Friday 30 May 2014


'High Fidelity for bookworms' The Telegraph
The next Books That Built Me Salon will be on 1st July at 18.30 with Andy Miller, author of The Year of Reading Dangerously.  

Infinitely more than 'High Fidelity for bookworms', catchy as that Telegraph pull-quote is, The Year of Reading Dangerously is an irreverent, witty and inspiring memoir in which Andy Miller, editor, writer and former bookseller, sets out to read the books he's claimed to have read, but never has. He prescribes himself a 'List of Betterment' of thirteen books, which soon swells to fifty-two, and creates a heroically methodical approach to getting through them - fifty pages a day, one word in front of the other, a sensible discipline designed to get one to the end of books which are far from readerly - Beckett's The Unnameables, The Communist Manifesto, The Ragged Trousered Philanthopists - as well as those which have a more conventional narrative pull - Anna Karenin, Middlemarch, for example. 

What I love about The Year of Reading Dangerously is that it's a thoughtful, engaging meditation on the nourishing pleasures of really great books, yet it's no Leavisite canon. It's true that what we might call classics form the backbone of the List of Betterment, but Miller's reading is eclectic and unashamedly no-brow: he explores Tolstoy and Austen in the same breath as Judith Kerr and Douglas Adams, and, in one of the book's triumphant set-pieces, there's a deftly written and vastly entertaining comparative reading of Moby Dick and Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code

The sub-title of The Year of Reading Dangerously is 'how fifty great books saved my life': one might argue that 'life-saving' is going a little far, but it's certainly life-changing: contained in its three hundred or so pages is its own complex and powerful theory of bibliotherapy. Good books come with the promise of metamorphosis, but in A Year of Reading Dangerously, it's not only books that have the power to change one, but the action of reading itself that effects the transformation. 

Inspired by The Year of Reading Dangerously, I've begun Anna Karenin, one of the many books whose presence on my bookshelf implies, quite wrongly, that I've read it already. Three days and one hundred and fifty pages in (see, sticking to the formula works), I'm already in thrall to what Miller describes as a book with "the perfect balance of art and entertainment - no, not a balance, a union of the two". For prompting me to read this extraordinary book, and his own, I'm very much looking forward to discussing with Andy Miller the Books That Built him. 

The Books That Built Me. 1st July, 18.30 to 20.30 at The Club at CafĂ© Royal. Tickets include a pre-event cocktail reception, a signed copy of the hardback edition, a copy of Harper's Bazaar and a Penhaligon's gift. 


By way of an addendum, I must confess that I have been at various points in my life an incorrigible liar about the books that I've read - I even wrote several excellent essays at university on books with which I had a less than intimate relationship, armed only with the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations and a cursory flick through the first and last hundred pages. I'm no slouch when it comes to reading, but I have managed to convince myself, and others, that I have read more widely than I have: here are a few I'll readily admit to (yes, yes I know, great works of fiction in Playmobil - I was once bored in charge of  a tiny Trefusis Minor and these tableaux were the result)....

I've read the first fifty pages of the first book of A La RĂ©cherche du Temps Perdu, yet I can talk very intensely and, I feel, convincingly, about hawthorn, madeleines, memory, the kiss not given, Odette, Baron du Charlus etc etc. Here is Proust reading a copy of his own book and eating a giant madeleine in his famous cork-lined room.
Paradise Lost. Despite Milton being the subject of one of my greatest friend's books (Milton's Angels by Professor Joad Raymond), I've read the good bit with Satan in it and that's it. Do I need to read it? Probably. Am I dogged by guilt about not having read it? Definitely.

Julius Caesar. I can quote quite a lot of it. Not sure I feel I must read, rather than watch, Shakespeare, but you know, Et tu, Brute.....

Actually, I jolly well have read Beowulf. I've read it on several occasions and in several translations - the one to read is the blissful Seamus Heaney, rich and delicious with Heaney's ear for cadence and his love of the  'word hoard'.

1 comment:

Cinderellen said...

Sadly, I cannot yet order The Year of Reading Dangerously yet (Kindle, available for preorder) because I do love a good list. I am not altogether sure that as a touchstone for the culture that Douglas Adams is not as important as Tolstoy.