Why books matter

Building Empathy – One Novel at a Time

The other day someone asked me, “Why do you write for children? It’s a tough market to break into.”

“I’m so glad you asked,” I replied. “Aside from just a love of telling stories, there are some hard reasons why I think it’s so important to write for children. Here is just one.

It seems the qualities that reflect the best in our species have been under attack for some time now. Polarization is growing, as are divisiveness and demonizing those who differ from us in any way—ethnically, culturally, or politically.

Reading novels and stories builds empathy and helps to reduce divisiveness. When a child (or any of us) isreading a novel or story, they are immersing themselves in what it’s like to be in another person’s head. They’re experiencing the character’s experiences in deep and complex ways. Ways that current virtual reality can’t come close to replicating.

When a child is reading a novel or story, they are drawn into imagining the character’s motivations, their goals. This develops the same way of thinking that helps them to understand the people surrounding them in the real world:

  • It helps them to realize and understand that people from other cultures and ethnic groups have feelings, abilities, and desires, just like them.
  • They can come to understand that surface behaviours, particularly undesirable ones, may be driven by deeper underlying causes and shouldn’t necessarily be taken personally.
  • Discussing books and stories offers parents and children a way to discuss topics and feelings that might not be comfortable or come naturally otherwise.

Empathy and compassion are closely related, and both are increasingly precious in our turbulent and divisive world. Reading books and stories is one of the best ways to help our children develop both.”

Let’s help our children build their empathy muscles, one book at a time.

What I’ve Been Reading

Evil in Emerald, by A.M. Stuart

Craving a change of pace, Harriet Gordon, joins a local musical theatre production but when a fellow cast member is brutally killed, Harriet and Inspector Curran must turn the spotlight on murder in this all-new mystery from the author of Revenge in Rubies.

Harriet and Curran get better and better. I love the detailed and evocative setting in historical (1910) Singapore and the author includes a number of ‘real’ as well as fictional personages in the work.

The pacing is brisk, the characters continue to develop in interesting ways and complexity, and the climax was very satisfying.
I am impatiently awaiting the next title in the series!

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Beach views and Book Review

It’s wonderful to be back in Australia after a two-year hiatus (thank you, Covid). This is my time to relax, recharge and work on the sequel to The Silk Road. We’ve spent two weeks in Sydney and visited beaches (Coogee Beach, this was just after the volcano erupted in Tonga and the waves were massive as far south as this), museum, art galleries, and more delicious cafés and restaurants than I can mention. Which doesn’t sound like I’ve been working much, but one must sneak up on the muse. But now I’m back in Brisbane and it’s time to get to work.

Coogee Beach, NSW. This was just after the volcano erupted in Tonga and the waves were massive as far south as this.

While here I finished a book titled The Bookseller’s Secret, by Michelle Gable a dual-protagonist story featuring a fictionalized account of Nancy Mitford’s war-time experience in a London bookshop and a modern-day novelist with writer’s block (Katie).

I’m a big fan of Nancy Mitford and I’ve read at least four of her books, so the premise of the book intrigued me. Nancy was the oldest of the famed (and infamous) aristocratic and beautiful Mitford sisters and a successful novelist and biographer. But during her time in the bookshop, she had recently had three failed novels and now had a severe case of writer’s block. During the war, she decided to write a memoir and this (now missing and Katie’s new obsession) memoir is the crux of the ‘secret’. Nancy formed a salon during the war with several social and literary elites including her long-time friend, mentor and competitor, Evelyn Waugh. It is her friends who encourage and needle her into writing said memoir.

I found the writing average at best. The dialogue often felt forced and the character Katie self-absorbed and unreasonably pushy. However, the depiction of Nancy’s time during the war years, her penury, her desperate need to write, and the onset of her long-term love affair with ‘the Colonel’ was fascinating. More Nancy and less Katie would have made it a better book. The writer acknowledges this went from first draft to published in one year during Covid, so there’s that.

One of the best things about it was a tiny point: the owner of the modern-day bookshop curated libraries for individuals. A four-year-old girl was receiving a curated library for her birthday (albeit a shelf in her bedroom with room to grow). My four-year-old self would have loved to have such a library!

Other novels featuring the Mitford sisters I recommend reading, or listening to, are The Mitford Murders books by Jessica Fellowes.

Nancy Mitford’s most popular books are:

The Pursuit of Happiness (novel)

Love in a Cold Climate (novel)

Don’t Tell Alfred (novel)

Madame de Pompadour (biography)

The Sun King (biography)

Frederick the Great (biography)

Bookshelves of Early printed books at the Long Room, TCD.
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History, Then and Now

The most important lesson of my life has been that books matter. My parents were both book lovers and by the age of four, I had learned how to read. I remember going to the public library every week, library card clutched in my hand, anxious to take out more books.

It was a crushing blow when I came to the end of the books the library had in their juvenile section!

However, that was also when I learned the value of what today I call my comfort books. Books I re-read when I need a certain lift or I’m in a particular mood. When I was young, the books I came back to time and time again were books that would take me to other worlds, other places, the Narnia books, the Borrower books, A Wrinkle in Time, and The Diamond in the Window. Other popular series were the Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew, and the Hardy Boys. I always loved a good mystery and adventure.

I still love adventure, fantasy, history, mystery, and reinvention stories. I love finding a new series and blowing right through it!

What were your favourite books as a child? Do you still read those types of books as an adult?

Bookish News

In every blog post I’ll include this little section on interesting snippets I’ve found around the web that are helpful to readers and writers. This week, we have a piece on how to write an author bio for a press kit, the 4 best apps for keeping track of the books you own and supply chain issues plaguing the publishing industry.

Impress the Press!

Your author bio is your best opportunity to show that you are the best person to have written the book. The media and reviewers all need to know the excellent credentials behind your non-fiction book or novel. Because of the specific audience, your author bio for a press kit differs from the one you use on your book jacket and sales page. You can read all about it here https://buildbookbuzz.com/how-to-write-an-author-bio/

Your Home Library App

Having a virtual library of the books you own or have read can be a lifesaver at the library or when you’re browsing in the bookstore. Here are four apps (Android and iOS) to help you keep track of what you own, would like to own, and would like to read. https://www.makeuseof.com/apps-to-keep-your-own-virtual-library/

Holiday gift-giving just became more complicated…

Books are a popular gift item, particularly the latest best-sellers. This year, it might be challenging to find the books you want because of the supply chain issues plaguing the publishing industry. The price of lumber has soared and with it the price of paper. Print book shortages are looming. See what the fuss is about here: https://www.modernretail.co/retailers/the-publishing-industry-is-bracing-for-volatile-end-of-the-year/

What I’m Reading Now

The Bombay Prince, by Sujata Massey is Book 3 in the Perveen Mistry series

This is a series that takes me away from the every day and teaches me something new. It’s set in 1920’s India and features Perveen Mistry, the first female solicitor in Bombay. If you like colourful history and compelling characters coupled with a fast-paced mystery, this book is for you.

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