The internet is full of book bloggers, passionate readers who dedicate vast swathes of time to promoting books to the general public purely because they can. I thought it was time to meet some of them. This week, I chat to Lyndsay Wheble, who writes about all things bookish (including her own fiction) on Tolstoy is my Cat.
Who are you, where are you and how did you get into book blogging?
I got into book blogging after having an epiphany of sorts in 2009, when I suddenly realised that the reason I felt vaguely unfulfilled by uni and the career paths open to me was because *thought bubble* ‘I should be writing!’ It was really as simple as that. So, I did the UEA and Oxford online writing courses to start with, and then was keen to continue to develop by having a platform that required me to continue to write in the same way, and at the same pace, as the writing courses had. And so Tolstoy is my Cat was born.
What do you do with yourself when you’re not reading or writing about books?
It has been said that I’m somewhat of an ‘indoor cat’, in that my favourite activities are cultural pursuits that allow me to snuggle up and stay warm indoors. I adore films, music, eating nice food, throwing parties, going to the cinema/theatre/gigs, and hanging out with my friends. Besides this, I work as a creative writer/researcher at a fundraising consultancy.
What type of stuff do you enjoy reading most, and what do you avoid at all costs?
I’m your classic book snob (sorry everyone!) and gravitate towards literary fiction (whatever that is!), wittily humorous pieces, and the classics. I particularly love the Russians and books from the Jazz Age – there’s something about beautiful, melancholic people in epic situations that really appeals to me, for some reason I have yet to analyse.
Who are your top three favourite writers (I know it’s hard to pick one!) and why?
I adore Tolstoy, as everything you need to know about life, the world and writing is in his books. Nabokov blows my mind: reading Lolita was like a transcendent experience for me, as I had no idea that so much could be done with a novel. It changed my idea of the whole game. And third? Haruki Murakami maybe? Although I have yet to read 1Q84.
Can you tell me anything about the novel you’re working on?
Yes! It’s the story of a Ukrainian girl who resorts to selling herself as a mail-order bride on the Internet as she’s completely lost faith in all her other options. I am really intrigued by the idea of what happens when you’re young, educated, and have absolutely nowhere to go, and what happens to that energy, when you hate every part of your circumstance and have no power to change it. I think it will be a modern, angry book, with a political edge – I wrote a good part of it whilst going through my own period of unemployment.
Do you think it’s true that anyone can write a book?
Umm, I’m hoping so, for my own sake! I think so, yes, although I think you need a very specific set of skills to be able to channel your ideas and mental images into something that’s intelligible to someone else. Tenacity and vague traces of obsession seem to be essential too. So, I don’t know. Maybe not, no.
What is the worst thing you’ve ever read?
I read two books last year that I absolutely hated: The Quality of Mercy by Barry Unsworth, which gave no inner life or credibility to its female characters, which makes me MAD, and The Radleys by Matt Haig, which really irritated me by trying to be something more than it really was. Generally though, I have a fairly good nose for the kind of thing I like, so don’t fall into the clutches of too many duds.
How did you get involved with the More4 Book Club and what does it entail?
I got an email just before the start of the Summer series in 2011, asking if I’d like to do some reviewing in exchange for a trip to watch the filming, to which I said an emphatic yes. I met some really nice people that time, so agreed again for the series that’s just about to finish on UK television. Even more excitingly, this time I got to appear on the show, in the episode reviewing Rules of Civility by Amor Towles.
You are doing a reading challenge called the Classics Club where you’re aiming to read 83 classic texts by March 2016 – what made you decide to join in and how did you choose your titles?
I saw how excited people were on Twitter, so wanted to join in! The ‘classics’ aspect of the challenge suits me beautifully, not only because they’re a large part of what I love to read, but also because I have so many lying around my house! The list is made up of books on my TBR pile, books I’ve always meant to get to, and books I read a while ago and would love to re-read. I think it’s often useful to have a list of sorts to keep you reading things that will challenge and stimulate you, rather than just picking up the nearest, or the newest, thing.
You’re also doing a challenge called Dickens from the start to mark the bicentenary of his birth – what compels you to do reading challenges?
‘Dickens from the Start’ is a funny one. I got all caught up in the Dickens bicentenary plans in the middle of last year, so thought reading them all in order might be a fun thing to do. But then I read ’The Pickwick Papers’ and thought ‘meh’, and then read ‘Oliver Twist’ and realised that reviewing it would be impossible, because when everyone knows a book so well, it’s very hard to come up with anything original to say. I’ve added the remaining books to my ‘Classics Club’ list, but I may not be coming back to them for a while…
How do you feel about eBooks?
Anything that gets people reading is a good thing, and it’s only natural that modern technology would try to enhance the experience. I’m strictly a paper and print girl myself though, as I look at screens all day, so abhor the idea looking at another one right before bed! I find it interesting that people get so het up about them; although there was the temptation, on reading this question, to get all angry and Franzen about it, just to get the debate going again…On average, how much time do you spend reading every day?
I read religiously before bed each night, for around 30 minutes. Sometimes, when I’m researching something at work, I can spend 8 hours reading and making notes. Train journeys often allow me to get some more hours in, but, annoyingly, I struggle to read when it’s not quiet. Oddly, I had far more stamina for long periods of reading before I started writing, so I wonder now if the energy required for both/either comes from a common need, or a common part of the brain.
Have social media outlets like blogging and Twitter changed your attitudes to reading and writing?
Yes. I think, in a way, my reading habits have lost their innocence, if that makes sense, as I never now read something without thinking how I will talk about it, and what I can learn from it for the sake of my own work. Wonderfully, though, blogging and Twitter allowed me to find a whole community of passionate, idiosyncratic and non-commercially minded book lovers, who think about books as I do, which was nothing short of a revelation. For the longest time, I thought it was just me!