This year I’m only reading novels that were written since I was born.
About a decade ago, I decided to get more deliberate about my reading. I’m a voracious reader, and it’s a good thing. As well as being a pleasure and a calming influence, it widens horizons. But I found the down side of being a confirmed readaholic, sob, an incurable bibliophile, is that reading can become hotchpotch, undisciplined, all over the place. Simply put, I just read whatever my hands fell on.
So about ten years ago I decided to have a reading theme for that year: biographies and autobiographies. That year, among others, I was inspired by Nelson Mandela, intrigued by Mikhail Gorbachev, appalled by Adoph Hitler, even more appalled by Joseph Stalin, challenged by George Fox, melted by Mother Teresa, and upbraided by John Wesley. I think I can honestly say some of the people I met that year changed by life.
Since then, I’ve adopted a reading theme each year. In the myth year I sailed with Odysseus and believed in the Valar. My theology year saw me getting my teeth into Karl Barth and revisiting my old mentor Augustine of (humorously named) Hippo. Children’s books! That was fun and included spending several summers in one year on deck with the Swallows and Amazons. Science and sci-fi was out of my usual orbit but none the worse for that (I meant to work from physics through chemistry to biology, but never got beyond physics, it was so fascinating – H.G. Wells kept me entertained between the pencil chewing.) The first thousand years BC presented the challenge of fitting a millennium into a year, which I managed with the help of Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, which is quite simply one of the most marvellous things I’ve ever read. And the classics year meant I finally got round to reading Pride and Prejudice and, yes, it really is as good as everyone says it is.
I don’t stick to my theme absolutely rigidly. I’ve usually got one or two Christian or theological books on the go, and I read the Bible and the Times most days. But it’s helped to add some deliberateness to my reading. As with the rest of life, rules and discipline help as long as we deliberately break them now and again.
So this year I’m on novels written since I was born. Since I was born in 1976 this means that I’m having a fairly post-modern year, and rather enjoying it. Life of Pi and Captain Corelli’s Mandolin combined profundity with humour rather excellently. The Wasp Factory made me itch with discomfort. Atonement was brilliantly written and played a trick on me which I quite enjoyed (though I know some people it annoyed). The English Patient was a bit pretentious which is probably why I liked it. Beloved was achingly sad. The Colour Purple was brilliant yet odd. The Blind Assassin was clever and engaging until it became too long. The Road was nihilistic and life-affirming by turns. Love in a Time of Cholera was poetry in motion. The Hunger Games was, I thought, quite brilliant, genuinely moving by the end of the trilogy, and none the worse for being 'popular'.
What’ll it be next year? The complete works of René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo? That's seriously tempting. Poets and poetry? Other people’s diaries? Who can say.
'Of making many books there is no end', said Solomon. He meant it as a complaint, I think. But I’m rather glad.