I am ashamed. I read this book in its entirety LAST SATURDAY, yet here I am reviewing it almost a week later. I read it on the way down to my lovely day in London (I started it at home in case it wasn’t any good – that wasn’t a problem), got more than half-way through, but reckoned I would probably have some more books by the time I was on my way back to Birmingham (I did). It’s still bad that I left it until now to review – I’ve had work, running, yoga and cutting-down of shrubs and it all got away from me a bit …
Andy Miller – “The Year of Reading Dangerously”
(29 December 2015 – bought in Waterstones in a 3-for-2 offer along with “A Spool of Blue Thread” and “Lingo”, using a book token from the previous year)
Stuck in a bit of a life rut, Miller decides to read a Proper Book and ends up enjoying “The Master and Margharita”. He then goes on to create and read (much of) his own List Of Betterment, not books he thinks everyone should read, but his own collection of classics and Great Books that he thinks he should read (I don’t think he reads all of his list, as there’s a list of other books he’s still planning to read in the back of the book. While the book makes it clear there was a gap between reading the books and writing this one, it’s not clear whether there were some interstitial books that filled in the time between the read list and the as-yet-unread list. I’m probably over-thinking this).
He in no way exhorts people to read what he’s read – it’s a personal list that fills in gaps in his own reading, which has also lapsed since his son was born (hooray for commutes, he finds. I miss commuting, for only that reason). I don’t think he describes all of the books he reads in his year (50 in all, not bad going when you consider they include “War and Peace” and “The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists“), and his notes on the ones he does discuss include some spoilers (there’s a warning in the front of the book).
Interwoven with his musings on the books he readers are bits of memoir and anecdotes from Miller’s more recent life with wife and child. It’s enjoyable and funny without being trite and silly, and it’s lovely to see ‘proper’ books getting an airing, not to mention a man talking about reading Austen and Eliot. I’ll even forgive him for not getting on that well with Iris Murdoch’s “The Sea, The Sea” until he realises thanks to a friend that parts of it are supposed to be hilarious, for the general high quality of the book and for the fact that he lists the Three Investigators Mysteries in his “The Hundred Books Which Influenced Me Most”.
This book might not change your life like it profoundly changed the author’s – and I admire him for getting through some of the books – as I suspect it might appeal to those who’ve read a number of the Big Books anyway (but if it lassoes the odd Quest Book reader and encourages them to try a more challenging book than usual, that’s wonderful, of course). But it’s an engaging and very readable book which will certainly appeal to anyone who likes books about books. It’s well written (as befits an editor) and has a great mix of books and memoir. The only odd bit was his appendix listing all the times he met Douglas Adams, which I think could have been woven more happily into the substance of the book itself. But a good and entertaining read that I’d recommend.
I’ve read 20 of his 50 and wouldn’t want to read another 24 of them myself. No idea how that matches up against other readers of this one!
Phew, that feels better. I’m currently (still) reading Virginia Woolf’s “Common Reader” Vol. 2 and “Yeah Yeah Yeah”, Bob Stanley’s wonderful but Very Large history of pop. How’s your reading going as the year draws towards its close?