Reading for six minutes can reduce stress by about two-thirds, says some 2009 University of Sussex research, so more reading might therefore be a good thing. But with so much reading material to choose from, and so little time to partake, what to do?
I was a reader of The Hardy Boys mystery books when I was at middle school, and I probably even took in a couple of Nancy Drew titles as well.
What I didn’t realise though, until just now, is that the stories, the many, numerous, stories, that were first published nearly ninety years ago, were all the products of ghostwriters, who worked what on what appeared to be a well organised production line, churning out title after title:
If writing seems like a lonely profession, try ghostwriting children’s books. “You’re usually in touch with one person, the editor,” says Christopher Lampton, who wrote 11 Hardy Boys books in the 1980s. He sent his books not to a publisher but to a packager called Megabooks – effectively a conduit between the writer and the publisher, Simon & Schuster. When Lampton mailed in drafts, they came back with comments written in several colors. “There were other people, looking at your books, making comments. They’re phantoms,” he says.
Richard Eyre’s 2006 film, Notes on a Scandal, starring Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett, could certainly be classified as disturbing, but the book of the same name, by Zoë Heller, upon which the movie is based, is, by all accounts, even more so.
Novels that invite you inside the minds of dangerous obsessives, unaware of their own toxic natures, always leave me very unsettled when done well. I wasn’t expecting that the narrator of Zoë Heller’s Notes on a Scandal to be quite as malign as she is, and the hatred lurking inside what she thinks is love for her beautiful young teacher colleague left me rattled for days.
The novelisation of The Phantom Menace, being episode one of the “Star Wars” film saga, comes in at number four on the fiction best selling list for 1999. Could that be down to “Star Wars” fans who were trying to find a little more… meaning to the film?
The “fix-up” is a novel that’s constructed out of short stories that were previously published on their own. And a lot of classic science fiction novels were “fix-ups.” Asimov’s I, Robot and Foundation were both published as groups of short stories before becoming books. There’s Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles, too. There’s also Jack Vance’s The Dying Earth, and Leigh Brackett’s Alpha Centauri or Die!.
I dare say fix-ups are not limited to sci-fi writing though.
The cause of the paper book is not entirely lost it seems. University students, in the US at least, appear to have a preference for paper, rather than electronic books, and cite comprehension as a significant factor. While people reading electronic documents will often skim over the text, they tend to read print material a little more carefully.
Readers tend to skim on screens, distraction is inevitable and comprehension suffers. In years of surveys, Baron asked students what they liked least about reading in print. Her favorite response: “It takes me longer because I read more carefully.”
If resources were severely restricted, those who might one day find themselves, for whatever reason, having to rebuild the Earth’s civilisations, might have to rely on single sentence snippets of information as starting points. I’m not sure how much that would actually give anyone to work with though.
If it were possible though to preserve a number of books, somehow keep them somewhere safe, and out of the way of whatever brings down today’s civilisations, what titles should such a library, or depository, contain?
Music producer Brian Eno, writer and blogger Maria Popova, and Wired magazine co-founder Kevin Kelly, among others, have been on the case, and suggested titles that could constitute a section of a library to be called the Manual for Civilization, that would house such a collection of books.
I always think that reading a book – especially one that you like – several times is a good idea, but what about sitting down to the same title one hundred times? There’s little doubt that you’d become more than familiar with the subject matter that’s for certain, and it’s a process that Canadian writer Stephen Marche swears by.
I read Hamlet a 100 times because of Anthony Hopkins. He once mentioned, in an interview with Backstage magazine, that he typically reads his scripts over a 100 times, which gives him “a tremendous sense of ease and the power of confidence” over the material. I was writing a good chunk of my doctoral dissertation on Hamlet and I needed all the sense of ease and power of confidence I could muster.
Some ten million books, records, films, tapes, and other such items, are kept in a depository that belongs to Harvard University. The collection is the subject of a documentary titled Cold Storage, that explores this vast library that relatively few people, up until now, knew about.