The Year of Reading Dangerously: How one man got his mojo back

cover imageThis 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 strugglebut 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?

16 thoughts on “The Year of Reading Dangerously: How one man got his mojo back

    1. Susan Osborne Post author

      It’s really quite alarming sometimes, Claire. I have the nodding knowledgeably off pat, though!

      Reply
  1. Gemma

    I don’t pretend to have read books I haven’t, but I do have a poor memory for the books I have read – I’m glad I’m not the only one! This is partly the reason I started reviewing the books I read because then I can look back and remind myself! This book sounds great, I’m always interested in books about books.

    Reply
    1. Susan Osborne Post author

      Well, this is turning into quite a consoling little post for those of us who are memory-challenged! I wish I could tell you that blogging had cured it for me, Gemma, but it hasn’t, as yet. I hope it’s working for you.

      Reply
  2. Alice

    I bought this yesterday after hearing Simon of Savidge Reads interview him on You Wrote the Book. The love of literature was infectious, and in no way pretentious which I worry many books on reading can border on.

    I keep thinking I’ve read Ulysses and then realise I studied but a section of it for University, otherwise I don’t lie about what I’ve read – any more. I do however have moments, like you, where I’ve read something and then completely forgot I’ve read it, and have had to look it up to refresh my memory.

    Reply
    1. Susan Osborne Post author

      Oh, Alice, I wish they were just moments! But I have reached the age when I arrive in a room and wonder why I’m there so I suspect that’s part of my problem.

      Reply
  3. jacquiwine

    I’m with you, Claire and Gemma on this; I, too, have a poor memory when it comes to the details of books I’ve read.

    I wonder if we all go through reading slumps at some points in our lives, and I like the way Andy tackled his situation. And your post reminds me that I’ve had an unread copy of The Master and Margarita on my shelves for two or three years…this winter, hopefully.

    Reply
    1. Susan Osborne Post author

      It’s never been a book that appeals but I’ve had second thoughts after reading about Andy’s experience with it. Sometimes I wonder if I remember so little because I read so much but it’s seems unlikely that I’ll change the habit of a lifetime.

      Reply
  4. Alex

    Like you I’m a sucker for books about books but this is going to the top of my tbr list for another reason. I know just what Andy means about not reading with sufficient attention and I know that this is something i should tackle. Perhaps reading about his experience will trigger action on my own part.

    Reply
    1. Susan Osborne Post author

      I hope you enjoy it, Alex. I thought it was a delight. However, I’m not sure about your reason for reading it – I have to say that when I read your reviews you appear to me to read with attention already.

      Reply
  5. Rachel

    What I find disconcerting is when you look at a book on your shelf and you know that many years ago, when you were at University, you wrote a whole essay on it and now it is all a complete blank! I don’t think I pretend to have read books I haven’t although sometimes I think I forget I only read a review not the actual book.

    Reply
    1. Susan Osborne Post author

      Well, at least that’s going back lalala number of years! I’m glad I asked the question – it’s clear we’re far from alone. Hope you’re enjoying Ms Moss.

      Reply
  6. litlove

    This sounds delightful and something I’d love to read. When I worked at Waterstones (with an apostrophe), we were all of us failed or frustrated novelists. Glad to know that hasn’t died out with the grammar! And my students used to call that Beckett novel The Unreadable. Heh. I rather liked Beckett, but you did have to be in the mood for him!

    Reply
    1. Susan Osborne Post author

      Still annoyed about that apostrophe, and I’m not a green inker! I think you’d love this. I should report that it was H’s turn to snigger and chuckle yesterday evening which he did with great abandon.

      Reply
  7. kimbofo

    You didn’t like Of Human Bondage? I read it in 2013 and absolutely LOVED it — such a brilliant story and so heartbreaking in places. In fact I was so devastated by it I couldn’t bring myself to write a review, but it did make my Top 10 books for that year.

    Reply
    1. Susan Osborne Post author

      Oh, Kim, I was fifteen or sixteen – it was an A Level set text. Absolutely no chance of discussing Maugham’s sexuality and what that might mean in analysing the text, either. Not sure I can bring myself to go back to it.

      Reply

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