The Year of Reading Dangerously by Andy Miller (4th Estate)
Like many parents my reading time took a hit when our boy was born ten years ago now but I remember the lack of sleep still. I still read things of course, mainly to him; The Very Hungry Caterpillar every night for four weeks, for example (but never the Tank Engine ones, which make me furious). I couldn’t get through a whole meaty chunk of Annie Proulx any more though. From reading the books pages of the Sunday papers avidly I gave up getting the Sunday papers at all – this may have been good for managing bookshelf space but I started to worry I had forgotten how to read a book. Would I ever actually get round to reading those big classics I’d put off for my whole life? I tried to re-read Tess of the d’Urbervilles – I’ve read it a number of times so hoped to dive back in – I found it impossible, the sentences were too long, my concentrations was off, had Thomas Hardy returned from the grave and put more words in? Perhaps I should have started with something shorter.
If you’re in this situation then The Year of Reading Dangerously is a great book to prove you’re not alone, and is funny and engaging in a way that makes it easy to read – so you won’t need to pick up a Dan Brown. From the beginning it made me laugh, – the opening chapter relates a familiar domestic round for any family, the sheer complexity of getting everyone to where they need to be every day, the commute, work, childcare, how exhausting this all is, is hugely entertaining and spot on…it’s no wonder reading falls down the list of priorities. But if we are readers how do we get our mojo back?
Andy Miller gets back in to reading after a visit to a local bookshop on a rainy seaside day. He buys Mr Small (Roger Hargreaves) for his son, and The Master and Margarita (Mikhail Bulgakov) for himself, which takes him five days to read and brings him ‘back to life’ – the only book he’d read in the recent past being Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. This is what sets Miller off – that and the tedium of on the train Sudoku, and the feeling time is running out to read all the books he maybe should have read. I’ve certainly felt like this – often while standing in front of my own shelves.
Back to The Da Vinci Code though, which I have not read, but statistically I have*. I did have a similar experience – what is this clunky dialogue/shonky sentence/did anyone edit this? – with something else (no not 50 Shades of Gray how dare you). I laughed a lot during this particular chapter, which is also/really about Book 10: Moby Dick. “The Year of Reading Dangerously” is worth picking up for “The Ten Ways The Da Vinci Code and Moby Dick are Astoundingly Similar” alone, but I would encourage you to read the whole thing – and Moby Dick, which I’ve been eyeing up for a years now. Maybe this is the time to do it, I can tackle it with the 50 pages a day method by which Middlemarch (the second hurdle almost fallen at) is managed.
This book is a memoir, not simply a list of books read (who’d want that? Oh, the lists are at the back, by the way)** . If you are a reader then you can do the ‘oh, yes, I know’ thing while nodding to yourself; childhood visits to the library, reminiscences about the Puffin Club, finding the atmosphere of school a nightmare, to be escaped from through books. There are sections about life as a bookseller and as a member of a book group (having never been either this was instructive). There are a number of footnotes, which I always enjoy*** . The book finishes with really touching reminiscences of Douglas Adams, who Miller met on various occasions, at book signings both as punter and organiser. He seemed to retain the power of speech with his writer hero, which is more than I managed when I found myself standing in front of Margaret Attwood three years ago.
This book is not about Reading The Classics, though of course many of them are in the list, It’s not an internet quiz of a book list designed to make you feel well read/a complete dunce. It’s about reading great books – we can all have our own lists, and why not our own time frame – wjhatever that time frame is we should make time to read. Although I got my reading mojo back a while ago it still made me think on what I’d like to read in future – I may decide I need more than a year when that copy of Moby Dick arrives.
*page 99, 4th Estate paperback edition.
**The ‘List of Betterment’ appears at the end of the book, it includes Austen, Tolstoy, Dickens and so on….and also Stan Lee and Julian Cope. It’s followed by the “list of books which influenced me most” and “a list of books I still intend to read”. If you need ideas, they are there.
***I realised about halfway through that this must be the same Andy Miller who edited Stewart Lee’s books, which are also filled with excellent footnotes. Such footnotes as I have seen nowhere else, which often threaten to overwhelm the main body of writing, but never do.