Fittingly, for a book about trying to better oneself by reading more great books, The Year of Reading Dangerously started as a reading marathon, rather than a sprint. I approached the book, given my busy lifestyle, determined to read fifty pages a day. But reader, I failed. I read far more. Congratulations, Mr Miller – you have written a highly entertaining book.
The premise for The Year of Reading Dangerously is two-fold: Miller not only constructs The List of Betterment in order to improve his reading, but in this quest for reading betterment, he discovers that he seeks to change his life for the better also. As he tells us himself, the books on the List of Betterment ‘whispered the promise of escape from the 6.44 to London’. What I liked the most about TYoRD was the way it reminded me of the two huge untruths in my own life: 1) I’m too busy to read; and 2) I’ve read [insert name of classic book which any self-respecting English Lit grad ought to have read].
But it is as a fellow former bookseller, and the preferences which that vocation suggests, that Miller really speaks to me. Many have the argument, and it is one I have used myself, that any reading is good reading, be it comic, magazine, ebook or hardback, on paper or on screen. However, having worked for a certain chain bookstore which famously (some might say infamously) partnered with Amazon to sell the Kindle, whilst I can see the economics behind that decision, I cannot see the joy in it. Miller’s argument, whilst it speaks of the potential loss of books’ ‘value’ in the same spirit as this one, differs somewhat from my own: I am not convinced that selling books in supermarkets is intrinsically bad (perhaps he does not think that either. One to discuss on Twitter?). Plus, I am certain that as an author, he would rather his books were read in any form, whereas I, a humble reader, fail entirely to see the appeal of ereaders.
But I digress. What else do I love about this book? Well, I’ve just read the beginning, and the similarity to my own life is frightening (the 5am wake up courtesy of Miller’s three year old son is shockingly familiar, although admittedly, in my four year old, this foul behaviour is gradually being displaced by general rudeness and a total lack of road awareness. Kids don’t improve, they just exchange bad behaviour for different bad behaviour.) And the tiredness……if anyone can tell me how to stop feeling tired all the time, please feel free to do so. FYI broody people – parenthood is hugely rewarding, but also constant. There is no let up. Do not pass go, do not collect £200, go straight to being asked ‘Why?’ ad infinitum and attempting to stop your son from talking to strangers about poo. I Close My Eyes and Count to Ten should be my mantra.
What, then, of the books themselves? There is much on here which is unsurprising, but that is not to say that Miller has not made some good choices. I am transported back to the wooden, inkwell-sporting desks of my education when I read about Pride and Prejudice, and Lord of the Flies, to the 60s campus of Warwick Uni when I read about Anna Karenina and The Odyssey. On a low note, Absolute Beginners reminds me of the idiot ex with the vitamin D deficiency, and Krautrocksampler, Germanist that I am, is not a book I’m eager to read (sorry, Andy). But there is much to celebrate in these choices: The Sea, The Sea was the first Iris Murdoch I read, and Miller has encouraged me to reread it, purely to rediscover just how hilarious it is. And why no one has published The Charles Arrowby Cookbook is beyond my understanding.
So go forth, read TYoRD and create your own List of Betterment. I leave you, or rather Mr Miller, with some advice: read White Teeth now and don’t bother with The Woman in White (dull as Coventry).