Books, LIterature, Technology

Interview about The Horror Book Club

A few weeks ago I was contacted by a freelance features writer who wanted to ask me a few questions about the new book club that I set up and about book clubs in general. The answers that made it into her piece can be viewed here but I enjoyed writing all of the answers so I thought I’d post all of the answers in full.

Hope you enjoy. Please let me know in the comments if you agree or disagree with any of my answers.

Q. Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, has rather dramatically announced 2015 is “the year of books” and started a Facebook book club. What is your opinion of this?

A. Anything that encourages more reading and discussion can only be a good thing. Zuckerberg said he wants to move more from a “media diet towards reading books”. A book club is the best way of doing this as it causes you to engage more critically with what you’re reading because you know you’ll have to articulate your thoughts to others.

Q. What major differences do you think there are between online and in person book clubs?

A. I have tried both and there is something really magical about a meeting people face-to-face that is lacking from an online discussion. When meeting in person you express what you think, get immediate feedback and then hear from others who might have a completely different perspective. The debates, agreements and arguments that result create an amazing atmosphere that is really hard to replicate online.

Q. What do you think people get out of meeting and more specifically why should people sign up to the Horror Book club?

A. We have only held two meeting so far but we already have over a hundred people signed up as members. Whether it’s a love of Halloween, Tim Burton films or Zombie TV shows, lots of us are drawn to the dark and strange side of the world – we want provide a welcoming home for those people so we can explore weird and wonderful fiction together.

Q. Do you think simple pleasures like reading are becoming a bit of a lost art?

A. The technology of a hardcopy book might be relatively simple but the act of reading is far from a simple pleasure. There is nothing quite like reading to experience emotions, explore ideas and learn about ourselves and others, all from the comfort of an armchair. I don’t think this experience can be beaten by any other medium at the moment and things will remain this way for a very very long time.

Q. Why do you think people have such a fascination with the dark, disturbing and downright terrifying novels that make up the Horror Genre?

A. Horror is one of the oldest elements of fiction and this is probably because fear is one of the oldest emotions. It appears in different ways in all cultures – cautionary tales, folklore and monster legends all have elements of the strange, weird and scary. There are many things about Horror that means it endures so powerfully but I think the most important thing is that it confronts the fact that there are things in life can be dark, difficult and make us afraid. By acknowledging this and exploring its effects we gain a greater understanding of fear, the role it plays within society and how it’s an important part of being human.

Q. Do you think that for some people social media is replacing genuine human interaction?

A. I think that the panic around social media’s negative effect on the way we communicate is overhyped. As a rule, face-to-face communication is best but that doesn’t undermine the usefulness of the telephone, email or all of the different social media channels we now have. We even organise the Horror Book Club through a social network site called Meetup.com. Although we eventually meet face-to-face, Meetup.com is a tool that allows to do this incredibly easily.

When people worry about social media, I refer them to what Douglas Adams said: “There’s a set of rules that anything that was in the world when you were born is normal and natural. Anything invented between when you were 15 and 35 is new and revolutionary and exciting… Anything invented after you’re 35 is against the natural order of things.” Wise words as usual from Mr Adams.

Q. Where would you go if a Zombie Apocalypse hit?

A. I would go straight to find my girlfriend – if you have to go through an apocalypse it would be best to do so with the ones you love. After that I like to think I’d be calm, rational and really good at crafting weapons – in reality I’d probably be eaten quite quickly. One thing I know for certain is that if I was bitten I’d confess straight away – there is no one worse than those people in books or movies who cover up an infected wound until they change and murder half of their friends. Not cool guys.

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Reviews

‘Tigana’ by Guy Gavriel Kay – Classic Fantasy book review

Published: August 1990

Summary
The plot of Tigana is played out on a peninsula, resembling renaissance Italy, which is dominated by two opposing Sorcerer-Tyrants of terrible power. We see the story unfold through the eyes of Devin D’Asoli, a young singer who joins a quest to overthrow the sorcerers and restore the once glorious nation of Tigana. To make this endeavour even harder, one of the sorcerers has made everyone not born there, forget that nation ever existed (ouch!). Myth, magic and mayhem ensues.

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Review
I read Tigana for a book club (the Fantasy Book Club) and would not have normally chosen it for myself. My overall feeling was that I didn’t like this book. That is not to say that I did not get a lot out of it; Kay explores the themes of memory, tragic love, belonging, power, and magic in subtle and masterly ways. Unfortunately, the insufferably dull central character and signs the book never saw a proper editor, spoiled my whole experience of reading it.

Beware, here be spoilers!

The good bits
The unusual love story between one of the Sorcerer-Kings (Brandin of Ygrath) and Dianora was my favourite element of the story – and was a lot more compelling than the main hero’s quest! This sub-plot was the golden thread that ran through the book. The first is that the relationship that Kay created was beautiful; Dianora was a mistress, whose original purpose for achieving that position was to restore the fallen Tigana by destroying (not just killing) King Brandin. However, she fell deeply and tragically in love with the Sorcerer-King and eventually became the key to endearing him to his conquered subjects.  This tragic love story was so compelling that I found myself desperately wanting Devin and the heroes to lose in favour of Brandin.

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This leads me on to the second thing I liked about Tigana. Throughout the book, Kay played with the morality of his characters. The good guys did terrible things in pursuit of their goals, the bad guys were sympathetic and sometimes even admirable. This resulted in me rarely knowing who to cheer for. For example, Prince Alessan and his troupe were ostensibly the heroes, fighting to restore their homeland. However, Kay had characters question whether Alessan’s victory would be a good thing or whether the peace and order that Brandin promises might have instead been preferable.

Infuriatingly, Kay undermined his owns interesting explorations of moral ambiguity by neatly reassuring us of the moral rightness of the heroes’ cause in the last few chapters.

The bad bits
My fundamental issue with this book was that I really didn’t enjoy reading it (quite fundamental I know). One part of this was been made to see most of the story through the eyes of Devin D’Asoli. I know when writers use an ‘everyman’ as a device for readers to see a world through, those character are not supposed to be particularly exciting.. However Devin was so incredibly boring and hardly even did anything instrumental to the plot. His main purpose seemed to have been to have a bondage sex encounter with one of the peninsular’s female rulers, which again served no purpose within the actual story!

BW - Tigana

Secondly, the writing was overly descriptive and there were whole sections and even chapters that felt completely unnecessary. I am not normally turned off by lengthy descriptive passages in books; I actually enjoy this style of writing when used by those who have used it best (Wilde and Proust are two classic examples). However, in Tigana, the description was lengthy but not particularly beautiful and there were too many sections that should have been cut by a good editor. Related to this, there is a notorious chapter in the middle of the book (Chapter 18) that adds very little to the plot and almost feels as if the printers accidentally dropped in pages from a different book.

Final verdict

6/10

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