This is a book I would have read anyway – it’s a book about books after all – but many years ago I worked very briefly with Andy Miller at Waterstones head office, when it was in full possession of an apostrophe, so there’s an added interest for me. Having spotted my blog, Andy remembered the connection, contacted me through Twitter and even managed to recall my last name. There’s more than a tinge of envy in my admiration for his excellent memory. I remembered him – he’s a very funny and thoroughly nice chap – but I can’t for the life of me remember what we worked on, or when it was.
Andy’s book is about rediscovering reading. Mid-way through his thirties his life had become a little humdrum, a bit ho-hum, with every second accounted for and he was exhausted. It wasn’t a bad life – he’s happily married, loves his son and worked as a commissioning editor – but something was missing. He wasn’t reading, or at least not reading with attention. Not only that but he’d spent much of his life pretending he’d read books he hadn’t, even to himself. So when he starts reading Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and the Margarita it’s a glorious revelation. He decides to tackle more and, with his wife Tina, draws up The List of Betterment, eventually extending it to fifty titles ranging from Anna Karenina to Lord of the Flies to The Handmaid’s Tale with The Da Vinci Code thrown in as number fifty-one. There are a few bumps in the road – Of Human Bondage and Pride and Prejudice remain unfinished (lucky him, I had to plough through OHB for A-Level) and Beckett’s The Unnameable proves a bit of a struggle – but he makes it to the end and it’s a thoroughly entertaining journey. In between his reading, there are a multitude of digressions many in footnotes with which I was just about to become irritated when he apologised (in a footnote). He’s often very funny – it’s one of those books which has you sniggering and chortling in a way guaranteed to annoy anyone else in the room (sorry, H, but it’ll be your turn when you read it) – and he’s admirably honest about his reading shortcomings, particularly for a man who’s spent his working life in the book world, or perhaps that’s the problem. In between the hilarity there are some serious points to be made about the way we read today and the distractions at every turn – literary festivals, bookshop events, radio shows, not to mention Twitter and bloggers… It’s a thoroughly entertaining read and I’m glad to have made Andy’s acquaintance again.
Andy’s clearly convinced that we all lie about reading books we haven’t read but I don’t. I have however, nodded my way knowledgeably through many conversations about books I have read but remember absolutely nothing about, then made a panicky search on the internet for a synopsis. Even books I read a few weeks ago. And reviewed. What about you, do you sometimes tell people you’ve read what you haven’t or are you like me, afflicted by memory-wipe?