I was excited about being chosen for the Guardian First Book Prize book group at Waterstones Nottingham. Every year, five Waterstones stores form a group that reads all eleven books in eight weeks. I followed my usual act with prescribed reading: I was initially looking forward to reading everything and, as the weeks passed by, I started to resent having to read things I would not continue with if I were just reading for myself. At the moment I feel so happy and free because I can choose my own books to read; reading is my down-time and my down-time is my own again. All of this prescribed reading fell too close to the English degree I finished this year. Although on my degree, the standard was obviously higher because we weren’t looking exclusively at debut books.
I had always presumed that if a writer had a book published then they must know something about structuring books, but I discovered that this isn’t the case. The shortest book here is still just under 300 pages, and writing for that amount of time is difficult to maintain for first time authors. There are so many things a debut author has to do well, and they then have to sustain it for a massively long time. If they are not used to such big pieces of writing then, even if the rest of the book is very good, the books themselves could be very uneven.
Also, there were more non-fiction books here than I would normally read. I like subjectivity and subtleties and I think that fiction can say truer things sometimes. By the end I was struggling with the amount of non-fiction. And after I decided I was going to blog all of the books, that was the only thing I blogged about. That’s why this blog has only been books for the past couple of months.
Of all the books on the longlist, I would have read a few of them without the prize. And they ended up being some of my favourites. I did discover some gems and it has been an interesting process. I didn’t learn much more about the sort of books I enjoy, but I did learn about judging first books a bit more kindly than those written by established writers. There’s a reason writing is called a craft: writers who are good at some aspects of writing can’t be good at everything.
I am glad I did this group, but I don’t think I’ll be doing it again in a hurry. I read books I loved and books I really did not love. I’ve never been one to read something just because everybody else is, and I’ve never been somebody who can’t choose a book to read. I’ve got lots of books I want to read, and I hopefully will get around to blogging about the ‘other things’ I say I write about here.