Two men with little in common. Paul Cuddihy lives close to Glasgow, has a degree in social sciences, is a published author and works in the multi media department of the city’s football club. Hundreds of miles away in London is Andy Miller. He has a degree in literature and works for a publishing company. The lives of these two men never cross but by coincidence they decide 2013 will be the year they rekindle their love of reading and ” fall in love with literature again”.
The result of the challenges they embark upon is documented in Read All About It: My Year of Falling in Love with Literature by Paul Cuddihy and The Year of Reading Dangerously: How Fifty Great Books Saved My Life.
In the case of Cuddihy, who has three published novels under his belt, the challenge was prompted by a feeling of guilt when he looked at the bookshelves in his home and realised he had read so few of them.
I had grown lazy in my reading habits over a period of time, blaming work, children, tiredness and television among other things for having done litle to tackle my ever- expanding collection of books. As I’d grown older,and certainly in recent years, I’ve found that my own love of reading has been equalled or even surpassed by my love of buying books. It’s a habit, a hobby, an obsession or a sickness depending on your point of view…. With each book that I’ve bought, there has been an increase in the guilt I feel at not reading enough.
In his introduction to Read all About It, he explains that his original intention was simply to try and read more books in 2013. Early in the process he discovered he wasn’t alone in his quest, the novelist David Nicholls had similarly spent twelve months trying to get back into the habit of reading, getting up half an hour earlier each day when he could be sure no-one would disturb him. Cuddihy carved out a different path, relinquishing time spent on Twitter and Facebook and the number of hours he watched television.
He didn’t set out with a specific reading list in mind, preferring to go to his shelves and to take down whatever caught his fancy. His choices were completely arbitrary initially, selecting things that he had Been intending to read for a long time, or ones he felt he should read because they had some perceived literary merit.
Over time he adjusted this to spend a month reading trilogies ( the experience confirmed his admiration for Cormac McCarthy’s Border trilogy but disappointed by Roddy Doyle’s Last Roundup trilogy). He read all the shortlisted Booker Prize titles for 2013, concluding that Eleanor Catton was a worthy winner though he personally favoured Colm Toibin’s Testament of Mary.
By the end of the year he had read 71 books, some of which he considered wonderful – William McIlvanney’s Laidlaw trilogy ( ” …. A massive literary talent who deserves to be recognised on the global stage) and James Kelman’s You Have to be Careful in the Land of The Free). He hated One Hundred Years of Solitude, comparing Marquez to a trained chimp who performs the same trick over and over again. Was the experiment worth it overall? Resoundingly yes decides Cuddihy.
I’ve enjoyed every minute. Having got back into the reading habit I’m not about to let it drop in the year ahead … A book is now my regular companion.
Andy Miller similarly felt his year of reading was a rewarding experience even if, like Cuddihy, he didn’t enjoy everything he encountered.
He began writing a blog to reflect his thoughts on each book he read. Eventually that turned into his book. The title A Year of Reading Dangerously: Fifty Great Books Saved My Life gives the impression that Miller was, until his year of reading, a man in crisis who found enlightenment by reading specific titles. This is rather disingenuous since none of the books he chose could really be considered ‘dangerous’ — challenging maybe but subversive, mind bending or inciting violence, no. Nor is Miller’s life exactly in meltdown. True he hated the grind of his daily train commute and true, he was (like so many parents of young children), exhausted. But he quite liked his job and he loved his family. Better to think of him therefore, not as a tortured soul, but a man who gradually realises there is a missing piece in his life: books.
In the three years since becoming a parent he had meant to read lots of books. But somehow only managed one (The Da Vinci Code). Others he had pretended to read so he could keep his end up in conversations down the pub.
His plan was to read twelve books, forming what he called The List of Betterment. They were titles he had either lied about reading or felt he should read, (Moby Dick, Middlemarch, The Sea, The Sea for example). He read the lot in three months (finding excuses to visit the post office just so he could stand in the queue reading) getting so enthused by the whole experience that he decided to expand the list to 50 books. The final 50 included plenty of classics but also some lighter reading such as The Essential Silver Surfer Vol. 1 a comic novel by Stan Lee.
I expected to greatly expand my wish list as a result of reading these two books but that never happened. From Cuddihy’s list I added William McIlvanney’s Laidlaw trilogy of crime novels set in Glasgow and Nabokov’s Pale Fire from A Year of Reading Dangerously. Either I had already read the books he mentioned or they just didn’t appeal to me (Moby Dick). But I am very grateful to Andy for helping me reduce my TBR since having read his description and response to The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov and The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell,
Neither Miller or Cuddihy provide extensive reviews of the novels they read. Some readers might feel cheated about that. Others may be unhappy that the book they happen to love is one that Andy or Paul enjoyed. But that isn’t really the point of their books. Their real objective is to tell their personal story of becoming a reader with some diversions into reflections on the experience of connecting with authors in person or via Twitter, the disappearance of good bookshops; public libraries and why book clubs are dangerous. Occasionally they give way to a bit of venting — in the case of Cuddihy it’s about the fact that when he went to his branch of Waterstones to buy the titles announced that day as the long listed candidates for the Booker prize to find they not only didnt know of the announcement but they didn’t have the books in stock. Miller has a huff over the book club he attends where the other members didn’t appreciate his choice for the month and takes a pop at non professional book reviewers (people like me presumably):
In the Internet age, where comment is free and everyone is entitled to a wrong opinion, blockheads write zealously, copiously and for nothing. They have a platform unprecedented in human history. The problem faced by ‘old media’, and professional critics in particular, with their years of experience and their skill in fine phrase-making, is that their opinions now carry little more worth than those of the individual with a laptop who has never read any books and who would not recognise a pleasing and insightful cadence if it half-slammed, half-caressed them in the belly with a slippery bagful – well, you know how it goes by now.”
Overall however I enjoyed the way both these writers try to share their new found enthusiasm for writing. Their style is engagingly self deprecating and witty (Miller cleverly shows what Moby Dick has in common with the Da Vinci Code). If you know someone whose reading habits have fallen by the wayside, either of these books could help get them back on track.