Confucius says read!

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Did Confucius, China’s most famous teacher, philosopher, and political theorist (551-479 BC) really say this?

Was this position on reading one of his analects (teachings)?

I don’t know, but the sentiments certainly ring true. Read, read and read some more. Today there really is no excuse for ignorance with so much information at our fingertips.

Confucius apparently did say ‘True wisdom is knowing what you don’t know’. Or something like that.

The easiest way to remedy ignorance is to read. And the easiest way to read is to buy or borrow reading material. In doing so, you’re supporting storytelling and those that ply its trade.

In a roundabout way, Confucius said so!

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Why I love my library

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John Lubbock really knew what he was on about. Isn’t this a great quote? I love it. I want it tattooed on the wall of my next house, in the room that will be my very own private library.

I was a wee little thing when I visited my first library. I remember it well. It was in the hallowed halls of St Joseph’s primary school in O’Connor in Canberra, Australia. It was the late 1970s, so the children’s reading corner was very traditional – lots of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five and Secret Seven, Herge’s Tin Tin, Goscinny and Uderzo’s Asterix, Jeff Brown’s Flat Stanley – and featured an enormous tube cushion in the shape of a giant snake. I loved that library, and I remember the competition was fierce for the good books, particularly the ones featuring Julian, Dick, Anne and George (and Timmy the dog!). The boys in particular were quick to swoop on any Tin-Tin and Asterix books. For my money, mysteries were  the way to go. I was green with envy over my friend Jo’s collection of original hardcover Famous Five books, which she had inherited from her mother. It was hard going trying to find all of the books and read them in order through the library, and yet the library offered me something I’d never had before: reading choices.

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My next most memorable library was on the other side of the world at Hunters Woods Elementary School in Reston, Virginia, USA. You wouldn’t get a more different collection of children’s books, which isn’t surprising given how culturally different the two countries were in the 1980s, a time when you couldn’t even watch American ads on Australian TV. It was here I discovered the likes of Joan Aitken’s Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth, and Louise Fitzhugh’s charming Harriet the Spy (which inspired me to carry around a similar notebook of frank and fearless observations for a while – to my detriment).

I also discovered Judy Blume, a then (and probably still) controversial author. She was your go-to girl for all the gory details about periods, first bras and kissing boys. Reading ‘Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret’ was a rite of passage.

When I wasn’t at school, I begged my father to take me to the Reston Regional Library, where I would walk out with armfuls of books. The school holidays were heavenly. A keen reader, I’d churn through most of them in a week and insist on another trip. It was cheap entertainment, considering a few years earlier I’d been badgering my father to buy me endless copies of Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys and Trixie Belden books at around $6 a pop (big money then, and when you read them as quickly as I did).

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There have been other libraries since then. Other books. Many other books. But those three libraries and their contents shine in my memory as havens for the young me, a bookish child, and opened up a world of joy, adventure and knowledge.

These days I tend to buy my books instead of borrow them. Some books I read straight away, others I shelf for a rainy day. I buy new, I buy old. I buy mass market books, and I hunt down rare and unusual tomes. I buy locally, interstate and internationally. I buy in shops and I buy online.

I almost never give away books and, after a few bad experiences, I absolutely never lend them. My collection gives me great joy. I still have books that I owned as a child – adventure stories, fairytales and compendiums of myths and legends – precious touchstones that still evoke feelings of delight and wonder. Books have proven to be constant friends to me, and even in my darkest hours (and I’m fortunate in that I’ve never had too many of those) they have been my crutch, my confidante. To live without books in my life would be akin to giving up food or water.

My fondest wish as a child was to have my own library. My very own shelfed sanctuary heaving with every kind of topic or genre that has ever grabbed my fancy, well kept and respected tomes, gently loved and, post-read, occasionally caressed. The air thick with the scent of ageing pages. I have that now – a few thousand books that line the walls of my old 1940s cottage, roughly ordered by subject, spines rebelling against anyone’s attempts to colour coordinate to any interior decor whim. This isn’t a show-pony library, it’s a reader’s library.

Books taught me about the importance of storytelling. It’s a love affair that has defined my career choices and hobbies – first as reader, then as journalist, book reviewer, editor, and writer – so it’s little wonder that I share my house with so many stories. I’m not a hoarder, and I’m not a collector. I’m merely in tune with my true nature (and yours), the primal need we all have for sharing and finding meaning in the human experience.

For telling stories.

Reynolds Price said: “A need to tell and hear stories is essential to the species Homo sapiens – second in necessity apparently after nourishment and before love and shelter.”

‘Hey lady!’ I hear you say, ‘haven’t you heard of ebooks?’

Well yes, yes I have. But if someone pulls the plug on the Internet tomorrow or Amazon.com crashes, or your e-reader runs out of juice, your ebooks will be floating in the ether. My books will be on the shelf, ready to read.

In my library.

Zoella, Girl Online and the reality of ghostwriting

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First up, an admission – I’d never heard of Zoella until today courtesy of an article published in Salon.com, and tweeted by Porter Anderson, about the furore that has erupted around the authenticity of her new book Girl Online.

I’ve immediately remedied this gaping hole in my general knowledge by watching 10 of her Youtube videos back-to-back, and browsing her website, www.zoella.co.uk. And can I say, sometimes research can be fun! I now know how to halo braid (in fact, I now also know how to do it milkmaid style – oohhh errr, missus! – and replicate the hairdo of Katniss Everdeen of The Hunger Games fame), make melted snowmen biscuits, and shop for the latest seasonal rags.

Zoella’s sweet and cute and, not surprisingly, crazily popular with her young female fanbase. Her Youtube channel focuses on beauty and fashion and she recently published her first book. Only, according to some fans, she didn’t.

Zoella aka Zoe Sugg used a ghostwriter, apparently, to co-create Girl Online.

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And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Nothing at all. It happens all the time in the non-fiction world, and when there is a great story to tell and the person at the centre of it is unable to put pen to paper – whether for reasons of time or skill – it’s the best option available.

This is not an unusual state of affairs in publishing, and it can be a lucrative path for good writers. I’ve ghostwritten extensive swathes of text for many clients, as have author colleagues of mine.

Zoella’s book Girl Online is a boy-meets-girl novel. A book she didn’t write – or at least didn’t write alone.

Let me tell you, Zoella fans, about my own shock and deep disappointment when I discovered Carolyn Keene and Franklin W. Dixon didn’t personally pen all those Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books. Shattered, I was, even a teeny bit betrayed – possibly more shocked to learn Carolyn and Franklin didn’t even exist! They were just pen names invented by a publisher, and supported by a team of busy writers. I understand all about when you’re a fan betrayed – the fall to earth can be pretty jarring. (By the way, I’m still a fan.)

Apparently Zoella is copping it hard from her fans right now. From my newly educated viewpoint, I think unfairly so. Ghostwriters are part of the fabric of publishing – in fact, if you believe the great Shakespeare conspiracy, even the Bard had some help in the verbage dept.

Glamour model Katie Price certainly reaped big rewards with her ghostwriter, the late Rebecca Farnworth, and no one batted an eyelid – in fact, the writing partnership was something of an open secret. Farnworth authored 14 books in all under Katie Price’s name – no mean feat!

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It’s so easy for nastiness to go viral thanks to social media (thanks social media!), and obliterate all of the things you might have liked or found redeeming about a person or situation when they fall short of the sort of strict moral code you’d never enforce upon yourself.

In Australia we call it Tall Poppy Syndrome (and before the Internet – yes, I was alive then – I would have believed the cutting down of celebrities and anyone else who stuck their heads above the social ramparts was only an Australian past-time. Alas, it’s not.).

I say give Zoella a break. Cut her some slack. Leave off…

As an entertainer she’s just doing her job – baring every little piece of herself to satisfy her hungry audience of fans. By having her novel ghostwritten, she’s given a great job to someone else. That someone being Siobhan Curham, who has found herself in the rather unenviable position of defending her work on Girl Online. Give her a break too, she was just doing her job as a ghostwriter.

Zoella’s still the same charming self-made vlogger you all fell in love with.

Final words must go to Siobhan Curham via The Guardian, who puts the whole storm-in-a-teacup beautifully in perspective: Curham noted that she “did have some issues with how the project was managed”, and that it would be “really healthy to have a broader debate about transparency in celebrity publishing”. “But please don’t blame Zoe personally for a practice that has been going on for years,” she wrote, pointing out that the huge sales of the novel, which is 2014’s fastest-selling book and which is sitting on top of the UK Official Top 50 for the second straight week, meant that “bookstores such as Waterstones are ending the year on healthy profits”, and that “Penguin, and many other publishers around the world, are now able to afford to offer more unknown writers book deals”.

Postscript
Porter Anderson made this important observation about Zoella-gate that touches upon what may be a generational schism in how ghostwriting is viewed: “The public has a new, digitally closer relationship with its glam girls and boys. Community and networking mean interaction with one’s pop-video icons. That interaction is expected to be authentic.”

Fair point, however I don’t believe Zoe and Siobhan should be the scapegoats for an industry practise that is, clearly on this occasion at least, out of step with its youthful, social target audience.