Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The Year of Reading Dangerously

UK edition, which is what I've got
The Year of Reading Dangerously, by Andy Miller

Andy Miller, writer and editor, cog in the machinery of British society, had stopped reading books.  In something like five (ten?) years, he had read magazines and Internet articles and only one book, and that one was The Da Vinci Code.  Books had fallen out of his life, replaced by his phone and Sudoku puzzles.  (Seriously, the man spends hours every week commuting on a train, and was doing Sudoku instead of reading.)  So he started thinking maybe he should read a book sometime.  He came up with a whole imaginary program, but it still took a couple of years before he actually picked up a book and read it.  After that, he finally embarked on a project of reading books -- the list being mostly books he had always meant to read, had in fact lied about reading, but had never actually read.

Miller starts off with The Master and Margarita, which won him my instant approval.  Then it's Middlemarch, another excellent choice.  After that, I hardly recognized a thing as Miller's tastes mostly do not overlap with my own.  There are a lot of modernistic guy novels, something called The Ragged Trousers Philanthropists -- which seems to be the British counterpart to Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, only successful in its aim (while poor Sinclair only managed to kickstart the FDA) -- and a large section on the wonders of Houllebecq, who it doesn't sound like I would like.  Miller does tackle Pride and Prejudice but hates it.

There is a fantastic, fun chapter comparing The Da Vinci Code to Moby Dick.  There's a very nice section on childhood reading, including a bit praising the old Doctor Who episode paperbacks (--which I had just gotten a bagful of a few hours earlier!   Those are probably all over the place in the UK but they aren't common at all here).  There is quite a bit of musing on Miller's love for what he thinks of as the Contradictorial School of writing (which is mostly very bitter and complainy about Life):
Like many women, I suspect, Tina does not have much time for the Contradictorial School.  It does seem to be a style of writing that is practised and enjoyed almost exclusively by men, a fact which disappoints me.
Yeah, well, I'm disappointed by your lack of appreciation for Jane Austen, Miller, and it's true -- I don't have a lot of time for bitter, angry writers.  Gotta save my energy, see.

Book lovers will enjoy this meandering through favorite (or new!) titles, but may be slightly exasperated by Miller's previous book-sloth and amazement that reading is something that can fit into modern life and parenthood.  People who have let reading slip through the cracks may be inspired to pick up a book, so that's nice.  I never did quite figure out what was dangerous about Miller's reading program; I guess something about feeling alive again and thinking?  Maybe he just liked the idea.

One of the cover blurbs says "Like nothing else I have ever read."  The reviewer must not have read many of these kinds of books, because while this is a fun take on the "embark on a reading program and write a book about it" genre, it's hardly unique.  Unless you count that it's written by a man, and these books are mostly (but not always) written by women.


Kristen M. said...

Hah. I totally couldn't remember what I thought about this book other than "it was fine" but apparently I made big plans to make my own lists of books that influenced me and books that I still wanted to read. Yeah. I never did that. Yet, somehow, I still have 145 unread books here in the house and 50 on my library "for later" list. I think I'll be fine without making those lists for a while yet. ;)

looloolooweez said...

"There is a fantastic, fun chapter comparing The Da Vinci Code to Moby Dick."

OK, now I really must add this to my to-read list. I scanned the description for this book in a store the other day and thought it sounded a bit silly, but with a chapter like that maybe it's just my taste in silly. So, I'm very glad you mentioned it!

Admiral Ronton said...

"Yeah, well, I'm disappointed by your lack of appreciation for Jane Austen, Miller, and it's true -- I don't have a lot of time for bitter, angry writers. Gotta save my energy, see."

Love your humor. Never read a book like this myself, so I guess I can see where his misquote came from, but yeah, you think he'd have done his research.

Karen K. said...

Well, I am intrigued by someone who can compare The Da Vinci Code to Moby-Dick, but I can't help but roll my eyes at someone who has time for Sudoku but can't find time to read -- I seriously plan my vacation reads by how long the plane rides are (and then I inevitably fall asleep). I would get SO MUCH READING DONE if I had a train commute -- when I was a librarian my commute was only 15 minutes, but I nearly always had an audiobook in the car, and we had an hour lunch which I nearly always spent reading. It boggles the mind.

Jean said...

Yeah, that part was pretty hard to take. Train commutes are the perfect reading time!

I fall asleep too! I had a 10+ hour trip to Portland last Friday and every time I read a paragraph, I dozed off. Coming home went much better and I got lots read. :)