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Archive for January 2015

Books I Still Intend To Read - annual report

At the back of THE YEAR OF READING DANGEROUSLY is an appendix called Books I Still Intend to Read, inspired by Henry Miller’s identically-titled selection in The Books In My Life. Because this appendix was compiled just over a year ago – and by ‘compiled’ I mean thrown together in fifteen minutes at the proofing stage – I have now finished several of the books I said I still intended to read at the end of 2013.

I’m aware I promised updates on the website and there haven’t been any since TYoRD was published back in May. Apologies. Here’s how things stand. The books I’ve read from cover to cover during the last year are in bold.

Appendix Three – Books I Still Intend To Read

The remainder of Remembrance of Things Past – Marcel Proust
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – Ken Kesey
Infinite Jest – David Foster Wallace
The Golden Notebook – Doris Lessing
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay – Michael Chabon
Love in a Cold Climate – Nancy Mitford
A House for Mr Biswas – V.S. Naipaul
Naked Lunch – William Burroughs
The Diary of a Young Girl – Anne Frank
White Teeth – Zadie Smith
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius – Dave Eggers
The Summer Book – Tove Jansson
Masquerade – Kit Williams
Gulliver’s Travels – Jonathan Swift
The Little Stranger – Sarah Waters
Journey to the End of the Night – Louis-Ferdinand Céline
Tarantula – Bob Dylan
Middlesex – Jeffrey Eugenides
The Unbearable Lightness of Being – Milan Kundera
The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins
Stoner – John Williams
A Brief History of Time – Stephen Hawking
Gravity’s Rainbow – Thomas Pynchon
The second half of Daniel Deronda – George Eliot
The Man without Qualities – Robert Musil
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas – John Boyne
As I Lay Dying – William Faulkner
Wolf Hall – Hilary Mantel
Bringing Up The Bodies – Hilary Mantel
Stalingrad – Antony Beevor
Life and Fate – Vasily Grossman
The World as Will and Representation – Arthur Schopenhauer
Autobiography – Morrissey
Inferno – Dan Brown

Please note: I didn’t read only these eight books in 2014.

It feels quite strange to consider this list again. It’s a snapshot taken at the end of a long and tortuous process i.e. writing a book about reading over a period of some years. Were another snapshot to be taken now, it would look rather different. This is partly because of all the books that were recommended to me by strangers in 2014, either people who had read TYoRD or had come to one of the talks or contacted me via the website or on Twitter. But it’s also because enthusiasm for reading a particular title waxes and wanes according to where we are in our lives and also the books we’ve just been reading. I have just had a really rewarding month in terms of reading – to be discussed in a future blog – with one excellent book after another, none of which was drawn from the list above, and which, furthermore, has suggested new directions for reading in the year ahead. So this feels like looking backwards.

Also, why did I commit myself in print, forever, to reading The Man without Qualities? I have no idea. I really don’t want to read White Teeth or A Brief History of Time either. But that could change tomorrow and let’s hope it does. It won’t though.

Anyway, in keeping with what I explicity tell people not to do in READ Y’SELF FITTER, here are a few Strong-to-Mild Opinions about the Books I Intended To Read And Did.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – “amazing”. I go into all American cult novels with the feeling I’ve left it thirty years too late – at least – but this is just a sensational book, brilliantly executed in all conceivable ways. Felt grateful to have found it for the first time as an adult and made me want to read everything Kesey ever wrote. In fact I wish I’d read it as part of the original List of Betterment. Boom!

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay – as noted in TYoRD, over the years I’ve told many people this is a fantastic book. Turns out it is. Despite winning many prizes in the US Michael Chabon’s novels struggle to sell in the UK, though perhaps that will change now he’s collaborated with Mark Ronson and therefore currently has a #1 album and will probably make more money just today than in the whole of his UK publishing life. (Chabon’s brief, beautiful essay comparing Wes Anderson’s films to Nabokov’s Pale Fire is my favourite piece of critical writing of recent years and you can find it here.)

A House for Mr Biswas – started this at school in 1985 because my best friend used to carry a copy round in his blazer pocket. Ah, youth. Much more droll than I was expecting but no less poignant. One of those novels the pleasures of which lie more in tone than anything else, certainly more than plot – the ending is given away in the opening sentence. And, like, he doesn’t even warn about spoilers! Anyway, plot schmot.

The Diary of a Young Girl – I feel awkward writing about this, especially during Holocaust Memorial week. It clearly deserves a more serious appraisal in a more appropriate context. But I found the book itself profoundly affecting. I believe Jeff Mangum was moved to write the songs on Neutral Milk Hotel’s In The Aeroplane Over The Sea after reading The Diary of a Young Girl as an adult rather than a student. The power lies not just in the circumstances of its creation but in the qualities of the book itself. Either way, humbling; she was a better writer than I am (absurd comparison but true).

The Little Stranger – is Sarah Waters’ best novel. I only know two people who agree with me about this and one of them is Mrs Miller. So we’re good. No further correspondence will be entered into.

Tarantula – this was special. Dylan wrote and tinkered with this “novel” for several years in the mid-to-late 60s. It’s like an extended riff on the sleeve notes of Highway 61 Revisited etc., page after page of all that beatnik speed-freak surrealism. I read about ten pages a day. And guess what? It was GREAT. Let’s be clear, the extent to which one is likely to appreciate and enjoy Tarantula is directly proportional to the extent to which one appreciates and enjoys mid-60’s Bob Dylan. But I do and I have done for thirty years and it reminded me of Dylan’s uniqueness and how he’s been there for me when, say, Saul Bellow hasn’t. I enjoyed it a lot more that the Jack Reacher novel I was reading at the same time, put it that way.

Stoner – yeah, it’s good. That’s it. The PenguinRandom backlist marketing department does not require my assistance.

As I Lay Dying – like Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry, this made me work hard and I didn’t enjoy it (whatever that means) but it has lodged in my brain and I would like to read it again so maybe I did enjoy it after all. Finished it six months ago and it’s still settling. A friend in town told me she’d just read it for her book group. She looked like she’d been shot.

I shall be posting further Opinions in the coming days, covering the five great and one shit books I read this month. And from the list above next month I intend to read The Summer Book, which will make me the first man ever to have done so I believe.