Discussions Other

Does the age of the author matter?

I have heard lots of discussions recently about whether the race or gender of an author makes a book more appealing, but I feel both these factors are irrelevant. I have recently stumbled upon a more important factor: The Age of the Author.

I have discovered that I am far more likely to enjoy a book if the author is slightly older than me (I’m 31). If the author is younger than me then the book tends to lack depth and I find I have little to learn from reading it – I just don’t enjoy reading these simpler books.

If the author is significantly older than me then I struggle to connect with the themes in the book – older authors seem to produce more reflective and thoughtful works, lacking the complex plots and action I enjoy.

Connecting with authors who are of the same generation makes sense to me. In real life we tend to become friends with people who are of a similar age group as we have more in common with them. That doesn’t mean we don’t occasionally want to spend time with other generations, but that we share the majority of time with our own.

Catcher in the Rye was published when J.D. Salinger was just 32. It seems no coincidence that this book has huge appeal to teenagers, but fails to resonate with adults.

Stephanie  Meyer was exactly the same age when Twilight was published. This book is also a teen phenomenon, but seems to have a corresponding fall in popularity as the age of the reader increases.

Audrey Niffenegger was 40 when The Time Traveller’s Wife was published and Lionel Shriver was 45 when We Need to Talk about Kevin shot to fame. I loved both of these books, but have heard many older people (and younger in the case of We Need to Talk About Kevin) saying that they didn’t enjoy them.

At the older end of the spectrum, Marilynne Robinson was 65 when Home was published. I tried really hard to read this book, but it just bored me. It won the Orange prize, so some people clearly love it. I wonder if I am simply not old enough to appreciate the slow, reflective pace of this book.

Offshore wins the prize for the dullest book I’ve ever read, but with an author aged 63 my lack of passion for it can now be understood. Perhaps it will become one of my favourites in 30 years time?

All these numbers seem to support an optimal author age 10 years greater than the reader.

So I propose the formula:

For maximum reading pleasure:

Reader Age + 10 years = Author Age on Publication (+/- 5 years)


I’ve included this table of books, so you can see if my calculation works for you:

Book Author Author’s Age at Publication
The Solitude of Prime Numbers Paolo Giordano 26
Twilight Stephanie Meyer 32
To Kill a Mockingbird Harper Lee 34
Cloud Atlas David Mitchell 35
Fingersmith Sarah Waters 36
Gone with the Wind Margaret Mitchell 36
Flowers for Algernon Daniel Keyes 39
Middlesex Jeffrey Eugenides 42
A Fine Balance Rohinton Mistry 43
Generation A Douglas Coupland 48
Possession A S Byatt 54
Wolf Hall Hilary Mantel 57
Offshore Penelope Fitzgerald 63
Home Marilynne Robinson 65

These findings could have big implications for the judging panels of major book prizes. If reading taste changes so drastically over a life-time then I think it is important to have representatives of each generation on any panel. Following this theory only those under the age of 30 should be able to spot books that will appeal to teenagers and should be the only ones allowed to judge YA book prizes.

If the big literary prizes, such as the Booker and Orange, want to appeal to a larger audience then they simply need to include a full spectrum of age ranges on their judging panels.

There are of course exceptions to every rule. Saramago was 73 when Blindness was first published in Portugal. I put this down to his genius, one rarely matched whatever the age of the author. Or perhaps he is just young at heart?

What do you think of my theory?

Highly flawed?

….or do authors slightly older than you have a special ability to connect with you?

Has your reading taste evolved with age?

Do you now love books that you once hated?

Should we all start checking the age of the author before deciding to read a book?

I’d love to know your thoughts!!

2009 Historical Fiction Orange Prize

Black Mamba Boy – Nadifa Mohamed

 Long listed for 2010 Orange Prize

Last week the long list for the Orange prize 2010 was announced and I discovered that I already owned a copy of this one. I started to read it straight away, keen to discover why it made the list. 

Black Mamba Boy begins in 1930s Somalia and follows ten-year-old Jama as he sets out on a dangerous journey across the desert, searching for his father. He travels through war-torn Eritrea and Sudan, to Egypt, Palestine and finally to Britain.

The plot is based on the true story of what happened to the author’s father; it is amazing to think that one person endured so much hardship at such a young age. The terrible things that this little boy saw and had to endure to stay alive are almost beyond belief.

Unfortunately this book didn’t grab me in the way that it should. In the beginning too many characters were introduced, so I struggled to remember who was who. I failed to connect to Jama and so I felt distanced from the events he was witnessing. It could be that he was forced to grow up quickly, but I also didn’t feel that the book realistically portrayed a child’s point of view – he seemed to understand everything that was going on around him, having an adult’s comprehension of the world.

The book also contained long descriptions, which led my mind to wander away from the page.

Sand scratched in his eyes and blurred the path as it danced around the desert in a frenetic whirling ballet. Jama’s sarong was nearly pulled off by the mischievous sand jinns hiding within the storm. Jama covered his face with his sarong and managed to make slow progress like that. The dust storm had turned the sun a bright orange, until unashamed at its obscured power it crept away below the horizon to be replaced by an anaemic fragile-looking moon. Jama stumbled across the hill, kicking rocks away with bare feet, giant thorns poking and prodding dangerously. Desert animals scurried around looking for refuge, their small furry paws scrambling over Jama’s sand-swathed feet. Exhausted, Jama stopped and collapsed on the sand.

There is nothing wrong with these descriptions by themselves, but when you have to wade through pages and pages of them with no text to break things up it gets tedious. The repitition of the word Jama also began to irritate me.

Overall, I’m afraid I was disappointed by this book. I hope I’ll have more succes with my next Orange read.

There are very few reviews for this book out there at the moment, but it does seem to divide people. I think this is another Marmite book!

an amazing ride through the dusty, noisy but bustling streets of the some of the most important cities of North East Africa in the ’30’s. Lotus Reads

There are, however, moments when Black Mamba Boy stumbles…… Follow The Thread

2008 Non Fiction

Bonk – Mary Roach

I had heard many people raving about Mary Roach and so when I spotted this in my local library I took the opportunity to give her a try.

Bonk takes a light, amusing look at sexual research. Mary Roach visits laboratories, hospitals and even pig farms in the hope of gaining an insight into the world of a sex researcher. She interviews everyone thoroughly, asking questions that most of us would be too embarrassed to ask. Bonk isn’t for the prudish as it contains many detailed descriptions of bodily functions and medical procedures, but I was entertained throughout.

I loved all the little facts about attitudes to sex throughout the ages:

The ancient Greeks, as we’ve learned, thought that women produced their own semen, released at the climax of intercourse, and that the mingling of male and female seed formed the basis of conception.  Young widows, with no sexual outlet and a consequent log jam of womanly seed, were said to be especially prone to hysteria – or “womb fury.”

Mary fills the book with snippets of information so interesting that I had to keep pausing mid-page to let my husband know them:

Cheese crumbs spread in front of a copulating pair of rats may distract the female, but not the male.

I’m not sure I learned anything life changing, but I found much of it amusing and look forward to seeking out the rest of her books.

Have you read any of Mary Roach’s books?

Which one do you recommend I try next?


Win a signed copy of Solar by Ian McEwan

I have one signed copy of Solar to give away to a lucky reader of my blog. There are also 3 Solar T-shirts for the runner-ups.

To have a chance of winning just answer the following question in the comments section of my blog:

Who do you think will win the Booker prize this year?

The competition is open Internationally!

The closing date is: Saturday 27th March at midnight GMT.

Winners will be picked at random and notified by email.

Good luck!

2009 Books in Translation Chunkster Historical Fiction Other Prizes

The Kindly Ones Read-along

Translated from the French by Charlotte Mandell

Winner of 2006 Prix Goncourt and the grand prix du roman of Académie française, Literary Review’s bad sex in fiction award 2009, 2010 Best Translated Book Award: Fiction Longlist, 2010 long list Independent Foreign Fiction Prize

The Kindly Ones has been haunting me for a while. It seems to have won every prize it is eligible for, and people keep mentioning it along-side words such as controversial, powerful and disturbing. Anyone who has read this blog for a while will know that all these things make a book attractive to me. The problem is that it is nearly 1000 pages long and it does seem to be the most disturbing book ever written. I am sure that this book will give me nightmares, but I am hoping that it will be worth it in the end.

The book is a fictional biography of a Holocaust exectioner. I think the tone of the book can be summarised by this quote I found on page 21:

This path is very rarely the result of any choice, or even personal predilection. The victims, in the vast majority of cases, were not tortured or killed because they were good any more than the executioners tormented them because there were evil.

Yesterday I went into my local library in the search for Orange books. A small pile of Kindly Ones was sitting on a table, calling to me. It didn’t look as though anyone had ever checked one out and so on the spur of the moment I took a copy home with me.

A brief conversation on twitter followed in which several people questioned whether I’d finish it before it is due back (3 weeks) and a few warned me that it isn’t an easy read. Then Elle from Gleeful Reader volunteered to join me in reading this chunkster and a read-along was born. I apologise for the lack of notice, the fast pace of the reading (50 pages a day) and the fact I probably won’t get much else read for the next few weeks, but I am keen to follow my reading whims and this book just intrigued me too much. I would love it if a few of you would join us, but realise it is unlikely at such short notice. I have created a google wave (see below) for the discussion so that the blog won’t become cluttered with a conversation that few people are part of. The great thing is that the Wave will always exist, so if you decide to read the book in the future then you can always join in the discussion then.

Wish us luck!

Does The Kindly Ones appeal to you?

I have created a Wave for The Kindly Ones read-along. Unfortunately some nasty bot corrupted it so I have had to create a new one visible only to those I invite.  If you would like to join the discussion then just let me know and I’ll add you to the wave. If you’ like an invite to Google Wave then just email me using the contact form in the top right-hand corner of my blog.



2010 Crime

Pocket Notebook – Mike Thomas

Pocket Notebook is written by a serving policeman and describes the life of Jacob Smith, a tactical firearms officer, who begins to loose control of his life. He abuses steroids, has relationship problems and can no longer cope with his demanding job.

It doesn’t sound like my sort of book at all and I have to admit that I would never have picked it up. It arrived unsolicited from the publisher and I was quite prepared to leave it on the shelf unread. One day I decided to sort out my book shelf and started to read the first page of this book – I couldn’t put it down!

It gives a fascinating insight into the life of a police officer. I loved learning about the detail of their job – the little things that they do in order to get through the day. Of course we will never really know how much of it is true, but I suspect that most of the events described in this book have happened to some extent. I assume that many in the police force will be upset by the release of this book – they won’t want the controversial behaviour to become public knowledge, but I was reassured by what I read. They have an incredibly difficult job and if “black dogging”* makes their life easier then I’m all for it!

The plot of this book isn’t that earth shattering, but that just reflects the mundane life of the average police officer:

I’m neither surprised nor exhilarated by anything I’ve done or any call I’ve been to in the last week. Just constantly shocked by the pettiness of it all, how the people I’m supposedly serving are so inept as to be virtually  incapable of looking after themselves. I’m society’s garbage man, just here to take out the trash, to spoonfeed these spastic sink-estate dwellers, the trolls and inbreds in their shellsuits with their state-funded cinema-sized surround-sound tellies, these women – these girls – who think spewing out babies by different and now absent fathers qualifies as an occupation.

The characters are well drawn and there are some really emotional scenes in there. I’m not sure how interesting this book will be to people in other countries as it is very British, but perhaps those from overseas will enjoy reading about dysfunctional people living in the UK!

Recommended to anyone who’d like to find out what police officers really get up to!

*Black dogging is when a police officer ‘sees’ a black dog crossing the road and so brakes sharply, throwing anyone in the back of the police van against the wall. It is pure coincidence that dogs tend to cross the road when the detainees in the back of the van are being disorderly and abusive.