Book Club: Francesca Freeman, 22, archaeology student

Book Club: Hi Fran, what are you reading?
FF: I’m currently reading two books, The Life of Pi by Yann Martel and Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, The Long Walk to Freedom.

Why are you reading it/them?
The Nelson Mandela because I’ve had it for a really long time and I’ve always meant to read it; I’m now taking two modules this term associated with the slave trade and Africa and I thought it would tie in quite well.
I’ve read The Life of Pi before, and I’m actually reading it with my boyfriend. It’s a bedtime read. We take turns reading a chapter aloud.

How lovely. The Life of Pi’s a strange breed of ‘fantasy’ fiction, right?
Yeah I like things like, things like Game of Thrones. I love things that form complete worlds you can put yourself into. I like the everyday stuff as well. But if it’s everyday the book kind of has to work harder to capture your attention.

Do you think it’s therefore more difficult for realistic books to be successful, because, like fantasy genres, you have to believe in them, but they are tied to a reality that we all know and experience?
Yes, in some ways. I think everyday books depend on a lot of investment in the characters on the part of the reader. For instance I never invested in the characters in Wuthering Heights. Whereas in Jane Eyre I completely identified with the characters, despite the story being really extreme. So in that respect you have to have a deep investment in the characters, regardless of the genre or the setting.

I would have to agree that there are so many ‘realistic’ fiction books that are just unbearably bad, because you have to find that balance between a captivating story and an accurate portrayal of reality. In that sense, it really has to reflect the reality of the reader, for you to be able to invest in them.

Yeah, I think I know what you mean. I’m reading short stories by Miranda July at the moment, and the stories don’t confine themselves to realism, in the sense of completely realistic depictions. But still you somehow really understand the stories on some kind of deeper, physical level – beyond the words and the intellectual understanding of them, which only sketch this other meaning. And this suggests that these stories are reflecting your (the reader’s) reality, but a part of it that can’t be communicated in words. I think when a story or book does this, for me this is what only fiction (and maybe poetry) can do at its best. And it’s both unsettling and satisfying.
Well, it still comes back to the characters, for me. I have to associate with a character, and that’s the only way I can enjoy a book. Wuthering Heights is the perfect example of that. I didn’t identify with any of the characters, so I can’t appreciate it at all, not on any level. I want to be absorbed by a book.

I agree. I want to be completely compelled by a book, for reasons that I don’t necessarily understand.
I haven’t read stuff in ages, though. Because I’m always reading uni stuff, it’s just not a break.

I know, it’s terrible. OK, real question now. Paperback or e-book?
Paperback! I have a strong hate of ‘e-readers’. I basically think that they are wrong and unnecessary, and completely take away from the experience of reading. They’re not physical. And you need a physical connection to the story; turning the pages is a big part of reading.

I know, I feel like e-readers are the buyable sign that we’ve taken a wrong turn and it’s too late, we’ve now destroyed everything good about the world. But I don’t allow myself to say this, for some reason I force myself be moderate and say things like ‘well, they’re good for old people’, and people with bad backs. But if you don’t endorse them at all, do you allow yourself to buy any books on Amazon?
No, I don’t buy any books on Amazon.

Really?
Yes, why so surprised?
Ok, well I have bought a couple of course books. But I draw the line at ‘pleasure’ books. I tend to buy them at charity shops.

I like the idea that buying some physically is so dependent on chance. If you buy something in a charity shop or even a small bookshop you are reliant on their selection, and on stumbling across things.
Yeah, Amazon is really the death of browsing. I only go there if I need something specific.

Do the books that you’re currently reading come anywhere near making your Top 10 desert island books?
I remember Life of Pi being really good, but it’s a bit disappointing second time around, possibly because I’m reading it aloud rather than in my own head.

What are you going to read next? Do you have a list of classics that you feel almost morally obligated to read? I’ve never read any Dickens and this is the source of a real sense of failure.
No, I literally just look at the back of the book. I really don’t like reading stuff just because there’s loads of hype about it. It’s almost always a mistake. That happened with 50 Shades of Grey, and One Day.

Yeah but those two books were hardly meant to be classics, most of the ‘hype’ was about how terrible they are.
I know, but they were still disappointing. The same thing happened with Atomised, that Michel Houellebecq book that I read because a friend recommended it. I just like to come across books, and then my reading list is just my bookshelf. I’m working my way across it.

Tags: amazon, Book Club, e-readers, kindle, Life of Pi, Long Walk to Freedom, paperbacks, Reading

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