Probably like most book lovers I love reading books about books and books about reading. Writing a book about reading that will be interesting is not an easy thing, mainly because reading is such an individual and subjective act. Andy Miller managed to write an interesting book about reading, a book that gives his own subjective perspective, but that one can relate to.
At one point in his life Miller discovered that he stopped reading for pleasure and stopped challenging himself with his reading. He got so busy with his day to day life that there was no head space left for reading, or so he thought. His adventure started with The Master and Margarita and I personally think there’s not many better books to get someone back to reading, it reads well but it also has depth and for a person from Western Europe it also has the added attraction of an unknown world (Eastern Europeans are by default a bit more familiar with the absurdity of life in a socialist state). From that point on Miller decided to embark on a challenge to read fifty books that he’s been ashamed not to read or that he lied about reading over a course of the year. What follows is his account of this adventure, but not book by book as we might expect I’d say he takes us through the milestones of his reading, books that changed the way he perceived the world. He talks more about the events surrounding his reading than the books themselves, which definitely makes is easier to relate to his adventure.
I really loved to read about his re-discovery of the joy of reading, of how he struggled to find time to read and how his wife told him to try and just read fifty pages a day. He also tells us how he tried joining a book club and how this doesn’t work for him, how he tried blogging and that didn’t work either. Actually I found the blogging part very interesting because Miller touches on a point that I’ve been wondering about lately: when I read a book to later review it here I tend to take notes and think about what am I going to write, for Miller this meant he doesn’t give enough attention to the book itself, focusing on finding an angle that will hook his readers rather than on digesting the book in its entirety. I sometimes face the same dilemma combined with rushing through books to make sure I have enough material to review to keep this blog going and be able to post regularly. For Miller this meant that he gave up on blogging to focus on books. I still fight to keep everything in balance, because I do immensely enjoy interacting with all of you, but it is not always easy. He actually made me think that instead of rushing through a book to be able to write a complete review I may start posting some of my thoughts while I still read the book, to give the book and myself more breathing and mind space.
Back to Miller’s book, I think his selection was interesting, as he said he was not aiming for any definite list of classics, but rather wanted to be able to honestly say that he read those books, because throughout his life he happened to tell people that he did when he didn’t. There were two things I found surprising: that he liked Moby Dick, I know it is considered a classic, but looking at the blogging community the verdict seems pretty unanimous – deadly boring. The other thing was that Miller considered War and Peace a relatively easy read, he compares it to Middlemarch and says that the latter is a demanding book, while War and Peace is only long. That’s one point where we don’t see eye to eye, I did try to read War and Peace, or rather listen while I was going to the gym and it really is boring, it basically put me off gym for few months.
I could however totally agree with his attitude towards Kindle, he sees it as a practical extension of his library, not something to ever replace physical book, but a thing that allows us to interact with more books easier. How else could I take 200 books for vacation and go completely calm that I have sufficient selection of reading material to last me two weeks (especially with the luggage size limitations we have now).
All in all an enjoyable light read for compulsive readers.
Quotes from The Year of Reading Dangerously