‘I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.’ So wrote Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges.
How many book lovers have since taken these words to heart? Here are just a few of the gifts on offer for those who find affinity with the quotation:
What is paradise? According to the Oxford English Dictionary, it is:
1) (in some religions) heaven as the ultimate abode of the just
2) an ideal or idyllic place or state.
Certainly, that fits my idea of a library: cool, quiet, serene; a place of beauty and decorum full, as Thoreau put it, of ‘the treasured wealth of the world’.
I have written before of my love of libraries; in my blog post ‘The roots of a bibliophile: The Ancient Library of Alexandria’ I shared how that love began, in my birthplace of Alexandria, home to the most significant library in history. Since leaving Egypt I have travelled widely, and wherever I go libraries are on the ‘must see’ list. Whenever I take a research trip for my writing, I visit the city’s library, where not only can I read all about the local history and culture, but I get a feel for the spirit of the city. (In Venice, setting for The Echoes of Love, this was especially inspiring; the city has no less than seven libraries. My favourite was the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana [National Library of St Mark’s], which is in a beautiful Renaissance building that holds some of the great classical texts, including illuminated manuscripts.)
Visiting a library, in many ways, is a simple pleasure in life; but for so many of us it is a powerful one: educative, inspiring, comforting. Libraries are so important, I believe passionately that they must be preserved and open to all, like this one: the Philosophical Hall at the library of the Strahov Monastery, Prague.
The headline of a recent article in Guardian caught my eye: ‘The most expensive library in the world?’ Intrigued, I clicked to read the article expecting, based on the image of a sumptuously decorated library, to learn of a new library that had been expensive to open. No doubt the stunning Book Capella in St Petersburg – designed in the fashion of an ancient library, complete with tapestries, murals, sculpted woodwork, stained glass windows and religious statues – did cost a great deal to create. But in fact the article’s headline was referring to the entrance fee to the library: £100 for a four-hour reading session.
This is not a public library, but a private collection owned by a publishing house spanning some 5,000 books dating from the 16th to 19th centuries – and available for purchase, we are told, for £400 and £700 each. For around £3,000, you can buy an annual pass to the library; a lifetime pass will cost you… £69,000.
Who is willing and able to pay to access this library? According to the project’s director, the library’s users are academics and book collectors – and businesspeople who can afford to meet in such luxurious surroundings. The director states:
Book Capella is not a library in the traditional sense, and it is not a museum, although elements of the museum are presented. It’s also not the bookstore, although you can buy our books here. [It] is a new way for people to communicate with rare books.
The motto for this ‘library’? ‘I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library’ – Jorge Luis Borges.
But is Paradise exclusive? A place only those with means can enter?
Remember Thoreau’s description of books: ‘the treasured wealth of the world’. That is an excerpt from this quotation from Walden:
Books are the treasured wealth of the world and the fit inheritance of generations and nations. Books, the oldest and the best, stand naturally and rightfully on the shelves of every cottage. They have no cause of their own to plead, but while they enlighten and sustain the reader his common sense will not refuse them. Their authors are a natural and irresistible aristocracy in every society, and, more than kings or emperors, exert an influence on mankind.
I wonder what Thoreau would make of Book Capella.
Are libraries important to you? Do you think we should preserve them, and ensure equal access to all? I would love to hear your thoughts.
Recently, the arts news has been full of a major comeback: that of the vinyl record. In 2016, vinyl sales in the UK reached 3.2 million, which is the highest figure for 25 years, and represents a 53 per cent increase on the previous year. Most interesting is that this surge of vinyl sales has pushed past digital downloads, making the physical, ‘real’ record the more popular format.
No doubt the death of several prominent artists like David Bowie in part prompted vinyl sales, as fans looked to purchase lasting mementos. But the most compelling and most resonant reasons behind the impetus to choose vinyl over digital come down to authenticity, tangibility, quality and nature of the sound, and the ‘art’ of music creation and listening. Listeners want to turn back time and go back to basics. Music lovers enjoy the sound of vinyl and the experience of playing on a record player, and appreciate the record and its sleeve art as an objet d’art to be treasured.
Are you connecting the dots already between music and literature? There is no denying that a parallel can be drawn between the music industry and the publishing industry. Digital in both arenas has empowered creators to seek out their own audiences, and has opened up new ways for consumers to discover music/books. However, digital has driven down prices, and in doing so it has devalued the actual, tangible art – the books and the CDs or vinyl.
Now, just as music listeners are returned to vinyl, will readers who embraced ebooks make about turns and return to print?
Back in August last year, Market Watch reported that print sales in the US were on the rise. According to US Census Bureau statistics, print sales declined from 2009, but rose 6 per cent in the first half of 2016. The Guardian in the UK reported a similar story: ebook sales falling and print rising – not remotely at the level of vinyl, but certainly notable.
Readers, authors and publishers alike were shocked last week when popular distributor AllRomanceebooks.com suddenly announced its abrupt closure, after a decade of trading. The reason cited? ‘Growing concern over the state of the eBook market going into 2017’ (source: Bustle).
Do you have an ereader, an iPad or a Kindle or a Kobo? Do you enjoy reading on it, or is there a (growing?) disquiet about the format? Do you feel in a pull to print – if you have the choice, do you opt for a print book in your hands over an ebook? If I gift you one of my novels, is that more meaningful and special with a paperback or hardback for your shelf, or an ebook on your device?
I would love to hear your thoughts.
Amazon.com has recently released a list of the top twenty bestselling books published in 2016, based on both print and Kindle sales. Here it is:
- Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts 1 & 2, Special Rehearsal Edition Scriptby J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany
- When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
- The Whistlerby John Grisham
- The Last Mile (Amos Decker series)by David Baldacci
- Killing the Rising Sun: How America Vanquished World War II Japanby Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard
- Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisisby J.D. Vance
- Truly Madly Guiltyby Liane Moriarty
- Night School: A Jack Reacher Novelby Lee Child
- The Black Widow: Book 16 of Gabriel Allon Seriesby Daniel Silva
- Diary of a Wimpy Kid # 11: Double Down by Jeff Kinney
- 15th Affair (Women’s Murder Club)by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro
- Before the Fallby Noah Hawley
- Fool Me Onceby Harlan Coben
- Crisis of Character: A White House Secret Service Officer Discloses His Firsthand Experience with Hillary, Bill, and How They Operateby Gary J. Byrne
- The Wrong Side of Goodbye: A Harry Bosch Novel by Michael Connelly
- The Magnolia Storyby Chip Gaines and Joanna Gaines
- The Nestby Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney
- One with You: Book 5 of A Crossfire Seriesby Sylvia Day
- The Obsessionby Nora Roberts
- Everything We Keepby Kerry Lonsdale
I was not surprised to see books relating to society and politics featuring on the list, given the circumstances of the year, but I was surprised by the prevalence of dark, suspenseful thrillers and the marked absence of my favourite genre: romance.
Of these twenty bestselling titles, only three contain romance: Everything We Keep, The Obsession and One with You. Two are not exclusively romance novels; Nora Roberts’ and Kerry Londsale’s books straddle the women’s fiction and suspense genres. Sylvia Day’s novel is a romance, and it is interesting that her brand of seduction mingled with poignancy has made her the only romance writer to make this chart.
Overall, statistics indicate that romance is best-selling genre in fiction (source: the BBC). So if Amazon’s 2016 bestselling books list encompassed all books purchased this year (but not necessarily published this year) then we could expect to see more romance books in the list. But of the books published in 2016, clearly the romance genre was eclipsed by thrillers.
I wonder why this is the case. Are we in dark times, and seeking answers in dark books? Is it easier to read a ‘quick-grab’ thriller than a romance novel? Have romance readers read more thrillers than romances this year? Is romance somewhat out of vogue?
According to the Romance Writers of America, the subgenres of the romance genre break down as follows in terms of share of sales:
Print: romantic suspense (53%); contemporary romance (41%); historical romance (34%); erotic romance (33%); New Adult (26%); paranormal romance (19%); Young Adult romance (18%); and Christian romance (17%).
E-book: romantic suspense (48%); contemporary romance (44%); erotic romance (42%); historical romance (33%); paranormal romance (30%); New Adult (26%); Young Adult romance (18%); and Christian romance (14%).
It’s interesting that in both print and ebook formats romantic suspense dominates. Romantic suspense is effectively a blend of the thriller genre that’s dominating the charts and traditional romance. Clearly, readers enjoy excitement, twists and turns and a certain degree of darkness in their fiction.
What does all this mean for a writer like myself, who writes beautiful, evocative, epic romance ‘like Hollywood used to make’? Will my next book be a romantic suspense novel instead? Absolutely not, is the answer! Because, as I shall discuss in a post later this week, a writer must write entirely for him- or herself, not to chase a trend or please a market; you have to write the book that demands to be written, the book that touches your heart and soul. Only then can you genuinely connect with readers.
One of the many aspects of being an author is cover creation. I am fortunate to have a publisher that allows me to have input into my covers, and it is a part of the publishing process that I very much enjoy. That said, I do not always find it easy to decide how I want the cover to look. Cover design is far more difficult than it may appear at a glance, for one simple reason: the cover is really important to capture a reader’s interest, and to convey the mood and style and subject of a book.
How much do you judge a book by its cover? Do you have to ‘connect’ with cover art before you will pick up a book and read the synopsis? What do you look for in a cover? Is it important to have covers that look beautiful on your shelf (or do you perhaps read ebook versions when you don’t love the cover so much)? I would love to hear your thoughts.
In order to better understand how readers judge covers, I thought I would try a poll this week. Have a look at these covers, which are all for the literary classic Tender Is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Which do you like best? Please vote using the form below. Let’s see which style of cover is the most appealing.
When was the last time you read a romance novel? This week, I hope, or at least this month, because the benefits of reading romance are powerful.
Here’s my top ten list of reasons to be an avid reader of romances:
- Blissful escapism.
Romance is pure, heavenly escapism. Whatever’s happening in your life, you can step away from it with just the turn of a page – you can put aside being a wife or a mother or an employee for a little while and be transported into another time and place. It’s the ultimate little break, a form of meditation, and when you put down the book you’re calmer and better equipped to live reality once more.
- A chance to ‘meet’ Mr Right.
It may be fantasy, but fantasy is a lot of fun. When you read a romance novel and click with the hero, you enjoy the reading so much. Love is a beautiful thing, and falling in love a little with a character can only make you feel happy.
- Simple therapy.
At its core each romance novel is a story of two people struggling with emotions, just as we all do. ‘Gives me the feels’ has become a common description in romance book reviews: we read not simply to observe, but to engage – to feel. Reading romance novels is cathartic, and the very best novels can restore wavering faith in love and life.
- A guarantee of happy closure.
When life hands you lemons, put them down and pick up a romance book. In happy-ever-after romance novels, you can truly escape and unwind, knowing that the ending will not leave you dangling, uncertain and frustrated, and will reinforce the message that life is good.
- A long and distinguished history.
Look at the great works of literature. Almost every story that has stood the test of time in some way relates to love. People have been engaging with romance stories for centuries. When you read romance, you’re part of a strong tradition.
- A plentiful supply.
Romance is the biggest genre in publishing, in terms of volume of books published and sales. That means your ‘to read’ pile never need be anything less than teetering. Whenever you’re in the mood to read, you can get hold of a romance book.
- So much choice.
Whatever your particular brand of romance, someone somewhere is writing it. Whether you like sassy, steamy rollercoaster rides or beautiful, evocative love stories (like mine), you can find plenty of books to read. And if you feel like dipping your toe into the water of a different style of romance, you have plenty to choose from.
- A chance to learn and grow.
The best romances offer an opportunity for readers to learn about something new, such as an interesting occupation or a place. In my own romance, I take readers to fascinating locations around the world, like Venice and Cadiz and the plains of Kenya, so that my books are like a passport to travel virtually.
- An inexpensive habit.
My novels Burning Embers and The Echoes of Love are currently just 99 pence/cents in ebook format. Compare that to the price of a cup of coffee! Clearly, developing a romance reading habit isn’t going to break the bank.
- Membership of a community.
No romance reader is an island. There are so many ways to share your love of romance books with others, from book clubs to Goodreads groups. The international community of romance readers is friendly and inspirational, and I’m very proud to belong.
Do you have any reasons to add to my list? Do you read romance novels – exclusively, or as well as other genres? What do romance novels mean to you?