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit; at their worst they give a gimmicky feel to the book.
The way some authors write can put me off, if their style is very ‘look how clever I am’ for example or outright pretentious – I’m not a big fan of Salman Rushdie or John Fowles because of this. Stylistic tics and bad proofreading can be an irritant – for example it is sadly obvious that Bloomsbury gave up proofreading JK Rowling after book 3 and the quality is affected even if the overall narrative is still strong.
In non-fiction, I like information to either to be a story eg biographies or to present a coherent argument on an issue or issues.
My favourite books tend to be ones that give you some food for thought on issues of ethics, politics or approach to live.
Does the behaviour of an author affect your choice to read one of their books?
Potentially yes. If the author is obnoxious in real life, it’s likely to come through in the books. And there are so many other books… If I hate the first book I read by an author, it takes a personal recommendation to get me to try another. I have an accumulated ‘To read list’ of about 500 titles so why waste energy on things I probably won’t enjoy!
It’s only rarely that I give up part way through a book, though, and that’s partly because I read quite fast. However, some books I couldn’t finish are supposed to be very good e.g. Don Quixote but I was so bored by the end of part 1 I just couldn’t manage any more.
What are your views on authors commenting on reviews on sites such as Goodreads?
I wish they would keep away and I absolutely hate it in when they promote their books, it almost guarantees that I won’t read them: if their books were any good they wouldn’t be doing it. I don’t buy from door-to-door salesmen for the same reason.
If you had to pick three favourite books to take to a desert island what would they be?
I doubt if I could really, but for example Mrs Gaskell: North and South; Victor Hugo: les Miserables and Erich Maria Remarque: A Time to Live and a Time to Die (sometimes mistranslated as a Time to Love because of the film).
Or on a different day, Hermanne Hesse: the Glass-Bead Game, Antonio Tabucchi: Pereira Maintains and Tolstoy’s War and Peace.
Do you think bricks and mortar bookshops are in decline?
They have been but seem to have stabilised at a lower level and physical books are not in decline, at least here in Britain.