Holiday Reading Part 2: What are our authors reading?

Janet Olearski

Janet Olearski

We have asked ELT author and trainer Janet Olearski to share her holiday reading plans with us. Here are her holiday picks.

Janet Olearski has written two Helbling Readers (Mr Football and Twins) and has recently adapted Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist.

Janet Olearski’s Holiday Reading

“I usually have two or three books on the go at the same time – maybe more. The summer holidays are an opportunity to read liberally. I read to be entertained and informed, but also, as a writer, I read in order to learn how other writers achieve the effects that make their work memorable and inspiring. I read mostly fiction, both literary fiction and popular fiction, and also memoir, though I think that the latter is more likely to appeal to older readers who are interested in learning how people who made their mark in history lived. I also read children’s fiction since I write stories for young adults.

I’ve just finished reading Toni Morrison’s Beloved, which is based on 19th century slave narratives and, more specifically, on the true story of Margaret Garner, an escaped slave from Kentucky who murdered her own baby daughter rather than have her returned to slavery. The novel is beautifully written and bathed in magic realism, but it is a harrowing read and one that is definitely for adult readers, perhaps a book club, since it engages with subjects that would be classified as taboo in many cultures.

I am about three-quarters of the way through Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. I realized that this was a book I knew so well from films and TV that I felt I had read it, and in fact I had not. I’d read extracts, but not the whole book from cover-to-cover. I have to say that it is a delight. I don’t think I could properly have appreciated this book when I was in my teens. It is packed full of wit and wisdom. Earlier in the year I attended a writers’ workshop facilitated by Andrew Motion (previously the UK’s Poet Laureate) and it was he who reminded us of this classic by Dickens. Some books appear very daunting and I think that is why I had held off so long from reading it, but this time I thought, well, if it’s good enough for Andrew Motion then it’s good enough for me. It’s a fabulous story, beautifully crafted. After the frenetic hyperrealism of so much 21st century writing, this is a solid piece of old-fashioned story-telling with lots of opportunities for the reader to reflect and to nod at the intelligence of Dickens’s observations about life and human nature.

I was reading an old article from The New Yorker about American novelists and saw that Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was included in a list of American writers aged under 40. Adichie is the author of the novel Half of a Yellow Sun, which was recently made into a movie. For some reason I was sure she was British or, if not British, then Nigerian. It occurred to me that so many of us are a mix of cultures. We are influenced by the culture of the country of our birth, and by the culture of the countries of our parents’ and our grandparents’ birth. For a writer this is particularly significant. Adichie’s latest novel Americanah says it all in the title. I’m about a quarter of the way through this book, so I’m not quite sure where it’s going. Is it a love story … or something else? I will find out. It does, however, describe how American culture is imprinted on those Nigerians who return to their home country after living and being educated in America. The challenge of assimilating into two or more cultures is one of the major themes of contemporary fiction and one that touches all our lives.”

Visit Janet’s website here.

Comments are closed.