Category: Opinion

Reflections: 'light reading'

Since I’m aiming this year to think more deeply about what I read and why, I wanted to begin this occasional series of posts on how things are working out and thoughts that come my way. It’s been a good start: I’ve read three books which are certainly going to stay with me – The Vegetarian, Manazuru, and The Wandering Pine. They inspired strong responses from me, and I can recall vividly what it was like. That, ultimately, is what I’m looking for.

But there was a time, towards the end of last month, when I felt the need to read something ‘lighter’. I wasn’t even sure what that was going to mean in my current reading context; I suppose it really meant a book which I could read once and wouldn’t mind if it didn’t stay with me. I tried a few books and found voices with the potential to entertain – voices telling of crime capers or small American towns under the burden of peril; or a quirky voice masking a darker experience of the world – but I put them aside. Some of those books would probably have done the job I wanted them to; the thing was that I felt I knew where their voices would take me, and it turned out I didn’t want that.

It’s one thing to abandon books that you’re not enjoying; I have no qualms about doing that. But putting aside books which might pass the time pleasantly enough – that’s new to me, and it is not easy. Yet I resolved to do it more this year, and it’s something I will have to do to get closer to the books that really count for me. It’s a risk with every book we don’t finish, and every book we never start, that we’ll miss something vital. But that’s the way it is, so I let my instinct prevail.

HaynesThe book I chose to read in the end was The Amber Fury by Natalie Haynes, which is a thriller about a woman who takes a job as a drama teacher in a pupil referral unit in Edinburgh; manages to get one of her classes interested in Greek tragedy; then finds that a tragedy has unfolded in front of her before she realised what was happening. I was immediately intrigued by the protagonist’s voice:

The first thing they’ll ask me is how I met her. They already know how we met, of course. But that won’t be why they’re asking. It never is. (p. 5)

Naturally, this opening prompts plenty of questions in the reader’s mind. There were soon hints of tragedy in the narrator’s past, and of course an uncertain future. The Amber Fury held out the promise of leading somewhere perhaps largely familiar, but not entirely. It was enough for that moment. I carried on.

Did I get what I wanted from The Amber Fury? Yes and no. It might have helped if I knew more about Greek tragedy, because I suspect there were deeper parallels in Haynes’s novel that I missed. As it was, I had to rely mainly on the book’s qualities as a thriller, and… Well, all thrillers of course play a certain kind of game, and to read one is implicitly to accept that game. The Amber Fury’s game played out pleasantly enough; but, towards the end, I was getting impatient with it. I’d had enough ‘light reading’ and was ready for something else.

Don’t get me wrong: I wanted to be ready for something else, but I’d anticipated that being at the end of an enjoyable palate-cleanser; I hadn’t imagined that I would get fed up with the whole idea of palate-cleansing before it was finished. Of course, it could just have been the choice of book; but the experience has left me wondering: if this ‘light reading’ got me hankering after something else, was it really what I wanted in the first place at all? If it was, will the price of light reading always be that I end up falling out with it? Time will tell.



Strange Horizons Book Club and a moment of reflection

OmbriaThe Strange Horizons book club on Patricia A. McKillip’s Ombria in Shadow is now live; go and take a look. We had a really good discussion, which looks set to continue in the comments; I hope the SH book club goes on to be a regular and reliable source of interesting discussion about books.

This experience (amongst other things) has set me thinking about reading and what I want to get from it. I’m not the only blogger who’s been doing that sort of thing recently – see this post by Simon Savidge, for instance. Now, I’m happy enough to be a prolific – and relatively fast – reader; but Simon’s points about reading mechanically, in a way that does a disservice to a book and yourself resonated with me. This is not necessarily an issue of quantity: for me, it’s a matter of what I want reading to be.

The truth is, in the last few years I’ve read too many books which have essentially done little more than pass the time along, which is not what I want. The most powerful books I read change my world, get under my skin, inspire thoughts that I have to write down and share – that’s what I want.

Of course there will be ups and downs. The odd makeweight book is inevitable, especially when you like to take chances in your reading. Equally, I’m not saying that every good book has to scale the highest of heights to be worthwhile. But there have been too many times when I’ve knowingly kept on reading something just for the sake of it; or when I’ve read with more of an eye for having something to post on the blog than for why I’m reading. It shouldn’t be that way.

So here’s a resolution to be more selective in what I read and keep reading.There may be fewer posts on the blog, but maybe not; I expect I will read fewer books, but shouldn’t feel short-changed for that. After all, reading is not a competitive sport, not even if it’s just competing against yourself. Rather, it’s a journey of discovery, and the point of this blog was to share that discovery – so that’s what I aim to keep in mind.

Science fiction playing catch-up

I’ve been shadowing a lot of award lists lately: I’ve read through the longlists for this year’s Independent Foreign Fiction Prize (for fiction in translation) and Desmond Elliott Prize (debut novels), as well as the shortlist for the Arthur C. Clarke Award (science fiction). Add in last year’s Man Booker (the ever-nebulous ‘literary’ fiction) and Edge Hill Prize (short story collections), and you have all my main reading interests. So I think all that reading has given me a reasonable cross-section of current UK publishing in the areas I care most about; and something bothers me – there are books on all of those lists that I like very much, and books on all of them that I don’t think deserved to be there; but, taking each one as a whole, the Clarke shortlist comes right at the bottom for me in terms of quality.

Science fiction and fantasy are where I started as a reader, and I still believe that the fantastic as a whole has a vital contribution to make to literature. So it gave me no pleasure to see the Clarke lagging behind those other awards; but it bore out a trend that I see elsewhere in my reading (most of which falls under one of the five awards’ headings) – on average, contemporary sf published in the UK is punching well below its weight. I’m reminded of a comment made by the science fiction author Tony Ballantyne in an interview that I came across when I was reviewing his novel Dream London:

I…think that the most exciting and cutting edge work in writing is being produced [in sf and fantasy]. If you look at mainstream literature, it’s about twenty years behind what we’re doing now.

I’m not convinced that this could even be true hypothetically, simply because the cutting edge is more likely to be found in pockets among various kinds of fiction, rather than in a single one. But behind Ballantyne’s remark is a firm belief that sf is leading the pack. I think that, ten or fifteen years ago, it was certainly keeping pace: writers like China Miéville and Jeff VanderMeer were emerging at the same time as (say) Sarah Waters and Michel Faber. These days, however, it seems to me that sf is struggling to keep up.

It’s not that sf is lacking books at the top end of the scale; the likes of James Smythe can hold their own. It’s that, generally, it has fewer of them than the literary ‘mainstream’, and that the average seems to be lower down the scale. If I take writing quality (the backbone of any piece of fiction) as an example, even when I look at my least favourite titles from some of the award lists – such as D.W. Wilson’s Ballistics or Emma Donoghue’s Astray – they’re at worst OK; but, from the Clarke shortlist, there’s stuff in Ramez Naam’s Nexus and Phillip Mann’s The Disestablishment of Paradise that makes me cringe.

One area for which I’d expect sf (with its imagining different ways of being) to be a natural fit is engaging with textual form. Sometimes it still is, in the work of writers like Christopher Priest, but they seem few and far between these days. When I reviewed Dave Hutchinson’s Europe in Autumn earlier this year, I noted that there was a separation between its chapters that mirrored the novel’s fragmented setting, and that this stood out as an unusual engagement with form. The thing is that, in and of itself, it isn’t a particularly radical approach to novelistic form; but it still stood out to me as being relatively rare in genre science fiction. However, if I turn to the mainstream, and a novel like Nathan Filer’s Costa-winning The Shock of the Fall, I see a patchwork of different forms and styles integrated into a standard narrative, and it feels quite commonplace. In other words, I think there’s a level of experimentation with form in the mainstream that now seems unremarkable, which would seem remarkable in genre sf. Imagine what Nexus would be like if it were actually written as though its characters’ minds were linked; instead, it’s a pretty routine thriller – and this is something I see all too often in sf.

Predicting the future is not the business of sf, but it can engage with the future and explore the kinds of issues and choices that may face us. Even here, though, contemporary sf is hit and miss: James Smythe’s The Machine is (by some distance) the title on this year’s Clarke list that explores its issues the most searchingly, but it’s also the one published as mainstream. Niall Harrison has criticised The Disestablishment of Paradise for a lack of nuance in its treatment of ecological issues. When I watched ‘Be Right Back’ in the last series of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror, I was struck that a drama by a mainstream satirist was telling a robot story that examined issues of identity in a way that contemporary genre sf seemed largely to be shying away from. These are areas where sf truly can do better than the mainstream, and I only wish it would take up the challenge more often.

I’m excited to see authors like Eleanor Catton (who, to my mind, is squarely at the cutting edge of English-language fiction) and Eimear McBride emerging in the mainstream – and especially to see them winning and being shortlisted for multiple awards. But, when I look at genre sf published in the UK, I simply can’t see that they have equivalents emerging. I wish I could. All in all, though, my reading is showing me that sf has a lot of catching up to do.

Thoughts: a fraction of the whole book

grantaboybnI’ve now read a couple of the novels which were excerpted in last year’s Granta Best of Young British Novelists anthology; doing so has really brought home to me that a whole novel is not the same as a chapter or two. In a sense, of course, this is only self-evident; but it’s one thing to understand this in the abstract, and another to be able to compare a complete text with an extract which has been presented as a showcase of its author’s work.

Take Evie Wyld’s Granta piece ‘After the Hedland’, for example. I now know that this consists of the first three past-set chapters of All the Birds, Singing. So that means you immediately lose the alternating present/past structure which does so much; and you don’t necessarily spot that the chronology is reversed. That’s before we get on to the missing cues of tone, place and character. In other words, the context is gone; when you read ‘After the Hedland’, you can’t assume that you’re reading All the Birds, Singing.

Then there’s Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi. The Granta anthology included chapter 7 of that novel; I knew at the time that I was inevitably missing quite a lot; but, even so, the whole book is again a very different work. For another Oyeyemi example, ‘My Daughter the Racist’ was shortlisted for the BBC National Short Story Award in 2010; it works perfectly well as a standalone story, but it’s not going to prepare you for Mr Fox.

As I said above, this is obvious: a novel is a complete piece of work; you can’t judge from a snapshot. But the thing is that we do, perhaps more so with novels than any other art form; they demand so much time from us that we need some way of filtering out those that we don’t want to read. Rare is the reader who’ll do what Jenny Ackland did when reading The Luminaries, and plough on through 500 pages that that aren’t engaging them, in the hope that the book will suddenly be transformed. Rarer still, perhaps, is the reader who’ll find that it was worth doing.

But, in Ackland’s case, it was worth doing, and there’s the rub. I’ve seen several people around the book blogging world, whose opinion I respect, abandon The Luminaries relatively early on for one reason or another; I suspect that at least one of those people would ultimately appreciate what the book is doing, if they could carry on. I know I could have given up on The Rehearsal at one point, and I would have seriously missed out. What can we do to try to ensure that we don’t miss out, when we (probably) don’t want to have to finish every book that we start, and can’t guarantee that it will be worth carrying on ?

Well, consider what happens when a book suddenly clicks into place for us: it’s not the book that changes; it’s we who see more. So what I think we can do is be more open to seeing. We can take the view that a novel is not obliged to grab you from the first page (unless it is designed to!), but only to be true to itself. We can aim to be more attentive to what a book is doing, and less concerned with our own expectations. We can talk to each other about what worked or didn’t work for us in a book and why, and try to gauge our own likely reaction.

I think perhaps it ultimately comes back to treating literature as an encounter. It’s not an infallible strategy – nothing could be – but it may be a way of taking better chances.

Thoughts: literary encounters and Catton vs Miéville

luminariesThis post is expanding on a few thoughts I’ve had recently, mostly prompted by reading Eleanor Catton’s article on literature and ‘elitism’ (first published in New Zealand’s Metro magazine in March 2013, then posted on Metro‘s website in December). The whole essayis fabulous, and you should read it. Catton argues that literature itself can’t be elitist, because a book can’t dictate who will read it, or how. But I’m more interested in her conception of literature as encounter, and book reviews as a means of ‘describing and critiquing a literary encounter’. This is such an inspiring idea to me, a different way of thinking about books: less in terms of ‘like’ or ‘dislike’, more as an exploration – how did I respond to this book, and why? It’s something I want to try to capture more on the blog.

Thinking about it more, I start to feel that experiencing a strong engagement with a book is more valuable than liking it per se. Don’t misunderstand: I’m not knocking enjoyment of a book, or suggesting that we should feel happy about disliking one; but it seems to me that – less often – we can have deeper reactions to a book which reach beyond that kind of consideration. I’m reminded of when I read Martin Martin’s on the Other Side by Mark Wernham a few years ago: the only time in the history of this blog that I’ve abandoned a book and still felt the need to write several hundred words explaining why. At the time, I was annoyed at the book; now I can see how infrequent it has been for me to be so affected by a book I didn’t like, and I feel that’s worth treasuring (it also makes me wonder whether I should give the novel another chance).

Another example. This week, I came across Jenny Ackland’s response to The Luminaries:

It is possible that a book you were on the verge of giving away…still made you want to finish it like no other book you’ve ever read?



I am exhausted and exhilarated, and a little bereft.

It’s a wonderful piece that captures just the sort of encounter Catton is talking about. I strongly suspect from this that the experience of reading The Luminaries is going to stay with Ackland for a long time, to put it mildly. But I would also wager that the negative parts of that experience will become integral to the memory of the whole (that’s what I mean by going beyond ‘like’ and ‘dislike’). To my mind, one reading experience this intense – even when there’s rough with the smooth – is worth a dozen moderately pleasant ones.


Another thought I’ve had recently is that Eleanor Catton’s current breakthrough reminds of China Miéville’s emergence at the time of Perdido Street Station (2000). Fittingly enough, there are striking coincidences (both writers won a major literary prize with their second novel, and at around the same age). But what I’m thinking about is that both came along as young writers with a very intense vision for their work, and an ability to articulate that vision powerfully. They could see their own way to do things, and Miéville opened up a space that changed the creative landscape around him (other writers, too, but it seems to me that Miéville’s voice rang loudest).

There are a couple of key differences: Miéville emerged from and worked firmly within the field of science fiction and fantasy, which Catton does not; she also doesn’t appear to have a creative ‘manifesto’ like the New Weird. It’s also, of course, too early to know how Catton’s career will develop; but it will be interesting to see how, and how far, her influence spreads. It wouldn’t surprise me to see more elaborately plotted historical mysteries, or novels built on formally organised structures, in the years ahead; but to focus on such trappings is to overlook the heart and soul of Catton’s books, which to me is the depth of unity that she achieves. My hope is that writers will take one key lesson from Catton’s work: do your own thing, and do it as fully and as well as you can.


Since I started planning this post, it has also occurred to me that The Luminaries would make an interesting point of comparison and contrast with Viriconium, particularly in terms of how (if?) they gradually erode story. But that’s a thought for another time!

Three from the archives

Yesterday on Twitter, Max Cairnduff was asking other bloggers which two or three of their posts they would direct him to. I thought I’d share with you the ones I chose.

1. Eleanor Catton, The Luminaries (2013). This post is both recent and pretty obvious; but I wouldn’t be true to myself as a reader and blogger if I didn’t highlight the contemporary writer whose work means more to mean than just about any other. I think this is one of my most passionate reviews; the essence of me as a reader is right there in this post.

2. How to approach a new genre. This post emerged from thinking about the question of where someone should start with a particular author or genre, and realising that the answer will probably be different for everyone. I was also thinking about how I had changed as a reader: exactly how had I come to appreciate books that I would once never have touched? This was my attempt to explore those issues.

3. Fantasy and Crime Fiction: The Cases of China Miéville and John Grant. For quite some time, this early post contained my longest response to a single book. But China Miéville’s The City and the City is that kind of book; it reveals an awful lot about how an individual reader reads (so does The Luminaries, actually). I think this post is still my best at engaging with other people’s thoughts on a book. I’m also pleased with how the comparison of the two books under discussion (John Grant’s The City in These Pages was the second) turned out.

Now I’ve done this, I’m curious about what other bloggers would choose; if you have a blog and are reading this, let me know.

My Life in Books

Today, you’ll find me over at Stuck in a Book, taking part in today’s instalment of My Life in Books. This is a feature where Simon invites bloggers to talk about some of the books that represent important milestones in their lives. Besides me, you can also see what Frances from Nonsuch Book.(You might want to read my choices in conjunction with the Triple Choice Tuesday I did for Reading Matters last year, because I deliberately picked different titles this time.)

My ideas for a childhood favourite included You Tell Me by Roger McGough and Michael Rosen, and Word Box by Gyles Brandreth… but I went for something else in the end.

When it came to choosing one of the first ‘grown up’ books I enjoyed, there was only ever going to be one author. There were many possible books, but one stood out for the place it had in my life.

The book from early adulthood could easily have been The Prestige or Perdido Street Station… but I chose a different one.

My choice of favourite book from the last few years might have been The Rehearsal, or Skippy Dies, or Forgetting Zoe, or An A-Z of Possible Worlds, or so many others… but, as you’ll have gathered by now, it’s none of the above.

As for the book that might surprise people… you’ll just have to go and see.

I think it certainly surprised Frances. Simon gave us a list of each other’s choices (without revealing who we were or showing us what the other had said about their books) and asked us what we thought they said about the person choosing. I was interested to see Frances’s comments – I think she captures the essence of what I most like to read.

I really enjoyed taking part in this, and I’d like to thank Simon for inviting me. Do check out the My Life in Books archives, as it’s a fascinating feature.

Finally, should you now be visiting this blog for the first time – welcome, and I hope you find something of interest here.

The art of science fiction

Martin Lewis has been wondering just how many (or how few) contemporary science fiction writers are really stretching with their art – not just writing well, but going further to create works which are uniquely their own, rather than cleaving too closely to the well-worn paths of the genre. People like M. John Harrison, Christopher Priest, Adam Roberts… I joined in with the comments, which concluded that it’s hard to think of many such authors.

This discussion comes in the wake of a review by the science fiction critic Paul Kincaid of three ‘best of the year’ anthologies, in which he argued that many of the stories in those books felt tired, carried a sense of going through the motions. Responses to Kincaid’s review included Martin Lewis’s one about aesthetics, and Jonathan McCalmont‘s more political take, where he suggested that sf authors were shying away from serious engagement with the issues facing us now and in the future.

I recognise the problem McCalmont highlights, but I’m closer to Lewis’s view here. Partly this is because, by inclination, I’m more interested in the artistry of fiction than its politics. But it’s also because I think there are many valid ways of using the tropes of sf to create fiction with substance – and that it’s substance in general that is most lacking from contemporary sf  (to be clear, by ‘substance’ I mean the kind of artistry for which Lewis is calling).

There’s a clear reluctance in the published genre right now to write across established conventions rather than within them. Martin Lewis comes up against some of the problems inherent in this when he sees ‘resource sf’ take contemporary issues of scarcity and consumption and then fall back on traditional narrative patterns, thereby losing its edge. Fiction can’t engage fully with the specifics of issues unless it develops specific approaches to writing about them. This is why Adam Roberts’ By Light Alone speaks so loudly to the present: not just because its concerns are current, but because there’s also a freshness to how it treats them.

But the tropes and tools of science fiction don’t belong solely in the box marked ‘science fiction’, and haven’t for some time. I would go so far as to say that you are more likely to find creative approaches to sf (however successful) in works published as mainstream. It’s there where writers seem to feel most inclined to go their own way with sf tropes. However successful you consider (say) Girl Reading, A Visit from the Goon Squad, or How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, all present a distinctive vision; their authors shape the material of sf in ways that others wouldn’t. The field is richer because of that.

This is not to say that genre sf couldn’t also show the mainstream a thing or two. A couple of months ago, Max Cairnduff argued in a blog post that contemporary Anglo-American literature wasn’t doing enough to engage with the contemporary world. It’s not all that different from the challenge Jonathan McCalmont makes towards sf. I could see mainstream realist literature drawing usefully on the techniques science fiction has for making arguments about the world (the question of whether genre sf needs to draw more on those techniques notwithstanding). But I also think genre sf could do with taking notes from its mainstream cousins on how to strengthen its own art.

BBAW: What book blogging means to me

This week is the fifth Book Blogger Appreciation Week. I’m joining in with today’s daily blogging topic: ‘What does book blogging mean to you?’ I’ve picked out three things for which I value book blogging:

Discovery – of course, book blogs are a great way to find out about unfamiliar books (Mike Thomas’s Pocket Notebook is just one example of a great book I became interested in after reading about it on blogs). Some will even be books you wouldn’t hear about any other way. But I’ve also found myself reading more widely as a result of book blogging; I hear more about books, so I’m more inclined generally to take chances. I picked up Eleanor Catton’s The Rehearsal on a whim and loved it; I don’t whether I’d have tried it if I hadn’t been blogging.

Engagement – I think book blogging has made me a better reader. Certainly it’s made me a more thoughtful one, because writing about books regularly has predisposed me to take a reflective approach to reading. I also feel closer to the book world as a result of blogging (it helps me keep up with new books and events). It’s easier to find people who like reading as much as I do – which leads me to…

Community – The book blogging world is a big place, and it’s not possible to keep up with all of it. But I do think that, whatever your reading interests, there’s a part of the community out there for you. There are like-minded readers; similar-but-differently-minded readers; perhaps even readers of different tastes altogether whom you might nevertheless find it interesting to engage with.

All in all, I find that book blogging adds an extra dimension to reading. It turns reading into something larger than just you and the book, and I’ve found that very enriching.

How to approach a new genre

How do you begin to explore a new area of fiction? Asking for recommendations is obviously a good idea, but that may not be as straightforward as it seems. Over at Savidge Reads, Simon is asking where he should start with reading Terry Pratchett; it strikes me that, with a writer whose work presents so many different faces to the world, there can’t be a single definitive recommendation for everybody. It depends on what you like to read – and the same goes for unfamiliar genres.

I’ve been reflecting on how I came to appreciate types of fiction that I hadn’t previously – even types of fiction that I thought I couldn’t appreciate – and thought I would share the process. I’ll use a hypothetical example based on what I read most often: how readers of ‘literary’ contemporary fiction might go about approaching science fiction. I’ll also talk about my own main reading evolution, which essentially went in the opposite direction.

Stage 1: the same, but different

To my mind, the best first step in approaching an unfamiliar genre is to choose something which belongs to the category of what you’d already read – but which can also be read as what you’re working towards. It’s then a question of viewing the book in that different light. For our hypothetical readers of mainstream literary fiction, Far North by Marcel Theroux would be a fine starting-point: that book wasn’t published as science fiction; as Theroux commented on its being nominated for the Clarke Award, it wasn’t written as sf, either; but it can certainly be read as such – not just because Far North is set in the future, but also for the sense of estrangement and disorientation which Theroux creates, for example. Recognising these qualities, our readers may begin to see aspects of science fiction in work they already enjoy.

In my case, it was reading books like Christopher Priest’s The Prestige – alongside the Clute-Grant Encyclopedia of Fantasy, which inspired me to take a more critical, reflective approach to my reading – that made me start to value depth of craft in a book, even though it would be several more years before I realised as much.

Stage 2: exploration

As you move further into a new genre, it’s a question of finding the qualities you like and admire in the unfamiliar fiction. In our hypothetical example, our readers might now be turning to the likes of Geoff Ryman, Octavia Butler, Adam Roberts, Gwyneth Jones, Joanna Russ… authors, in other words, who unequivocally write science fiction, but who do so with sensibilities our readers may recognise.

Dan Rhodes’s Gold would have been one of the first books I read which made me realise that mainstream fiction could give me some of the same things I valued in speculative fiction. In a very real sense, nothing happens in Gold, and that would have turned me off it at one time; but I loved it – it was quirky, wonderfully written, and insightful. Right up to books like Eleanor Catton’s The Rehearsal and David Vann’s Legend of a Suicide, I’ve been able to build bridges between my old reading heartland and less familiar territory.

Stage 3: other aesthetics

From seeing similar qualities in different kinds of fiction, I think there’s one more stage, which involves recognising the value of different but equally worthwhile approaches. For our hypothetical readers, this might mean a book like Evolution by Stephen Baxter; this novel follows a single strand of DNA through evolutionary time, and hence transcends character, plot, and some other characteristics we might normally look for in fiction. But the episodic structure of the narrative could be said to mirror the process of evolution itself; so Baxter’s strategies work aesthetically for this particular book, even if they might not for many others.

I’m not talking here about a journey towards the ‘best’ or the ‘most difficult’ of a given genre; but towards whatever is furthest away from what a reader would normally appreciate – and that, of course, will be different for each of us. There was a time when I wouldn’t have contemplated reading a book like Agnes Grey, for instance; but not only have I now done so, I’ve also been able to approach it on its own terms and get something from it.

Of course, this is not a recipe for being able to appreciate everything – that’s not going to be possible, and it’s probably not desirable, either – but it’s how I expanded my reading palette. Do you have any approaches of your own?

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