A bug worth catching

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
There are only so many cat videos you can watch. So why not read a book? asks Tom McKinlay. Novelist, poet and Landfall editor Emma Neale sheds some light on how to go about it.

What is the upside of reading a book?

There are so many upsides it’s practically dodecahedral. Escape, relaxation, education, stimulus or tranquillity ... there is a book for just about every psychological need. There probably is a book for EVERY psychological need, but I’m not a qualified psychologist, so don’t take my word for it: find a book on it.

Is it best to sit down?

The fabulous thing is that books can accompany all kinds of postures. Cooking at the stove (often lends food an interestingly carbonised flavour that will bring back memories of summer barbecues), lounging on the floor, hanging upside down from the balcony, pacing in circles, during Pilates, perhaps even in the bath if you can invent a waterproof soak-suit (for the book) ...

Where is the best place to start in a new book?

There are smug types who like to read the last line or page first to see if the book is worth the bother. I’d ignore the habits of such irritating individuals, start with the title, flick back to the blurb, a bit like an athlete readying themselves on the starter blocks, and then, I’d just — absolutely lunge at the first sentence.

Are there any exceptions to that rule?

Not in my house.

How long should I persist with a book I’m not enjoying (and whose fault is it)?

If you’re reading for pleasure, read for as long as you can without hurling it across the room. It’s nobody’s fault. We’re all in this together.

If it is by Tolstoy, should I keep reading a bit longer?


How long should I read for in one sitting (what’s your record)?

Read until you’re hungry or you have leg cramp or the meal you’re cooking on the stove is ready. The longest I’ve read for is probably eight hours, with a few interruptions for food, stretching, answering loved one’s questions with a glazed expression.

If I am new to this reading game, should I start with a short story?

Yes! Build up! Tiny steps. Start with flash fiction, even, the shortest of the short.

A good place to start is Bonsai: Best small stories from Aotearoa New Zealand — edited by Michelle Elvy, Frankie McMillan and James Norcliffe — and then move on to Landfall, which has poetry and short fiction ... then when you’re reading fit, move on to novels, full collections of poetry ...

Is it OK to stop in the middle of a chapter?

If you can find a bookmark, yes.

If I have read a book by an author before and enjoyed it, should I try another? Or is it best to read books by lots of different authors?

Just go crazy. Read more books by the same author, read books recommended by that author, read books by people you’ve never heard of, read people on prize shortlists and longlists, read the under-recognised, read authors whose names sound like the first crush you ever had, just read till your eyeballs feel as if they are coated in glitter and you need to sleep.

Are books by New Zealand authors better on the whole?

Some books by New Zealand authors are better than some books by overseas authors.

Rather than reading a book, I’ve decided to write one. How do I do that?

Well actually, there are a few books out there on that topic ...



Don't read books in the bath. The Ba'ath Party just drop them.

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