Talking about books

Talking about things is important. You can’t grow or develop an idea, get momentum, or create change unless people are thinking about it, and talking about it. At least, not the change that comes from collective will rather than top-down authority. Creative expressions – music, dance, film, books etc – should be part of how a society has a conversation with itself about who it is collectively, what it values and worries about and where it might be going. Talking about books is, therefore, a form of active engagement with wider culture, and it has a healthy side-order of political and social implications.

Talking about books also makes for more interesting conversations. My own life might be quiet and dull this week, and not worth comment but what I’ve been reading opens up whole new worlds. That would be true most weeks. As I type this I am thinking about magical realism in Elen Sentier’s novels, and the Neolithic world view as considered by Nicholas Mann. Often I’d rather talk about ideas I am reading than how this week is more or less a lot like last week.

Talking about books helps authors to sell books. Word of mouth remains the most important way of getting sales in a market that has little advertising budget and seldom pays participants enough to live on. I want to talk about books because I want more people to buy and read books so that more authors have a fighting chance of being able to do their thing and pay the bills without also having to work 60 hour weeks.

However, for this to work, there has to be something to talk about. A book has to leave you wondering, caring about the characters, curious about what happens next, or what happened between the chapters. Perhaps you’ll have something to say about the structure, the language, the representations of race, gender, difference, similarity, emotion… You need something to get your teeth into in order to have a conversation.

Alternatively, you get this:

“Did you see that show on the telly last night?”

“I did.”

“That was really good. I liked the bit when they did the thing.”

“I liked that bit, too.”

Or you get conversations about how Madonna fell off the stage, Miley wasn’t wearing much, Justin has shiny hair. There’s not much to say about a lot of pop music, so we end up talking about whether they are too fat, or old for their fashion choices and how slightly more or less like everything else those fashion choices are. Yet another re-boot film with a minor twist on the entirely familiar theme. Yet another action packed block busting page turner full of explosions and a man doing a thing that wasn’t as impossible as it first looked, or just blithely defied physics, and getting the girl. Unless the experience surprises you and has some depth, it’s not easy to talk about it for more than a sentence.

I don’t think the flow is all one way. While all we do is talk about the scale of the explosions and the realism of the effects, of course the odds of getting a film with an excellent story and beautiful dialogue are slim. If all we talk about with regards to books, is the best sellers, we push towards books designed to be vastly popular and with easy, wide reaching appeal. Easy to market is not the same as good to read.

So, this is an appeal, for the sake of having an inspiring, enriching cultural life. Talk about the good things. Talk about that which you love. That way, there might be a little bit more of it.

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About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

8 responses to “Talking about books

  • Turtle

    One of my favorite topics… Personally I’d rather talk about books than movies or TV (although I suppose it depends which movie or TV show…I still miss Farscape and the early seasons of The X-Files). I never realized how relatively unusual it was to be a voracious reader until I was out of school and met so many people who never read, at least not for fun. It’s hard for me to imagine because books have always been so important to me, but everyone has different interests/strengths/skills etc… On the subject of compelling fiction, I’ve recently discovered Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn novels and Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicles, both of which are very good if not excellent.

  • iambocere

    We are a family of avid readers (apart from my son, he’s a gamer – enough said) but rarely do we discuss the books beyond, ‘what you reading now?’ So thank you for this timely reminder!

  • paulaacton

    As most films seem to be either remakes these days or adaptations of books we tend to end up having one of two conversations the first being how they remade something and made it worse, sacrificing the story and acting for the sake of special effects or the second is the films are never as good as the books and generally me grumbling about all the editing choices of bits left out or gratuitously added. It is always a safer conversation to stick to the books themselves.

  • Léithin Cluan

    Sometimes I find it elitist when people talk about books but are dismissive of talking about TV. I am dyslexic. I read slowly and painfully, as much as I love stories and new ideas. I find my modern mythology in what sometimes gets called ‘cult’ TV. Currently I’m watching 12 Monkeys, the time travel story packed full of philosophy about what makes life worth living and humanity worth saving. I’m not ashamed of talking about it. I have discussed its philosophy with my partner for more hours than I’ve actually spent watching it. The same has been true for a lot of TV programmes, and occasionally films, that I’ve watched. Not all of them, of course. You have to sort the wheat from the chaff. But there is quality storytelling there, if you know how to look for it.

    • Nimue Brown

      I have a lot of issues with television, not least because of the adverts, and a lot of issue with how television seems to have become such a dominant cultural form. Perhaps I am elitist. It’s just that TV doesn’t seem to be struggling much and people in it are well paid, but most authors of books have to work other jobs because writing doesn’t pay, and that imbalance leaves me wanting to talk about books in the hopes that more of the brilliant people whose work I love can afford to send more time doing what they do. I have a bias, I admit.

      • Léithin Cluan

        Well, that’s a different issue from storytelling, really. I watch TV in formats that have no adverts, and the things I watch are not being talked about by most people (I’m not into reality TV or Downton Abbey). And the people in TV, or who want to be in TV, are mostly not paid the sums that you think they are. A few might be, but the vast majority are struggling as much as writers are.

      • Léithin Cluan

        *as much as BOOK writers are. Sorry for the lack of clarity.

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