In my head I think of this as a book review blog, and that’s what I tend to call it. But of course it turns out to be much more than that. If there’s ever any suspicion that ‘book review blog’ is a misleading description I have only to look at a few other fellow bloggers who feel equally free to roam widely while still under the banner of bibliocritic. (Hmm, is there such a word?)
No apologies then for apparently masquerading under false colours! What I do stand by is my aim of exploring the world of ideas through books. You may well have noticed that my reviews seldom consist of like/dislike statements or — heaven forbid — star ratings, or lengthy plot summaries or lists of dramatis personae — not that there’s anything wrong with all that. No, I tend instead to waffle on at length about, say, the significance of names or a novel’s similarity to a folktale, or elaborate on author’s jokes or their philosophical viewpoint, or sometimes all of these at the same time. Occasionally I may even seem for long stretches to forget to refer to the novel at all!
This is what I mean by exploring: not just rampaging through a story’s narrative like excited visitors charging round an historic property but roaming around its hinterland to see what led someone to choose that spot on which to build. I like this quote I found, an observation by Alice Munro on the nature of narrative:
“A story is not like a road to follow … it’s more like a house. You go inside and stay there for a while, wandering back and forth and settling where you like and discovering how the room and corridors relate to each other, how the world outside is altered by being viewed from these windows. And you, the visitor, the reader, are altered as well by being in this enclosed space, whether it is ample and easy or full of crooked turns, or sparsely or opulently furnished. You can go back again and again, and the house, the story, always contains more than you saw the last time. It also has a sturdy sense of itself of being built out of its own necessity, not just to shelter or beguile you.”
If the house Munro describes is the ‘who’ and ‘what’ and ‘when’ and ‘where’ of a tale, the hinterland — what in German means “the land behind” — is the ‘how’ and ‘why’. I like to ask how a story might have been put together, why the author chose to tell it one way and not another, and so on; in short, what lies behind the narrative. So while I believe that my reviews and discussions encapsulate assessment, appraisal and appreciation of the title under consideration, I should be honest and add that I hope to do so much more, if the fiction (or, indeed, the occasional non-fiction) invites it.
I’m no academic, no specialist of any sort. My credentials as an explorer are not those of a geologist, ethnologist, zoologist, geographer or cartographer, I’m merely a tourist who likes to keep their eyes open for what makes a holiday interesting, distinctive and memorable. I’ve referred to this ‘eyes open’ approach before as holiday consciousness — the trick of seeing the familiar as though visiting it for the first time — and which applies to things unknown as much as known. Anything else, surely, could be accounted sleepwalking.
So, exploring an imaginary hinterland — the world of ideas — through books requires … books. Lots of them. I’ll just leave you now with a word which I’ve noted has recently become a meme on social media: abibliophobia. This is a humorous term to describe the fear of running out of things to read, made up from Greek a + biblio + phobia (literally, ‘no-books-fear’). This word appeared as early as 2006 in The Jewish Quarterly, in which the Master of Birkbeck College was said to be suffering from this, “a common affliction amongst book collectors that manifests itself as a morbid fear of running out of reading material.” In 2010 Phil Cousineau, in Wordcatcher: An Odyssey into the World of Weird and Wonderful Words, called it a “frightful” word to describe “a curious fear I’ve suffered from on occasion, especially on long airplane flights.”
You’ll be pleased to know it’s a fear I don’t suffer from.