Tag Archives: Tsotsi

Seven Types of Reader

Apparently there are only seven plots in the entire world… and also seven types of readers! A certain sense of symmetry there!

Click here to read the original article – from quite a while ago – but these are my thoughts.

1. The Book Thief

Okay. Hands up. It’s a fair cop. This is me. I have on my book shelf a number of books that originated elsewhere. My old school library. Friends. Work book swap shelves.

I am in fair company. Apparently there is a description of a hobbit in The Lord Of The Rings who

was a great borrower of books and worse than usual at returning them.

The name of this kleptomaniac hobbit would have escaped me without the search function of my ebook: he is Huge Bracegirdle. Google was no help as it is bloated with filmic rather than literary hobbits. But – returning to the point – this book-pilfering hobbit who occupies about three lines in the book is apparently intended to be a self-portrait of J. R. R. Tolkien himself.


And it’s not my fault! The books, the stories sing to me! They want to stay!

My favourite stolen book isWuthering Heights which I stole from school when I was 17, as I was reading it for A-level. I’d like to say it’s full of surprisingly insightful annotation… Alas it’s more chock full of cringe inducingly juvenile annotation, doodles, notes to whoever may have been sitting next to me. And I do believe one or two phalluses (phalli?). Teenage humour hasn’t changed much in the intervening twenty years! And Wuthering Heights is still my favourite book!

2. The Dog Earer

Yes. Me again.

There are few books I have without broken spines, scuffed edges and turned-down corners. I’m not overly worried about the book. The fabric of the book. See the state of my Wuthering Heights mentioned above. Some of my books even have shopping lists in them. When I’m famous these will become jolly sought after.

I have considered this before, why I don’t mind my books being dog-eared whilst, simultaneously I love my books.

I think, firstly, that I don’t love books at all: I love the stories, the narratives, the characters, not the books. This is, in part, why I have no objection to my ebook: I don’t mind if that narrative and those characters come digitally or on paper, so long as I have them.

Secondly, and this is a gripe I have with the ebook, the tattier the book, the better read, better loved the narrative. That pristine book on the bookshelf may as well be in a cellophane wrapping. A toy in played with. A marriage unconsummated. A child unloved.

3. The Serendipity Screamer

Odd phrase that reeks of the writer shoehorning in an alliteration.

The Sharer would be a far more acceptable Anglo-Saxon alternative.

Now, this is only partially me: I like to share my experience of reading and discuss with others my books and blog about them.

But I don’t share the book! It’s my book. What if I want to read it again?! What if I want to check something? What if I get in an argument and need to prove my point (which would, obviously, be compellingly right!)?

I like the idea of people who leave their used books on the bus for someone else to pick up … but I couldn’t do that. And I’m not sure I’d pick one up: I’d worry about depriving the owner of their book; and of the owner coming back having just popped to the toilet rather than leaving it to be picked up; and of unknown germs… I worry that there are piles of books being burnt at the bus terminus having been left philanthropically and not picked up!

Maybe the only people who get these books are the bus drivers. Maybe bus drivers are the intellectual future of the human race without ever buying a book!

4. The Self-Conscious Reader

These people are ashamed of either the fact of reading or their choice of material.


Hell no!

I teach and do a duty at lunchtime which I take as my reading time. I amble about, reading as I go, talking to kids about the books – and occasionally barking at them to get out, get in, put food in the bin, pick up litter, put down that child. But I am a public reader.

Nor do I care what I am seen reading: genre fiction, classics, children’s books, comics, poetry, popular, cult or esoteric. Even Fifty Shades (which I gave up on after 100 pages: so incredibly dull and tedious and just bad!)

5. The Did-Not-Finisher

I see no shame in failing to finish a book.

There is – in my humble view – no such thing as a bad book, just books that aren’t right for you.

Have I not finished a book? Of course I have! Fifty Shades of Gray for one! There are so many fabulous books out there waiting to meet me, why would I spend any more time with Christian Gray than I had to?! Other unfinished books? Steven Erikson’s Gardens of the Moon, House of Leaves by Danielewski – although that was more to do with wanting to find it in paper rather than electronically, and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies – I mean the title said it all!

6. The Underliner


Me again!

I scrawl, highlight, underline. I annotate.

I bought a touchscreen Sony e-reader the PRS-650 which Mrs P upgraded for me to the PRS-T1 (which still sounds like an intellectual, reading terminator to me!) specifically so I could underline in it!

I can’t help it!

I was trained to do it at Cambridge University – they called it Practical Criticism there; the library tends to call it graffiti!

I teach my students to do it.

I find a pithy phrase; a muscular image; an evocative line and I’m reaching for the pen!

I’m an Underliner and I’m proud!

7. The Reader-Of-Things-You’ve-Never-Heard-Of

I don’t thing this applies to me! Mrs P’s insistent it does!

My reading tends to be driven by what is in Smiths or Waterstones. The Richard and Judy Book Club tends to put me off books! But all very popular and top ten.

The most abstruse and esoteric of my favourite reads probably comes from my University career: I do like a bit of post-Colonial literature, having done a dissertation on Wole Soyinka as part of my finals. Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart is sublime.


Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun was lovely.
And Athol Fugard’s Tsotsi!

Oh and Arundhati Roy’s God Of Small Things.

And I do read Chaucer for entertainment: it is joyful! And Gawain and The Grene Knight. But they’re not esoteric. They’re really not.

I do remember the first time I tried to discuss someone’s apparent interest in steampunk – which i adore! oh China Miéville! Oh Railsea! Perdido Street Station! and they looked as if I’d tried to proposition them in some way!

And Mikhail Bulgarkov and Andrey Kurkov. My Russian phase.



Shades of Meaning, horror and fear

So, a follow up to the post on happiness and joy, let’s look at the flip side: fear and horror. Again, the question is what is the difference? Is ‘horror’ just a synonym for fear? Is it just a “very strong” fear?

The quotation that led to this question being asked in class was from Athol Fugard’s Tsotsi from the point at which the title character is about to rape a woman and

she had stopped her scream and was staring at the box with a horror deeper than her fear of him


Let us start with a consideration of – perhaps my least favourite – genre of film: the horror film. I do tend to watch these through my fingers, cringing behind half-lidded eyes. I remember squealing – most definitely not screaming – out loud in the cinema when I went to see The Exorcist: the attic, why enter the attic?! Cold shivers!


But what makes these horror films and not just fear films?

Let’s look at a less intimidating example. To be honest, after the attic, I didn’t see much of The Exorcist!

Let’s try Jaws.


There is horror in the dramatic irony – shared by Chief Brody – that beneath the surface of the ocean lies danger, unseen; horror in the vast unseen threat hidden from sight. Once we see the shark – even accounting for its terribly rubbery appearance to a modern audience – we experience fear but no longer horror. We can rationalise it, flee it, fight it, analyse it and therefore contain and control it.

The same technique creates horror in What Lies Beneath and the wonderful Black Swan – those mirror images that don’t turn around with Natalie Portman! – as well as the gloriously outrageous Piranha 3D and 3DD.

If we think about Chief Brody or Naomi Watts in the Gore Verbinski’s The Ring, is their quest not to reduce horror to fear in order to control and contain and destroy it?


Hmmm… Look at all these luminal images that congregate and cluster around the genre: surface and depths; reality and fantasy – that moment in The Ring when Naomi Watts plucks from the screen the image of the fly as well as Samara’s crawling her way through the television screen; dream and waking; known and unknown; life and death

So what does this tell us about the shades of meaning? Horror seems deep, primitive, irrational; fear seems rational.

To use Freudian language language, horror seems to be a deep, unconscious response from our Id; fear is a conscious response.

To use (probably with serious errors) the language of neuroscience, horror may be the reaction of our primitive, reptilian hindbrain, that first part of our brain to have evolved; fear, the reasonable mammalian response of the – wonderfully named – amigdala of the Limbic System.

The etymology of the word seems to support this too. From the Proto-Indo-European ghers- and the Latin horrere meaning “to bristle with fear”, it suggests that the word has connotations of very physically and viscerally reacting in that very reptilian way.

So, if you met a wild eyed, snarling tiger, fear would seem the right word to fit; on a darkened night, alone in the forest, when a breath touches the hairs on the back of your neck, horror seems entirely apt.