Friday, September 11, 2009

What I have learnt from books

Over on the Book Club Forum, we are having an interesting discussion on what we have learnt from books - the answers have been extremely varied, concentrating as one would expect on fiction rather than non fiction.

When it comes to my own reading, most of my learning has come from the other source - non fiction books on a variety of different topics. After almost five years spent writing Genesis of Man, it was only after this book was published in 2006 that I returned to fiction reading after a long hiatus. I was surprised at how much I had missed this altogether different type of book, but also surprised at just how much you can learn from the experience. When I think about some of the books I have read in the past couple of years I have learnt an awful lot from them - insights into how male and female minds view the opposite gender, about different countries and their belief systems, how children often make a lot more sense than adults, and understand much more than we know, and how when you get right down to it, people are basically all the same. We all think that our pain and our experiences are unique and we are the only ones to feel and to think as we do, but actually we are not - the human condition is universal and fundamentally flawed, yet beautiful, no matter where we live or who we are - whether we are an Afghan male, a Japanese woman or a struggling British author.

When it comes to fiction books - they are a whole other kettle of fish. When I was writing Genesis of Man, I read an awful lot of other peoples books in a wide range of subjects - religion, history, alternative history, differing aspects of science, spirituality and so on - these books have taught me so many things it is difficult to know where to begin - one thing for example I learnt from David Icke and his books is that there is a very fine line between genius and insanity ! I also learnt about the importance of research and checking facts, something which the non fiction writer has to meticulous at, in fact something that all writers should be meticulous at, but not everyone is. I have spotted several howlers in certain books. I also learnt the importance of proper editing and proof reading, and discovered that contrary to popular belief it is often the commercially published books rather than the self published ones which have the most errors.

Of course my reading is not confined to the subjects mentioned above, as my library contains many different types of books - one type of book I have been reading lately are Icelandic sagas. These are an account of the lives of the early Icelandic settlers, have as such taught me a lot about the early history of the country and dispelled more than a few myths about Viking culture, which was not at all what most people think - no horned helmets in sight ! I have read travel books on all manner of different places, vegetarian cook books, books on evolution and genetics, first aid books, driving manuals, and of course books on publishing and publicity.

From these I have learnt the correct way to approach Editors, how to angle your pitch, how to how to write press releases and how to organise a book event, and also about copyright law and plagarisation. These are all things that the writer needs to know and understand.

Books then have taught me so much. They are not the only source of learning as this has come from many different areas - from adult education classes, television, newspapers, the Internet, and of course from friends, but when I stop to think about it, books probably have been the most important source. Somehow I doubt whether the effect would be the same from e-books as it has been from the printed word, yet research shows that children in California learn more quickly and take in more information from computer screens than they do from paper books - this though is a different generation, with a shorter attention span than the generation I grew up with.

One thing is clear - a world without books would be very much poorer.

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