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“… a 688-page punishment beating.” @i_am_mill_i_am #yearofreadingdangerously

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I’m carrying on catching up with my reviews here on the Ramblings; I *have* been reading some marvellous books, and with the current state of things they’ve become a welcome distraction. In recent months I’ve become, rather belatedly admittedly, a huge fan of the Backlisted Podcast; so much so that it moved me to read Defoe’s “A Journal of the Plague Year” (sadly a rather timely title just now) and invest in a very chunky copy of “The Anatomy of Melancholy“. So it’s a surprise, really, that I’ve never read podcaster Andy Miller’s “The Year of Reading Dangerously”, particularly as I love books about books! I was aware of the book when it came out, but somehow just never got round to it However, I ran across a copy of the book in the Oxfam recently, and the time seemed right. It was certainly a good choice to pick up after some of my more intense recent reading! 😀

I imagine many readers of the Ramblings have read this book as well, lovers of books about books as we are, so it probably doesn’t need a lot of description. Basically, I think it could have been subtitled “In which Andy Miller has a mid-life crisis and rediscovers his love of books”! His year of reading is kick-started by the realisation that he’s claimed to have read any number of book which he hasn’t, and by the chance stumbling-upon of a copy of “The Master and Margarita” whilst looking after his young son. Miller is hooked by the book (which I can understand – though I found myself quibbling with a couple of details in his description of the plot!) That’s by the by, though – what matters is that Andy’s reading mojo has been nudged back into life and he embarks upon his project of reading Great Works (plus one Dan Brown…) with gusto.

It took me a little over five days to finish The Master and Margarita, but its enchantment lasted far longer.… The Master and Margarita had made its journey down the century, from reader to reader, to a Broadstairs bookshop. Some part of that book, of Bulgakov himself, now lived on in me. The secret of The Master and Margarita, which seems to speak to countless people who know nothing about the bureaucratic machinations of the early Stalinist dictatorship or the agony of the novel’s gestation: words are our transport, our flight and our homecoming in one. Which you don’t get from Dan Brown.

The book follows the trials and tribulations of his journey: the difficulties of reading a complex book on a noisy commute, what to do if you really *don’t* like a book and the euphoria that reading something really wonderful can bring. Interspersed with the reading are snapshots of his life with his admirable and entirely sensible-sounding wife and his young son. It makes for a wonderfully enjoyable read, and one with which I very much identified.

I had heard that other people dealt with this sort of problem by having ill-advised affairs with schoolgirls, or dying their hair a ‘fun’ colour, or plunging into a gruelling round of charity marathon running, ‘to put something back’. But I did not want to do any of that; I just wanted to be left alone. (On his ‘midlife crisis’)

Because *anyone* who’s brought up children will know the havoc it wreaks with your reading! In my madness, I produced three, and reading while dealing with small children is Not Easy! How can you sink into pages and pages of sublime prose while coping with crying, tantrums, fighting, demands for food and requirements to change nappies? (To list just a few of the horrors of children). It’s not easy at all, and like Miller I spent many years either not reading much or reading light stuff because it was impossible to read anything of substance.

Is it wrong to prefer books to people? Not at Christmas. The book is like a guest you have invited into your home, except you don’t have to play Pictionary with it or supply it with biscuits and stollen.

Luckily, Andy shares childcare and work arrangements with his wife, so there are times where he commutes or is away for work and so can fit in reading. And as the sensible advice says, if you read 50 pages a day, you *will* finish the books! He reads his way through some excellent works, providing entertaining insights as he goes; I didn’t always agree with his assessments, but I enjoyed reading them. And I loved his coda at the end where he revealed his various encounters with the late, great Douglas Adams (I really should re-read the Hitchhiker books…)

Many of my favourite books mimic the Pevsner guides in this respect, as though the narrator and their subject have become locked in an increasingly ill tempered tussle for control of the text: Pale Fire by Nabokov, Revolution in the Head by Ian McDonald, Flaubert’s Parrot by Julian Barnes, most of BS Johnson’s novels, even Roger Lewis’s cantankerous The Life and Death of Peter Sellers.… Although it was not my intention at the outset, it seems to be how The Year of Reading Dangerously has turned out.

“Year… ” was first published in 2014, and there are some elements which were perhaps a little surprising; Andy seems to foresee the dramatic death of the printed book, a phenomenon which seems less likely to happen nowadays than it did then. And his views of bloggers and blogging (which I recall Annabel commenting on in her review) are provocative; our perspective (or at least mine) is very different from his because, at the end of the day, he is someone writing for a living. I write my blog for pleasure, because I want to share my love of books out there in cyberspace. I’m not wound up about views and comments and the like (although I *do* like to interact with people about books, so I’m happy when people want to comment and discuss). We’ll have to agree to differ there, Andy, because I think bloggers and blogging are valuable, and I mostly get my recommendations and bookish ideas from other bloggers I trust rather than ‘professional’ commentators.

I can understand The Master and Margarita inspiring anyone…. ;D

But I digress. I’m glad I finally read “The Year of Reading Dangerously” because it was a really entertaining and enjoyable book; Miller is an enthusastic and knowledgeable commentator on the works he reads, the autobiographical elements are often funny and touching, and I love his quirky sense of humour. It was a joy to watch him on his journey to rediscovering a deep love of reading, one of the best friends a human being can have. This is definitely an essential addition to any shelf of books about books, and I’m looking forward to reconnecting with the Backlisted podcast when it makes its long-awaited return! 😀

It’s December – so that means more books…

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There is an inevitability about the arrival of new books in December; as well as Christmas, there is also my birthday which occurs about a week beforehand. As my friends and family know me well, there will always be book gifts and this year is no exception. So I thought I would share them as usual – well, why break a habit?? ;D

First up, this little pile arrived from various sources on my birthday (and I did share an image on Instagram):

A fascinating selection! The top four are from Mr. Kaggsy – three wonderful books from the British Library focusing on my favourite areas of London, and a period crime novel set in the Jazz Age – I’m intrigued, and with the London books there’s another risk of a reading project… “Nihilist Girl” came from a Family Member after instructions were issued, as did “At the Existentialist Cafe” after a link was sent to my Little Brother! French Poetry came from Middle Child and the Beverley is from my BFF J. who is a great Nichols enabler…

There was a late arrival courtesy of Eldest Child in the form of this:

I follow the Bosh! boys on YouTube as they come up with some marvellous (and relatively easy-seeming!) Vegan recipes, and I’m always keen for new foodie ideas – so this will be just the ticket!

Next up, some arrivals from my Virago Secret Santa; this is a tradition we have on the LibraryThing Virago Modern Classics group and it’s such fun to take part! My Santa this year was the lovely Lisa from the USA, and by some weird trick of randomness, I was *her* Santa. Needless to say, I was spoiled….

The two Mrs. Oliphant books complete my set of the Chronicles of Carlingford – I’m very keen to get to read these all at some point. The Nemirovksy is short stories and I’ve not read any of these. And a lovely hardback of “Golden Hill” which sounds fascinating! Thank you Lisa! 😀

Then there are the Christmas arrivals! Some of these were requests/instructions and some of them my friends and family improvising.

The second volume of Plath letters was from Middle Child; the Katherine Mansfield Notebooks from Youngest Child. I long to sink myself in both…. The beautiful first edition of Beverley’s “Sunlight on the Lawn” (with dustjacket!!) is from my dear friend J. – just gorgeous…. “Sweet Caress” is from my old friend V. and I don’t think I’ve read any Boyd so I’m interested in taking a look… The rest are from Mr. Kaggsy who has been as inspired as ever. The John Franklin Bardin omnibus is a particularly intriguing; I’d never heard of the author but he seems to have been a highly regarded and very individual crime writer so I can’t wait to explore. However, Mr. Kaggsy excelled himself this year with this:

“But, Kaggsy!” I hear you cry, “you already have so many copies of The Master and Margarita!” Yes, I most certainly do, but I’ve always wanted a copy of the Folio Society edition. It seems to have been spiralling upwards in price to dizzying heights, but amazingly Mr. Kaggsy managed to track down a Reasonably Priced copy and snapped it up! Grinning like the Cheshire Cat here….

Finally, some review books have snuck in (as they say); I can’t share most of them, as the publication dates are a little way away, but one I can is this beautiful volume from Notting Hill Editions:

I love their books, and as an inveterate walker, the content looks just perfect for me. I want to get reading this one soon, so look out for a forthcoming review.

So as usual I have been utterly spoiled with new books and my only issue, as usual, is what to pick up next? Never an easy decision… Which would you choose??

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