As well as my ambitious reading plans for my 2013, I’m doing a bit of ‘tidying up’. When I say ‘tidying up’, I mean ‘reading all those books I started but never finished.’ I’m not one of those people who just throw a book across a room halfway through reading it because they hate it/find it boring/have higher standards when it comes to literature and move on with their lives. I like to start and finish a book, and then say I hate it/found it sooooo boring/that is not literature!
The books that I haven’t finished hover over me in my mind and haunt me, flapping their unread pages at me in mocking disgust. The biggest of these spectres is James Joyce’s Ulysses. I’ve pretty much read it, including the naughty bits and the bits I needed for the seminar I had to go to. And for the essay I wrote about it. Pretty much the whole thing. But not quite. And I always said that the on thing I wanted to get out of an English degree was to have read Ulysses.
The other considerable source of unfinished reading is the pile of self-improvement-type books that I am always ordering at work. This includes guides and introductions to: teaching, better eating, quilting, gardening, better grammar, US politics, writing tips and being a PhD student. In fairness, many of these are kind of dip-into books and not necessarily intended to be read cover-to-cover. But that didn’t stop be from embarking on them with those very same intentions, only to get distracted halfway through and wander over to another book and start reading that. So there’s those.
Any book we read is in some ways a gesture toward some kind of self-improvement. Lots of people write ‘Read More Books’ on their list of New Year’s resolutions for this very reason. This is why people read classics; to satisfy that voice in your head that says: ‘Ah yes, I should read that.’ And hey, I’m not arguing with that. Reading books makes you a better person. Fact. Its a problematic statement, to be sure, and it depends what you’re reading (Hey, I never said I wasn’t a book snob) but there are literally millions of amazing, informative, revelatory, life-changing books out there.
Which leads me to another looming tome: The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir. That book has been on my bedside table for about five years now. I’ve put it down and then picked it up again months later so repeatedly that I like to think of it as a kind of bible. Not content-wise. Just in its role as bedtime book (the bit about cell division is great for knocking yourself out with) cum dust-gathering mug plinth.
Then there’s all those work and research related books that I told myself I should read in full but mostly just read until I found the right quote, got the jist or discovered I had to read seventeen other books that same day and so put it in the pile.
Ah, the pile. Every book lover has one. Many have several. I’ve turned my piles into a game by listing them on the website Goodreads and categorising them. Great stuff. So anyway, I’ve decided that 2013 is going to be the year where I DO SOMETHING about this, tackle the problem HEAD ON and READ MORE BOOKS.
Wish me luck!
The next Classic Bookclub Book will be…..
Rudyard Kipling’s Kim!
I don’t think I’ve ever read any Kipling, although thanks to Disney, I’m familiar with stories like The Jungle Book. The choice was between Kim, Jack London’s White Fang and Henry Williamson’s Tarka the Otter (which I’m secretly reading anyway). Pop into the shop and pick up a copy of Kim today. And don’t forget bookclubbers get a lovely discount of £1 off!
Last year, I made a new year’s resolution: read a book by Dickens. And I did! For our Classic Bookclub meeting last March, I and several others, discussed our experiences of reading Hard Times. I found that some of things said about Dickens’ work were true. Hard Times was both sentimental but at times, hilariously funny. Not that it’s meant to be. But with characters like Mr Gradgrind and Mr M’Choakumchild ramming cold hard facts down everybody’s throats, its hard not to giggle. And the female characters were a little limp in parts. But I was moved by Dickens’ clear concern for the downtrodden and disempowered. The whole thing left me wishing I’d chosen something else of his to read, apparently this was one of his weaker works. But whatever, I’d read a whole Dickens!
So under the influence of this staggering triumph, this year’s reading resolutions are far more ambitious! I will read ANOTHER DICKENS! Maybe even Great Expectations!
But not only this, I will have a go at a few more of those ‘authors I’ve been meaning to read’. So this year’s book diet will go something like this:
One book by John Steinbeck, maybe Grapes of Wrath, since everybody says it’s ‘amazing’. I haven’t even read Of Mice and Men. Tut tut.
One book by Thomas Hardy. I tried to read Jude the Obscure some time when when I was under 20, and it didn’t work. But I’m ready for you now, Mr Hardy…
Another book by George Orwell. I’ve done Animal Farm. And at Uni, I read and very much enjoyed – without at all expecting to – The Road to Wigan Pier. So it’s time for 1984 methinks. Or maybe Down and Out in Paris and London.
Another book by James Joyce. I’ve read The Dubliners. And I’ve read Ulysses (OK, I haven’t, I didn’t finish it. But I did read the beginning – repeatedly-, some of the middle, and most of the end. I’ll be taking care of this – see my next post). So now its time to read the lovely copy of Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man that’s been sitting on my shelf for years.
One copy of Middlemarch by George Eliot. As a student of feminism and fan of women in general, I really should have read this one already. For shame!
And that’s it. Don’t give me any more books to read for the rest of the year, OK?
A number of my close friends, and indeed readers of Nomad News, may be aware of my recent return to a childhood love for all things nature. Particularly furry, mammaly, ottery things. In her recent book, Otter Country, Miriam Darlington talks about the origins of her otter passion, specifically citing Henry Williamson’s Tarka the Otter and Gavin Maxwell’s Ring of Bright Water, which she read as a child. Roger Deakin similarly mentions both books in his wonderful memoir Waterlog, about his journey around Britain via its ponds, streams, pools, lakes, rivers and seas.
I’ve never read either book, but I have seen the film adaptation of Ring of Bright Water. In fact, I think we had it on video when I was a kid, so I think I watched it over and over and over. Darlington and Deakin’s books got me thinking about other children’s books that I’d missed out on and led me to investigate other reads that might still retain those elements of wonder and enjoyment for a more mature audience. There are a few obvious classics: William Golding’s Lord of the Flies; Tolkein’s The Hobbit; Alice and Wonderland of course. This crossing over from the children’s section into adult fiction is just as common today. Remember all those grown-ups on the tube with their adult versions of Harry Potter? The one with the very grown-up steam train on it, in the mature hues of black and and white? I do. And obviously there’s Twilight and The Hunger Games.
What I was looking for were books like Tarka; those books which revel in that special fascination that animals hold for us when we are children. I’d had a book of Animals Tales as a child, but I’d never read The Jungle Book or Wind in the Willows. So for the theme for the choices for the next Classic Bookclub will be books about furry and wild things. Starting with Tarka the Otter by Henry Williamson. Further options to follow, so watch this space.