Friday, December 4, 2015

Jenny Haddon: The Importance of Readers

Today we welcome Jenny Haddon, aka Sophie Weston, who writes about her exciting new venture, Liberta Books.

Every author understands the importance of readers. They nurture our visions, buy our books, keep us creating. You might say, they're our raison d'ĂȘtre. But how much do we know about how or why or even what they do, when they read? Especially when they read fiction.

When I say they, of course I mean we. All authors were readers before we started to write. Most of us stay readers (some, voracious) throughout our lives. Sometimes though, we don't read the way we used to, need to, if we're to fulfil the purist job description. HINT: if you're reading with a pencil in your hand you're not leaving room for what Ursula Le Guin calls 'acts of the spirit'. Dancing on the edge of the World: Thoughts on Words, Women, Places, Harper Perennial, February 1990. Put the pencil down, lie on the floor and get a mug of tea.

Le Guin, if you don't already know her, is a wonderful, award-winning writer of primarily science fiction fantasy, for adults and children. Her stories are thoughtful, strange, evocative, unforgettable and her ideas about writing are both profound and crisply practical. But what I want to concentrate on here is what she says about reading:  'The writer cannot do it alone. The unread story is not a story; it is little black marks on wood pulp. The reader, reading it, makes it alive: a live thing, a story.' loc.cit.

Strange science
The science of it is up there with atomic physics.  A writer, like a spider, weaves a story out her guts, and then throws the golden crafted thing out into the world, not knowing where it will travel.

A reader opens the door to her imagination and says, 'Come in. I embrace you.' This writer and reader will most likely never meet. They may well live in different countries and centuries. And yet their imaginations interact, independent of their intellect, physical presence or even will. Memorable encounters happen in theta space.

Social or Solitary
These days we mostly think of reading as a solitary pursuit. But it has a social aspect – the church bells pealing for 'virtuous Pamela, wed at last'; the man who turned to me on a snow-halted train and raved about The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo; the international and deliciously Woosterian Wodehouse Appreciation Society all give evidence of this. And some people still receive great pleasure from being read to by means of audio books, radio or even in person. Maybe more of us should try the latter.
All of this was what historical author Joanna Maitland and I had in mind when we set up our new website. We call it a place for writers and readers to meet. It is very new and ideas will develop. But the focus, even when we are trying to help other writers, is on remembering those readers.

Love Letter to a Favourite Novel
Specifically, we have dedicated a page for readers to offer their own Love Letter to a Favourite Novel. This will include authors - as long as they put their pencils down first! We don't want it to feel intimidating, though, so we'll probably invite a few non-writers to kick us off. Some readers think authors know an awful lot more than we do and are in unjustified awe as a result. We're looking for Love Letters that are a spontaneous, heartfelt response to a favourite novel, not a high end critique. And we're hoping for lots of new recommendations. Nothing persuades you to read a book like an enthusiast.

Link to Liberta Books

Good luck with your new venture, Jenny and Joanna, we look forward to reading those love letters.

The RNA blog is brought to you by

Elaine Everest & Natalie Kleinman

If you would like to write for the blog or have a forthcoming book publication please get in touch on


Sophie Weston said...

Thanks so much for hosting me today and for all the work you put into setting up the post, Elaine.

By the way, we'd welcome any input into what people would like to see included in a Love Letter to a Favourite Novel.

snoopsspots2 said...

What a lovely idea. It's a beautiful post, too, Jenny. Am putting my pencil down. :) x

Unknown said...

Good luck with your project, Liberta Books, Jenny.

I'm feeling very virtuous - I would never dream of reading a novel, other than for specific reasons of research, with a pencil in my hand. :-)

Gabrielle said...

Thank you for this. It really is a thought-provoking blog piece and reminds me of what Margaret Atwood says about the relationship between writer and reader. To paraphrase:

A book can be said to change, but in the manner of the reading, not the telling. Works of literature are recreated by each generation of readers who make them new by finding fresh meanings. The printed text is like a musical score which only becomes music when the marks on the paper are interpreted by musicians. Reading is like playing music and listening to it at the same time.

I love to dwell on this complex interplay between reader and writer.

Christina Hollis said...

An excellent post. I particularly loved the lines; "A writer, like a spider, weaves a story out her guts, and then throws the golden crafted thing out into the world, not knowing where it will travel." Isn't that the very essence of our art/craft/call it what you will?
Best of luck to Liberta!

Sophie Weston said...

Thank you so much, Sheryl, Liz, Gabrielle, Christina.

There is the strangest chemistry at work between reader and writer, I think. There are some writers I'm just out of step with, including very successful and, indeed, interesting minds. For instance, I love Diana Wynne Jones, am always slightly uneasy with Neil Gaiman. No explanation for it except chemistry.

And thank you all for your best wishes to Liberta! I saw a reader at another blog, only today, wondering 'why book message boards have all disappeared, because there’s almost nowhere online to discuss books anymore.' I agree with her. We're hoping that we'll get lots of discussion on Love Letters to a Novel, once people start extolling their private passions. Nothing trumps passion!

Joanna Maitland said...

"Nothing trumps passion" How true, Jenny, and I'm cheering for it too!

May I echo your thanks to everyone who has supported the launch of Liberta and especially Elaine and Natalie at the RNA blog. We really do appreciate all the help.

Unknown said...

Good luck with the launch of Liberta, Joanna and Jenny.