Why do we read?

Picture of books

Why do we pick who/what we read?

This is not the obvious read/not read question but why do we select the books we read? I have recently been reading a lot of books for the first time that my wife had previously bought. These books are still in the crime fiction genre I frequently read but by Val McDermid, not my usual author choices. The reason holiday boredom for the first one and they were available on the shelf/in i-books already bought. Importantly because I enjoyed the first, I finished that series and started on her other books too.

Picture of books
A random selection from our book shelves.

The point is the key character, or hero figure, is often pro-lesbian with the books having a feminist plot line, and as a man I’d not previously looked at them until after reading the first. No real reason to avoid, I have no problem with either lesbians or feminist perspectives, but for some sub-conscious reason I had avoided them. It wasn’t even a case of avoiding female crime writers, I’ve read plenty of those over the years, but something perhaps in the blurbs, possibly (probably?) societal conditioning had put me off, made me think of them as books aimed at women readers.

The media has made books and films a sexist issue

The spark for writing this post, reading another book (follow me follow you) which I would not normally have given more than a passing glance to. I would have superficially dismissed it as a chick-lit, relationship novel, a genre I rarely read if it wasn’t for another, one-off, hook factor. That hook, it was by a local author (Laura James), someone I occasionally meet at local writers events and set in the local area so I gave it a go and read it straight through. The point is though because it was a sort of chick-lit story, and very clear as such even down to the the impress name on the cover, I would have dismissed it in other circumstances. I did read it and I enjoyed it.

Book and film choice shouldn’t be a sexist issue, but it undoubtedly has become so. If it had not become so would there be a need for the  TV Channel Movies4Men or would a Google Scholar search on the genre label Chick Lit return over 28,000 hits?

Screen grab
Screen grab from Google Scholar 28,900 results!

As this is not the first time a book (or short story) I’d not normally pick to read has unexpectedly satisfied, the key question is why do we irrationally avoid some genres? Equally importantly is why do we pick the authors and titles we do buy, or even just borrow and read for free, and why do we drop some unfinished? It isn’t even whether it is a book regarded as a current hit, staple or classic. I bought Birdsong (Faulks),which was, at the time, an acclaimed hit title  and found it pointlessly boring and I’ve never finished it. That book is, as far as I got with it anyway, arguably a relationship genre story about love in Amiens and supporting the suggestion that books in this genre are not for me. Conversely though I have read other books in the genre which I’ve actually enjoyed. It all seems very random.

An answer?

At present I haven’t an answer to the questions I’ve posed but as an author it is something I need to evaluate; my output will also be subjectively selected, what needs to be added to raise the %, even marginally, of those who read rather than dismiss my own output.




Happy New Year / Delville Woods

Detail from the commemorative frieze in the museum.

2017 – Happy New Year

This first blog post of 2017 was to have begun, as it does in the heading, by wishing readers a Happy New Year for 2017 and then continuing solely with this content about my writing. However, as you will see later, computing issues continue to aggravate hence the additional material below.

Delville Woods, Longueval, Somme, France.

View of the woods on 8 July 2003.
Delville Woods. The white cairns on the horizon marked the front line positions. The worst fighting here was between 14 & 20 July 1916. John New 2003.

Spring morning – Delville Woods

It’s quiet now in Delville Woods
No smoke, no guns, no flame

It’s quiet now in Delville Woods
No blood, no gore, no pain

It’s quiet now in Delville Woods
Where white stones mark the slain

It’s quiet now in Delville Woods
Just tranquil thoughts remain

It’s quiet now in Delville Woods
No smoke, no guns, no flame.

John New 2003 (as revised 2004)

The above is a poem first drafted in the adjacent coach park immediately after visiting the the Delville Woods battlefield and South African First World War memorial museum (Link 1) (Link 2) at Longueval, Somme, France on a still and quiet day in 2003. At the time one of the many Iraq wars was in progress, the whole idea that as a society we have learnt nothing since the fighting here in 1916 struck a chord, hence the poem’s first draft. It was recently adapted as a song by my eldest daughter, Eleanor. (See Ellie’s Facebook for original of the video).

This, much shortened, final, version of the poem came from what was originally a considerably longer piece, which was I quickly felt was so unsatisfactory that I doubt it will ever surface. It greatly benefited from one of the heaviest edits I have ever done on a piece of my own writing and if there is a tip to pass on from that it is don’t simply throw a work away, the kernel of the idea may have been sound. The red pencil can at times also be your friend and not just your enemy.

The museum
View of the museum.


Detail from the commemorative frieze in the museum.
Detail from the commemorative frieze in the museum.
Detail from main entrance arch. (NB Has had digital adjustment)
Detail from main entrance arch. (NB Has had digital adjustment)
Photograph. The cemetery, adjacent Delville Woods.
The cemetery, adjacent Delville Woods. John New 2003.

Computing issues

Microsoft continue to aggravate with their continued way of making unnecessary changes to parts of their software that worked better before the upgrade!  Not that Apple are free from criticism either, looking at the new phones for a potential upgrade and the iPhone7 (the logical choice) I noted as being sized too big to fit in a man’s shirt front pocket. Oh well I can live with the existing one for the time being.  On the positive side, however, my mother is at last trying to use her first computer, a donated laptop.

Microsoft Word – letter templates

Screen grab - Word template editing options
Screen grab – Word template editing options

The first time waster to be reported is the way Word deals with document templates. Nothing actually wrong with the process except that there is no mention that for setting headers there is an Option A and Option B. The fact that if you want a different page one header in multiple page documents the tick box to set that function is not too difficult to find; unfortunately the back-up description of what it does when ticked/unticked is not! (I think in fact it is missing completely) I am sure the help file writers very carefully proofread the help file, but whilst the spelling and grammar may be OK they failed to notice the glaring omission that what Word actually does varies according to when you FIRST save the document in relation to that tick box being ticked or unticked. This tutorial supplies the answers (see 4th entry from shereens dated 29 November 2015 for full text) and I wasted several hours during December before finding this out.

Microsoft – two steps forward – three steps backwards!

Whilst writing about Microsoft regrettably also more time wasting as a result of the Windows 10 upgrade. The move function when reorganising files used to a simple one, highlight the necessary file(s) right click, drag and drop. Although that principle is broadly the same in Explorer (Win 10 version) it seems to result in a lot more clicks, swearing at the machine and accidental programme opening than previously. Definitely a case of two steps forward and three backwards for me.


All images and text on this page are by, and remain in copyright to, John New. Video and music remains copyright Eleanor Grady. They are not released under Creative Commons.