Posted by: Corri van de Stege | November 3, 2007

Writing, reading, writing, reading…..

Despite my obviously chaotic life, due to job demands and travelling, which as I said recently get in the way of what I really want to do, the writing is still progressing, or perhaps it actually is because of the chaos.  I need to use every bit of  time I can lay my pen on and I do.  The trouble I have now is that writing seems to have taken on its own chaotic semblance, there are notebooks, laptops, scribbles, and random thoughts and comments collected and collated here there and everywhere. 
   I have managed to submit my first assignment for the creative writing course, a quite short story as well as the required comments on my approaches to writing.  Writing those comments made me realise how haphazard this is: there is no routine.  When not working on some report, presentation, e-mails or other, on trains, in hotel rooms, during weekend and odd evenings I shift between blog, course work and novel and although the one seems to feed the others, this is hardly what you would call a deliberate approach, if the latter is supposed to have some sense of rationality attached to it.  No, it definitely has not. 
   In between all of this of course my reading is equally chaotic, except for the deliberate choice of books and writings that I use as research for my novel and which sometimes set me off on a short story that I can use for my course.  Ooops yes, I did call it my novel there… but I have meanwhile reached the magic 25,000 words and I think I am really and truly on my way, even if it will take years to rewrite and edit.  I don’t mind.  I’m having fun!
   Otherwise, one book leads to another and sometimes it’s a review that sparks my interest; or, witness my buying spree the other week, simply walking into a bookshop and salivating at all those wonderful books that I want to read.  A very interesting one that I am currently picking my way through is How to Read a Novel by John Sutherland, a very sobering but amusing look at fiction and how it is created, a kind of story of the novel in England.  The number of books at our disposal is of course well beyond anyone’s ability to get through and as he says: The modern reader is like an explorer cutting his way through the jungle with a machete – slashing a path to that single volume which is, just now, wanted.  Books have not really changed in essence during all that time,  they’re still printed the same way and although we are now able to publish on-line, the physical book is still the one that we carry around with us on trains, in bags and pockets and hold when we comfortably sink back in armchairs and on sofa’s. 

     It is indeed absolutely impossible to keep up with all there is to read and you therefore must somehow or other find your way to those books that appeal to you.  Sutherland quotes the famous suggestion that when browsing through books in a book shop read page 69:  if you like it then you’ll like the book and if you don’t forget it and leave well alone…  I may try that; it seems as good a guide as any.
   Meanwhile I have also read Over by Margaret Foster.  I had a couple of very lengthy train journeys including long waits for connections on stations – always a good time to enjoy a well-written book! And this is definitely a spellbinder.  I could not put it down and had to read it till the end, but then, I think, I associated very much with the narrator of the story, in the way she reacts and responds to people around her when tragedy strikes and the profound sense of loss and coming to terms was beautifully explored and developed.  I have not read much by Margaret Foster (and I am now even more aware that no one can read all there is to read) but will definitely try some more.


  1. Chaotic as it might be, I actually admire your job, at least the traveling part. I work all the time when I’m traveling. Last year I was up for half the flight to Hongkong working on my paper, which I just finished.

    After I read How to Read a Book, I set aside the other books on this subject. It’s about time to start another, which happens to be How to Read a Novel. Interesting line you’ve quoted. I always wonder what the reading habit was, say, for the people who lived in 18th century. They probably spent more time reading and writing since that was before the age of media.

  2. Matt: the other important aspect is of course that there were so few books to choose from! Yes, pehraps they spent more time reading (though I doubt it) but there was not that much of a choice either, was there? 🙂 The book I quote from is a real treasure!

  3. I keep a reading journal (a Moleskine), and a small pocket-size pad for random thoughts. I’m a bit old-fashioned in the way to record my ideas and thoughts. I have to scribble down words on paper before I type them up. Travel gives me a great opportunity to write since I pretty much jot down details down to the bone. A trip would usually exhaust at least two notebooks! 🙂

  4. Good for you, and it is obviously paying of! I should distinguish between my reading and my writing notebooks – I don’t, I jot down everything in the one I happen to have on me…

  5. Interesting post and interesting exchanges. I just read your opinions and how you do as far as books are concerned. Unfortunately my time is so short I cannot catch up with your pace.

  6. Don’t worry Jose – always good to see you around! x

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