On Reading

Nobody reads anymore. OK, so that’s a wild and incorrect exaggeration (I’m thinking of running for President) but it is true that the amount we read, collectively, is on a slow and steady decline. Not that this will shock anyone. In a world where Netflix marathons have all but become an Olympic sport it is no wonder that reading time is squandered. In fairness there is so much good stuff on the small screen these days it’s hardly surprising that we are all culpable of this armchair sport (which pairs so well with a nice glass of red).

It is rather sad though. Studies have shown that reading a good book has the same impact on the brain as meditation.

And reading fiction appears to boost people’s empathy levels as well as their ability to view the world through someone else’s eyes. Now think about that for a second. If people don’t read much anymore, yet it increases people’s ability to empathise, these two facts combined…well…world explained, perhaps.

CEO’s and people like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg are big readers. But a window into their reading life shows a big love of non-fiction. No empathy building here. Hhmm…corporations explained? Maybe.

Musings aside, it is evident that what the world is in desperate need of right now is for everyone to pick up a good novel.

I’m more than happy to oblige. Personally, I have always been an avid reader, even as a child. Although growing up in grey rainy England with three television stations and without the distraction of a yet-to-be-invented internet, this might not be considered a terribly big accomplishment.

Nevertheless, I devoured stories of 11 year olds able to go off and have adventures with delicious picnic lunches, swooning at their freedom, and marvelled at the escapades of goblins and fairies living in trees and the children who climbed to their uppermost branches to discover ever changing crazy worlds. If you were an Enid Blyton fan you’ll know which books I’m talking about. Although it was Nancy Drew who ultimately ruled the world with her Titian  (I mean…Titian!!) hair and blue convertible, solving crimes with such grace and poise at the tender age of what? 18? Who wouldn’t want to live vicariously through Nancy Drew?

And  I would imagine that even as adults, a large percentage of reading is done to escape. It might not include fairies and goblins anymore, but what is better than being able to flee the dreary routine of dishes and laundry and squabbling children to inhabit lives that we could never do so in reality?  To be able to observe the world through the eyes of a King, or a prostitute, a scientist or an aboriginee.

The world is big and bold inside the pages of a book, pages which offer us the opportunity to become a criminal without suffering the consequences, a neurosurgeon without having to put in the hard work or a ballet dancer without the sore toes. A book is a real world portable Tardis. Bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. (My apologies to non Dr Who watchers for this inside joke).

And all the while it makes us more compassionate and caring people. At which point I could make a joke about a certain politician who reads nothing at all. But I won’t, because all my years of reading have turned me into a warm and sensitive human being. I’ll just say this. White House. Explained.

But while reading may be down, the news is not all bad. Independent bookstores are on the rise, apparently, amidst all the worry that they may fall the way of the dodo. And the use of ebooks is on the wane. People like good old-fashioned paper. (I use both. Mostly paper, but the benefit of my kindle for travel is undeniable. As is instant download gratification. And I do love how I can read it in the dark).

Which brings us to the only stressful part of being a reader. Having to choose just one book when there are so many vying for your attention.  Whenever I finish reading something and find myself with that delicious feeling that I can now choose a new one, I am suddenly overwhelmed by the choices. Do I want to pick another from one of my murder mystery series, or a buzzy book that everyone raves about? Do I want a comfort read or do I want to leap beyond my comfort zone and read something that will require more effort?

It’s a daunting decision and one that can make me a little restless and anxious, sometimes starting several books at once, unsure if they’re worth reading or what I’m in the mood for. Because sometimes it’s hard to tell, yet if you don’t give a book its due in the beginning you can abandon it too soon, unaware of the joy that is yet to come. Quite frankly, if I ruled the world, I would throw my arms up in the air and demand a moratorium on the writing of books. Just a year or three so that all us book lovers could, for just a whisper thin moment, believe that we might be able to catch up. Take pity on us, writers. Go and read instead.

The one thing I did enjoy about BOTM was that in my desperate scramble to read everything arriving in my mailbox each month, I just read each book, without pondering what I was in the mood for, or what other options existed. Which, surprisingly, eliminated a lot of stress.

And so I have decided to do something that I have never done before. Make a list of books that I would like to read this year, in the hopes that in any moments of doubt, I can use it to remove the stress of on-the-spot decision making. I’m also hoping that it will help me choose a wider array of books, venturing beyond my usual choices, so I decided to break it up into a variety of categories, choosing three books and a bonus book for each one.

++Non-Fiction {because one of my favourite books of the year was Killers of the Flower Moon}

~Evicted Matthew Desmond

~Radium Girls Kate Moore

~Seven Brief Lessons on Physics Carlo Rovelli {because why not really push the boat out!}

~Bonus: Untangled Lisa Damour {because my daughter turns 13 this month and I’m going to need this!}

++Books that have spent 152 years languishing on my bookshelves {this is a very important category and I have, therefore, decided to throw in 2 bonus books with the promise to myself that this is the one category that must be read in full by years end}

~Galileo’s Daughter Dava Sobel {my husband bought this for me about 2 decades ago}

~The Little Friend Donna Tartt  {because I loved The Secret History and bought this when it came out. It was published in 2002. Not only that but I have not allowed myself to read The Goldfinch until I have read this one}

~The Line of Duty Alan Hollinghurst

~Bonus: Elizabeth the Queen Sally Bedell Smith

~Extra Bonus: Dangerous Liasons Pierre Choderlos de Laclos

++Books from my kindle that have piled up {really just an extension of above}

~Rules of  Civility Amos Torres {my absolute favourite book from last year was A Gentleman in Moscow, so I was saving this one for the holidays but didn’t quite get around to it}

~Circling the Sun Paula McLain

~The Chaperone Laura Moriarty

~Bonus: A River in  Darkness Masaji Ishikawa

++Books that I have been meaning to read for ever {and which will satisfy me deeply to be able to say that I finally have}

~Shadow of the Wind Carlos Ruiz Zafon

~100 Years of Solitude Gabriel Garcia Marquez

~Love in the Time of Cholera Gabriel Garcia Marquez

~Bonus: Cloud Atlas David Mitchell

++Favourite Classic Re-reads  {because I haven’t read enough of this genre lately}

~The Mayor of Casterbridge Thomas Hardy {my very first foray into the classics as a teenager. Love Thomas Hardy}

~Middlemarch George Elliot

~David Copperfield Charles Dickens {my favourite of his books}

`Bonus: Cranford Elizabeth Gaskell {so charming}

++Memoirs  {Not a fan of this category at all. But hey, we’re exploring new territory here}

~Born a Crime Trevor Eve {I don’t watch his show although I have seen a few snippets and he’s very, very funny. So many people loved this so it seems worth a shot}

~Lab Girl Hope Jahren

~Priestdaddy Patricia Lockwood {i am strangely drawn to the cover of this book}

~Bonus: Talking as Fast as I Can Lauren Graham {because I recently had the pleasure of re-watching some Gilmore Girls episodes with my daughter}

++Books from the last couple of years that I really meant to read in 2017 but didn’t.

~Lincoln in the Bardo George Saunders {This had to be the buzziest of buzzy books last year.}

~Underground Railroad Colson Whitehead

~Beartown Fredrik Backman

~Bonus: Moonglow Michael Chabon

++Buzzy books for 2018


++Books in Translation

~A Man Called Ove Fredrik Backman

~The Vegetarian Han Kang

~My Brilliant Friend Elena Ferrante {this book is always popping up and I paid it no heed because the cover is so cheesy and reminds me of a not-so-great romancey novel. Apparently this is not the case.}

~Bonus: The Alchemist Paul Cohelo {had to buy this for my son for school last year and swore that I was going to read it myself.}

And this next one is a stand alone category.

++The book that everyone loved, was right up my alley given its WWII setting, yet I started and inexplicably failed to finish, not once, not twice but three times.

~All the Light They Could Not See Anthony Duerr.

I have absolutely no explanation as to why I didn’t immediately fall in love with this book like everyone else. I think it’s a perfect example of a good book falling victim to bad timing. Sometimes you just don’t have the requisite time to give to a book that really needs it. Having said that, I am determined that by year’s end I will have thoroughly enjoyed reading this novel.

So, this is in no way meant to be a definitive list for the year. I would be happy finishing half of the books on here given that there will be other books that cross my path and those that also need to be read for future blog posts. It remains to be seen if it helps reduce reading stress, but I do know this. If you want to make the world a better place, read, people, read.

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