What books are special to BookerTalk? My profile page mentions a few of my favourite authors but if you want to know which books have a special place in my heart, take a look at a guest post published today by Cathy at 746books. It’s part of her ‘Books that Built the Blogger’ series that has been running all year with some wonderful contributions and a tremendous variety of genres and authors.
It was incredibly tough to look back over 50 plus years as a reader and choose just a few books that were significant at different points in my life. I think I must have written at least ten versions of my list (even now I keep thinking of books I missed out) but I ended up with a selection that includes a play, two novels, a book of essays and a guide to writing:
The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare
Collected Essays by George Orwell
Daily Mirror Style: Keith Waterhouse
The Raj Quartet: Paul Scott
Germinal: Emile Zola
To discover why I chose these particular texts and why they hold a special place in my heart, please read the original post on Cathy’s site – here is the link.
I enjoyed reading Cleopatra’s post about reading rituals so much I thought I’d have a go myself.
Do you have a certain place at home for reading?
There’s a big difference between where I do read and where I want to be reading. My favourite reading spot would be outdoors on a warm, sunny day in a place where I can look up and admire the view. It could be a park or a veranda (but definitely not a beach sun lounger) even my garden though the view is rather limited to watching the birds bathe in the fountain. But of course the UK weather doesn’t allow too many days like this and one can’t on holiday all the time…… so where I usually do my reading is tucked up in bed at night. Ever since I was a child I’ve found I absolutely have to read before I go to sleep. Even when I’m feeling dog tired it seems I still have energy for just a few pages.
Bookmark or a random piece of paper?
I’ve bought/acquired dozens of bookmarks but I also like using postcards to mark my place in the book. Remember the days (pre-Internet and smart phones) when you went on holiday and bought postcards to send home telling everyone what a wonderful time you were having? It was a chore to write them and even more of a challenge was finding somewhere you could buy the stamps and then somewhere else to post them. So often I’d come home with them still unsent. I keep finding them dotted around the house so have taken to using them as bookmarks. I also have some cards picked up from galleries and museums. Not only are they practical (i.e. cheap) but whenever I pick up the book I get to recall that trip from many years ago. Since I keep losing them just as fast as I find them, there are times when I’ll use anything that is close at hand. Parking tickets, receipts, clothes price tags – you name it, at some time I’ve pressed them all into service. And of course in absolute desperation, there is always (dare I say this??) the ability to turn down the corner.
Can you stop reading any time, or do you have to stop in a certain place?
I don’t like stopping mid way through a chapter or a section so novels which don’t have divisions are always frustrating. I can never find my place again easily with those kinds of books.
Do you eat or drink while reading?
Nothing very exciting here – very occasionally I’ll indulge in a few toffees (not when I’m reading in bed of course) but I’ve learned the hard way that its impossible to hold an ice-cream in one hand and an open book in the other. They have a terrible habit of getting too close together and making a mess.
Can you read while listening to music/watching TV?
Absolutely not. I can multi-task many things but reading isn’t one of them. If there is a noisy tv in the background I’ll don my noise cancelling headphones to block it out.
One book at a time or several at once?
I never used to read more than one book at a time but that’s changed in the last couple of years largely because of e-readers. Before these became available, whenever I went on holiday or a business trip I’d be loaded down with books to read; always taking more than realistically I would have time to get through but anxious in case I’d finish them and not find anywhere selling English language titles. E-readers relieve that burden of course but I can’t wean myself away from physical books. So now I take a mixture. I take the e-reader out with me because it’s lighter and read my physical book when I get back to the hotel room.
Reading out loud or silently in your head?
I’m absolutely hopeless at doing accents so my attempts to read out loud would not do justice to any of the dialogue. I’ll just pretend in my head that it sounds right.
Do you read ahead and skip pages?
Only if the book is not grabbing me and I want to see if it’s worth investing any more of my time. I used to plough on with these kinds of books in the past, thinking that surely it would get better. But that seldom happened. I’ve decided to discard my hairshirt approach and to read only what I enjoy or can appreciate.
Break the spine or keep it new?
It seems that some readers view cracked spines as a despoliation of their book. It bothers me not in the least, I like seeing creases in my books. They’re the equivalent of wrinkles and laughter lines on someone’s face. The more creases I see the more its clear the book has meant something special since clearly I’ve read it more than once.
Do you write in books?
In books I’m reading for study purposes then yes (providing of course I have my own copy). I still have copies of my old university texts with minute scribbles in the margins that are barely decipherable. It’s an odd feeling to come across those; like meeting yourself in a former life. But I don’t make notes books I read for pleasure; not because I think it would me sacrilege to do so but as I explained in a post on this earlier in the year, simply because it would just interrupt the flow of reading.
Those are my confessions and secrets. Now how about hearing from you. Any secrets you care to share?
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.