I don’t lie to other people about what books I’ve read / not read. It’s part of my belief that you should just read what you want to read. If someone asked me if I’ve read Midnight’s Children I would say no. But if one of those ‘how many have you read?’ quizzes asks me (a quiz that no one but me will see), I’d say ‘yes’ because I’ve read a page. It’s the most pointless of all the lies because it’s only to myself. Andy Miller is an editor and writer who used to regularly lie about books he’d read. He also realised he’d only read one book (The Da Vinci Code) in the three years since becoming a parent. In an effort to start reading again, and in particular all those books and authors he’d lied about reading, he created the ‘List of Betterment’, and started to work through it.
When I first heard about this book, I thought it was going to be one of those lists of books that you ‘have’ to read to be a Proper, Righteous Reader. But it’s not at all. The List is a real range of books, mainly those Miller had lied about, he doesn’t end up liking all the books on the list, and some only get mentioned in passing. It’s more of a memoir in books – the books and what they meant to him are very much the focus, but it’s also about renewing a passion, family, and making changes in life for the better. It’s about books as an exploration of yourself.
In a way, it’s much like The Pleasures of Reading in action – reading what you want to read but also challenging yourself and persevering with more difficult books, and it being ok not to like them all.
I like Miller’s writing style – it’s very easy to explore along with him. Despite his enthusiasm, I don’t want to read all the books he finds he loves (particularly Krautrocksampler) because they’re just not all my thing, but I still enjoyed reading about his discoveries. There is a kind of weird interlude towards the end in which he writes a letter to the author of his favourite book from the list (Miller does acknowledge it’s a bit weird and says if he was the editor he would cut it). But I think the point of it is that it’s ok to completely fanboy/girl over an author or book as an adult. In fact, it’s probably a good sign – it means you’ve found a something you were looking for.
This is well worth a read if you love reading, or used to and feel like you’ve lost the love, or the time, to do it. It’s also good if you think ‘difficult’ books are too difficult for you. Miller makes it sound far less intimidating to get into more difficult books, because he’s honest about his struggle to persevere with them, but also the rewards of sticking with it and how it becomes easier. It certainly moved War and Peace to my ‘maybe’ list from ‘never’.
I’ve noticed on Twitter, Miller likes to get attendees at his readings to fill in a kind of ‘promise’ to themselves that they will read something they have always meant to read, or have always lied about reading. For me (as you’ve probably noticed if you regularly read my reviews as I bang on about it a bit, sorry) poetry is that thing. I always say I’m going to give it the time and patience it needs and deserves but I never totally get to it. So my ‘promise’ is Larkin, Dickinson and Berry. By the end of the summer, I will get some poetry of each of those authors read. I will give the time and space. I will hopefully go on to read more. I will let you know how I get on…
In the meantime, do you have an always-meant-to or a shh-let’s-pretend-I-did? Any plans to read those?
I received a free copy of The Year of Reading Dangerously from 4th Estate in exchange for an honest review.