The Reading Year So Far

It’s been a mixed year so far on the reading front. On the one hand, I’ve read ten books so far which is good. On the other, there have been some disappointing reads. The start of the year saw me in lockdown again so I was able to get a lot of reading done. Now I’m back at work, I’m not so sure that I’ll get through some of the very big titles on my list. We’ll see.

The main achievement so far is having finished Middlemarch. I’m not really one for the classics so reading such a long book was a big ask. My main motivation was it is one of my father in law’s favourite books and he doesn’t really approve of a lot of the things I read (Terry Pratchett, David Mitchell, anything with a hint of fantasy or magic realism, in fact) so I don’t think he really believed I’d manage it. It was a slog for most of it. It was only the last two hundred pages where I felt compelled to find out what would happen. Now it’s finished, I’m glad I read it but mostly just because I can now say I’ve read it.

I’ve been trying to read more widely. My default option is male, white authors such as Julian Barnes, Chuck Palahniuk, Ian Rankin and Markus Zusak. Okay so often they have interesting things to say about masculinity but I’m trying to get out of this comfort zone. So I’m trying to read more women, LGBT writers and writers of colour. So far this year, this has brought me some of my favourite reads – Take Nothing With You by the fabulous Patrick Gale, The Testaments by Margaret Atwood and The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead – all of which are much recommended.

The other thing I set myself to do this year was to read more current fiction. I read a lot of contemporary fiction but not usually things that were out in the last couple of years. This hasn’t panned out quite so well. I found Where the Crawdads Sing tedious (as I so often do with things that have been really popular) and David Mitchell’s Utopia Avenue was just disappointing. One thing with reading things from twenty+ years ago – it’s easier to know what is good because they have stood the test of time.

Another thing I’ve wanted to do is expand the genres I read in. I try as much as possible to read a variety of genres. It’s at least partly responsible for some of my less good reads. A lot of the people I’m friends with on Goodreads seem to read only one genre and they post a lot of five star reviews but I know that I would be bored with that. I view it as basically reading the same book over and over. My favourite genres are probably dystopia (I’ve already read two this year) and detective fiction and I fall back on them a lot but I try to make sure I step outside them as much as possible. So I’m currently reading Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by John Le Carre – spy fiction being very much unchartered territory for me – and I’m really enjoying it. I’m not sure how much of this genre I will read in the future but I think I will explore some of Le Carre’s back catalogue.

As it’s nearly the Easter holidays, and once I’ve finished Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, I’m going to embark on another of the large classics on my list – probably Moby Dick. And then it will be on to some non-fiction as I’ve not read any of that yet this year. Although often when I make proclamations about what I am going to read, I completely abandon them. One thing is for sure, it will be an interesting reading year.

Another new year

Well, it has taken a while to get round to writing my first blog this year. In fact, the end of last year was so hectic, I never got round to writing an end of year blog which I fully intended. This will have to act as both.

I was pleased with the amount that I read last year and with the fact that I completed the two reading challenges I signed up for. Both of which – eclectic reader challenge and TBR challenge – I have signed up for again. I read some excellent books – The Slap and Barracuda by Christos Tsiolkas spring straight to mind, as do The Absolutist by John Boyne and Complicity by Iain Banks and of course, Maddaddam by the amazing Margaret Atwood. I also read some authors that have been on my list for a while – Dorothy L. Sayers, Daphne Du Maurier and John Updike  – not all of which were enjoyed but it felt good to have read them at last.

This year I’m aiming to read more classics so half of the books I have picked for the eclectic reader challenge are pre 1950. Half of those are pre 1900. The first book I finished this year was a spy thriller which was a new genre and hopefully the eclectic reader challenge will continue to encourage me to read new genres.

I wasn’t sure that I was going to keep writing a blog post for each book I read but looking back over last year’s posts, I realised that it was making me think more deeply about what I was reading.

As for writing, while I still aim to write every day, it doesn’t always work. Time is the one commodity I lack at the moment.  I’m still in the process of editing / re-writing Choose Yr Future. It seems like an never-ending task at the moment. However, I’m sure I will recognise the point when I am happy with the storyline and structure and then I will be ready to let beta readers have a look at it. At the minute, I know it is not ready to be seen by other eyes. If I’m not happy with it, I wouldn’t expect others to be.

I’m not feeling downhearted though. I’m still trying to enter as many competitions as I can and while I haven’t won any yet, I’m not going to give up. If you don’t enter, you really don’t have a hope of winning. I enjoy the process of writing/re-writing even though sometimes I feel a bit like Sisyphus pushing the words into place only to realise later that they still don’t fit.

 

My Reading Year

It’s been a good year for reading. I’ve read almost twice as many books as last year (60 compared to 31). I’m not entirely sure why this is but I know I have not felt as enthusiastic about reading for an awful long time. There are a number of reasons for this.

The biggest reason is probably the kindle. I’ve got used to using it now and I have found that you can get some excellent books at a very low price. As well as some free classics. It has made it so much easier for me to read on the go.

I made a decision quite early on with the kindle that I wasn’t ever going to pay full price for a book on it. There were two reasons for this: one, I felt that if I was paying 6.99 for a book, I wanted to have the flesh and blood thing in my hands and two, it was pointless to pay full price when you could get very good books for 2.99 or less. This has changed the way I buy books for the kindle and it may seem a little odd. (Certainly, it is not the way I would think in an actual book shop.) But it has meant that I have experimented more and found some excellent authors into the bargain. (Josh Lanyon, Simon Lelic and Patrick McCabe spring to mind.)

The other main reason is I started to use the recommendations on Goodreads to help me choose. This has led me to many new authors – in fact more than 50% of the authors i have read this year have been new to me. I feel like I have climbed out of a reading rut and am very excited by the thought of what I will read next year.

I’d also like to thank the Eclectic Reader Challenge for helping to fire my enthusiasm. This led me to read genres I wouldn’t normally think of and helped me to broaden my reading horizons. I managed to do the challenge twice which was pleasing and I am already thinking about what I might read for next year’s challenge.

As for the best books I’ve read this year, I’d have to say The Road by Cormac McCarthy was a favourite. A devastatingly bleak version of the future that seemed all too possible. The bleakly sarcastic world view of Charlie Brooker was another excellent read – I can Make You Hate is a collection of his columns and articles from over the last few years. And very entertaining it was too. Food for thought, definitely.

I’ve included a list of all the books that I’ve read this year along with their ratings from Goodreads. I’ve included links to the ones that I’ve reviewed.

Adventure

Detective Fiction

Dystopia (By which I mean, a story set in a world of the future which is similar to ours but with certain details changed or exaggerated.)

Erotica

Family Drama

  • Empty Mansion Empty Heart – Everett Beich 1/5
  • Where Angels Fear to Tread – E. M. Forster 3/5
  • The Weight of Silence – Heather Gudenkauf 3/5
  • I’m the King of the Castle – Susan Hill 3/5

Historical Fiction

Horror

  • Something Wicked This Way Comes – Ray Bradbury 4/5
  • Glamorama – Bret Easton Ellis 4/5
  • Under the Skin – Michael Faber 3/5
  • Rosemary’s Baby – Ira Levin 4/5
  • The Butcher Boy – Patrick McCabe 4/5
  • The Island of Doctor Moreau – H G Wells 3/5

LGBT

Literary Criticism

  • Margaret Atwood – In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination -currently reading

Memoir

Satire

Science

Science Fiction (By which I mean a story set on a different planet or universe with great advances in technology.)

  • The Player of Games – Iain M. Banks 3/5
  • An Alien Heat – Michael Moorcock 4/5
  • Slaughterhouse Five – Kurt Vonnegut – 4/5

Short Stories

  • How it Ended – Jay McInerney 4/5

Supernatural

  • A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens 4/5
  • The Haunting of Hill House – Shirley Jackson 3/5

Travel

Young Adult

The End of The Eclectic Reader Challenge

I started the Eclectic Reader Challenge in January and I was really looking forward to trying some new genres and to focusing my reading. I have really enjoyed knowing what my next book is going to be. In recent years, I have become a little pedestrian in my reading choices, choosing authors I knew I would like because I have read them before, reading a lot of detective fiction because that is a genre that I like. The Eclectic Reader Challenge has helped me to broaden my horizons again.

I didn’t expect to be finished it by now. And I must admit I am going to miss it a little bit. Someone suggested that maybe I should do it twice and maybe I will but at the minute I am actually relishing having a free choice of which books I read next. Also some genres I liked better than others and maybe I just chose the wrong books but I’m not sure I want to read anything from those genres again.

It has been a very positive reading year so far. I have read 21 books including the ones from the challenge when I only managed to read 32 in the whole of last year. At least part of that has been because of the challenge. But also, last year I was unemployed for a bit and while that may sound like a perfect opportunity for reading more when you have all the time in the world, it doesn’t always lend itself to getting a lot done.

Now that I am back at work, I am back on public transport and so I’m back to having a book at home and a book on the tram. The kindle has been great for this and I’m actually getting used to using it now. It is also a chance to get away from my bookshelves (with that immense to-read pile) and go for something new. It also pleases me that my books no longer get bashed by being carried around in my bag.

It isn’t only in terms of numbers either. 12 of these books were from new authors. In the course of doing the challenge, I discovered Josh Lanyon, Jeffrey Eugenides, Wilkie Collins, Gore Vidal, Jane Rodgers, Suzanna Keysen and Suzanne Collins. As well as that I have read Patrick McCabe, and Michael Faber on the kindle. All of which I will read again.

I didn’t realise that I had lost some enthusiasm for reading. I always read. It would seem weird not to. But I wasn’t trying very hard. I was going for the tried and tested, whereas now I am excited by each choice that I make.