Book survey

You may have noticed on various blogs there are 55 questions about books and reading habits doing the rounds – I thought I’d have a go…

1. Favourite childhood book?

I loved the Chronicles of Prydain series, by Lloyd Alexander, and read them a number of times when young.  After that came the Hobbit, with a detour into The Hardy Boys when a teenager.  But if we’re going way back, when I was very little I loved Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak and a book called Tikki Tikki Tembo by Arlene Mosel.

2. What are you reading right now?

Lots of different anthologies, collections, and magazines – I dip into short stories every day – though I’m particularly loving Christopher Fowler’s Red Gloves double whammy collections.  A few other books on the go include a non-fiction book about climbing mountains (for research) and depression (more research) and Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (because I’ve been meaning to for ages).

3. What books do you have on request at the library?

None – I’m too materialistic and like to own them.

4. Bad book habit?

Buying them when I’ve quite the ‘to read’ pile already, though I don’t really see it as a bad thing.

5. What do you currently have checked out at the library?


6. Do you have an e-reader?

Nope, and probably never will unless I go travelling for a length of time.

7. Do you prefer to read one book at a time, or several at once?

Several, for different reasons, depending on my mood, though often one will grab me more successfully than the rest and demand more of my time.  I love that.

8. Have your reading habits changed since starting a blog?

Not really, though I might mention what I’m reading more often if I feel it’s good enough to recommend.

9. Least favourite book you read this year (so far)?

I can’t remember, but there were a couple.  I tend to quit if I don’t like a book nowadays (whereas before I would finish everything) and then block out the memory –  life’s too short to waste on books I don’t like.  I’ll often charity shop it if it’s just a matter of taste, but occasionally I’ll do the world a favour and chuck a book in the recycling if I feel no one else should suffer as I have.

That said, I found Justin Cronin’s The Passage disappointing after all the hype, though readable enough whenever I picked it up.  Enough to finish it anyway, though I doubt I’ll bother with the sequel.

Byatt’s Ragnarok was disappointing too – I enjoyed all the mythology, but that’s all it was, with the flimsiest of narratives to hold it together.

10. Favourite book you’ve read this year?

Tom Fletcher’sbooks, The Leaping and The Thing on the Shore were very enjoyable.  I also really liked Lindqvist’s Little StarNo Country For Old Men also made for a great read, but I always like McCarthy.

11. How often do you read out of your comfort zone?

Occasionally I’ll read something ‘different’ to my usual choice, but I don’t really have a comfort zone.  It’s good to try different things and I try to do so at least a few times each year.  When I started teaching creative writing to a class of 10-14 year olds I picked up some YA stuff without expecting to like it as much as I did – now I’m a firm fan of the Skullduggery Pleasant books.

12. What is your reading comfort zone?

If comfort zone means favourite genre it would be horror/dark fantasy, with some crime fiction and the occasional sci-fi.

13. Can you read on the bus?

I can read anywhere!  Well, almost.

14. Favourite place to read?

In bed, or in the bath.

15. What is your policy on book lending?

Occasionally I’ll lend books, but not favourites and not often.  Partly as a way of looking after my own books but also as a way of increasing sales for those whose books I like enough to recommend.

16. Do you ever dog-ear books?

No way.

17. Do you ever write in the margins of your books?

If it’s something I’ll be teaching, yes, otherwise never.  Annotated books do have a separate shelf though, poor little outcasts.

18. Not even with text books?

As above.

19. What is your favourite language to read in?

English is all I know.

20. What makes you love a book?

Convincing characters, and a writing style I admire so much that I’m jealous.  Also, anything that makes me think wow, I never would have thought of that.

21. What will inspire you to recommend a book?

As above, but also when a friend tells me what they’re reading I might recommend something similar (perhaps better) along the same lines.  I especially liked moving college students of mine from Twilight to some proper vampire stories and horror publications.

22. Favourite genre?

Horror, because of all it can do.  To me it’s the most versatile and effective genre regarding the use of metaphor and symbolism.  And because I feel fear plays a huge part in all our daily motivations.

23. Genre you rarely read (but wish you did)?

I tend to make time for the ones I like.  I’d like to read more prize-nominated work, but I’m often so puzzled by the fuss that I’d rather make my own decisions.

24. Favourite biography?

I’ve returned to King’s On Writing a few times if that counts.  I recently enjoyed Marilyn Monroe’s autobiography (researching a story – I became a little obsessed actually).

25. Have you ever read a self-help book?

A fair few on depression at the moment, mainly for research but also to understand it better – it affects so many people.

26. Favourite cookbook?

Does the Pizza Hut menu count?

27. Most inspirational book you’ve read this year?

Crap ones motivate me most regarding my own writing.  I won’t name names, but a few books I’ve read had me thinking (rightly or wrongly) ‘I can do better’, and that gets me sitting down at the laptop.  The National Geographic never fails to inspire me – there’s always something fascinating in there about the world we live in as well as those we share it with.

28. Favourite reading snack?

Biscuits (dunked in tea, unless I’m really hooked).

29. Name a case in which hype ruined your reading experience.

Well Cronin’s The Passage, as mentioned.  I tried a Lee Child book, whatever the first one is, and though I expected to tolerate a load of macho stuff I did not expect the reliance on an awfully HUGE coincidence and an unbelievable use of slow motion – not really the fault of hype, just bad writing (in my opinion).  Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was enjoyable but nowhere near as good as others would have me believe.  Usually, though, it’s when a writer gets repetitive that I’m most disappointed, or if they take a character too far in a series.  I used to enjoy the Anita Blake books, for example, until she became pretty much the all powerful queen of everything (and the subtle sexual tension of the early books was abandoned for all out porn).

30. How often do you agree with critics about a book?

I don’t read many reviews, though I tend to agree with those written by Peter Tennant.  His recommendations have introduced me to some great writers, such as Cate Gardner and Graham Joyce, and I’ll be forever thankful for that.

31. How do you feel about giving bad or negative reviews?

I understand it’s part of the job, especially if a reviewer is to have any credibility regarding his or her honesty, but apart from some of my answers here I only tend to give positive reviews myself – recommendations rather than reviews.  After all, different people have different tastes and all that.  I don’t like it at all when a reviewer is negative without fully explaining how they reached such an opinion, or when it’s clear they’ve misunderstood the text.

32. If you could read in a foreign language, what language would you choose?

Latin – no need, of course, it just sounds cool.

33. Most intimidating book you ever read?

Not been intimidated by a book I’ve read as yet, though see below.

34. Most intimidating book you’re too nervous to begin?

Don Quixote.  And Gormenghast.  Just because of the commitment they demand.  They’ve been on my ‘to read’ pile for a long time.

35. Favourite poet?

TS Eliot is the guy I return to most, some Plath, and ee cummings.  Recently I discovered Billy Collins and I really enjoy his work.

36. How many books do you have checked out of the library at any given time?

I can’t remember the last time I borrowed anything.  Maybe a book about a country I was about to visit, but probably just the one.  As a kid, though, I’d max out the limit every time.

37. How often have you returned books to the library unread?


38. Favourite fictional character?

Philip Marlowe.  Awesome.

39. Favourite fictional villain?

Miss Havisham.  Spooky as hell and a manipulative bitch.  Love her.

40. Books you’re most likely to bring on vacation?

Anthologies, for the variety, though I recently read Linqvist’s Harbour on holiday because I bought it in Croatia and ended up spending most of my time in his world instead.

41. The longest I’ve gone without reading?

I think I’ve been too ill to read a few times, but we’re only talking a day or two at the most.  I have to read almost as much as I have to write.

42. Name a book that you could/would not finish?

Anything that bad tends to get wiped from my memory.

43. What distracts you when you’re reading?

Maybe if the house was burning down around me I’d notice eventually.  Oh, when I dunk a biscuit in my tea for too long and it slips away suddenly.

44. Favourite film adaptation of a novel?

There are a few actually.  Despite inaccuracies/changes, I really enjoyed The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, Gone, Baby, Gone, LA Confidential, Perfume, The Road… loads of them.

45. Most disappointing film adaptation?

I’m not a fan of Carrie.

46. The most money I’ve ever spent in a bookstore at one time?

Oh, a small fortune.  Hundred and fifty pounds or so?  I don’t buy clothes or spend much on technology like some people so it’s a an indulgence I allow myself occasionally, especially at something like FantasyCon.

47. How often do you skim a book before reading it?

I might read the first page if I’ve not heard of the book or author before, but that’s it.  And I never read the blurb – I hate them.  Like movie trailers, very often they reveal far too much.

48. What would cause you to stop reading a book halfway through?

Apart from personal injury, etc?  It would have to be pretty lousy.  It used to be I wouldn’t quit anything, but there are too many good books out there for me to waste time on shite.

49. Do you like to keep your books organised?

Afraid so.  I’m nerdy like that.  They’re ordered by genre and author, date of publication…  And I really hate it when publishers change the cover and/or spine design when I’m partway through collecting an author.

50. Do you prefer to keep books or give them away once you’ve read them?

I keep them all.  I just like to look at the shelves and see all those worlds I’ve spent time in, even if I don’t read them again.

51. Are there any books you’ve been avoiding?

Just those intimidating ones mentioned earlier.

52. Name a book that made you angry?

Hannibal did.  I think it was that one.  I liked that Hannibal Lecter explained himself as scary, a real monster, because there was no reason for him, no back story… and then we get one.  It also felt like a book written despite the author’s personal reluctance.

53. A book you didn’t expect to like, but did?

Watership Down.  I came to it late and expected a children’s book about bunnies.  Fool.  It was incredible.

54. A book that you expected to like but didn’t?

Stephen King’s Cell, because, well, it’s King.  Hated it though (sorry Mr King).

55. Favourite guilt-free pleasure reading?

I don’t feel guilty about any of it.

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4 Responses to Book survey

  1. Cate Gardner says:

    Excellent post. I need to do this.

    I’m a one book at a time girl so I envy your ability to have a few on the go. Thank you for the mention alongside Graham Joyce.

    Lovely to meet you and Victoria at FCon. I’m determined to catch up with my Black Static / Interzone reading and I’m delighted to find one of Victoria’s stories is in an as yet unread Black Static. Looking forward to it.

  2. Ray Cluley says:

    Yes, I’m a bit of a reading slut.

    It was lovely to meet you and Simon, and the dinner was great – thanks again for the invite. We’d love to do it again some time.

  3. Graham says:

    Fascinating list! I had the Gormenghast books sitting on my shelf for several years before I attempted them, and I’m very glad I finally did. The final hundred pages of the second book are as compelling as anything I’ve ever read.

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