Tim Parks is a Booker shortlisted British novelist who has developed a global following. This has come about from a lengthy career of 16 novels, for his non-fiction work, from journalistic pieces in Italy where he has lived for many years, for his translations from Italian to English and as a contributor and columnist for the New York Review Of Books where these essays first saw the light of day.
His emphasis here is on reading and writing and he posits many thought-provoking ideas on these subjects. How we behave as readers and how writers behave as writers are both examined. I couldn’t help but notice that Parks differs from me very early on. He’s a one for not finishing the books he is reading and I can follow the reasoning behind “if only because the more bad books you finish, the fewer good ones you’ll have time to start”. I personally find it very difficult to give up on a book, I’m not sure when I would have last done this but it would have been, quite frankly, years ago. Parks attributes my particular reading behaviour to some throwback to my childhood when finishing a book felt like such an achievement that it was to be celebrated and that I’m still in that mindset many years on. Okay, maybe that could be the case but I also feel that finishing a book I haven’t enjoyed helps me clarify exactly what I like/don’t like about books. Maybe, also my Magnus “I’ve started so I’ll finish” Magnusson approach is because of the respect I hold for the achievement of the writer of getting the book to the finished and published stage, whatever the quality.
But wait a minute! Parks also advocates that it is permissible to give up on a book you are enjoying if you feel that you have reached a natural place to finish, even if it is not the end. What? This sounds to me like eating a piece of cake and thinking “I’m really loving this but I’ll think I’ll leave it there and not eat the rest”. That’s not going to happen with me but I suspect Tim Parks would do so. He’s going to be much slimmer than me too isn’t he?
An area I found interesting was his views on the globalisation of the novel. As worldwide markets grow authors are writing books without the local colour and themes which might restrict their sales markets. This is happening both in English speaking markets and also translations where too much region-specific writing and ideas may prove problematic for translators and lessen the author’s chances in selling worldwide. I know that one of my regular contributors to this blog, Monika, would find Parks’ views on translations interesting as they reflect ideas which she has aired herself on here in the past. To be honest, I’ve never really given that much thought about the art of translation and I was interested by the author’s viewpoints. As an aside to this book what Parks mentions is happening in the world of literature is also now prevalent in popular music where streaming has led to a globalised market. Watching a chart rundown recently it was impossible to tell where artists come from as (and I don’t think it’s my age here) it was all sounding pretty much the same.
I’ve never read any of Tim Parks’ novels but reading this book I feel that I should and it is hard not to be mentally adding works by other authors he references onto the to-be-read list. I found this an interesting set of insights about reading behaviours and attitudes and just what book writing and publishing will be looking like in the future.
Where I’m Reading From was published by Vintage, an imprint of Penguin Books in 2014