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A blog for everything bookish

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Reading Ambitions: 2015

I don’t plan on looking back at my reading year for 2014. It’s something that I used to do, it’s fun to do, but after my list making habit began to border on the edge of insanity I stopped keeping a book list entirely, and besides most of the books I’ve read have been reviewed on the blog already so I would prefer to encourage readers to dig around in the blog instead. Sanity thus protected, I thought it would be good, instead, to set out some reading goals for 2015.

Goals is the wrong word, of course. Goals and reading are not concepts that really fit together in my mind, though perhaps if I was a schoolteacher I might have a different perception on that. Perhaps, then, it is better to say some loose guidelines around the kind of reading I’d quite like to do in 2015. Or beyond. I’m not big on this whole living year by year concept either. Yet here I am writing about the next block of 364 days like a trooper. Did I say my sanity had been protected?

One of the great reading decisions I made in 2014, not that I’m reflecting on it of course, was to try to read books written by female writers. I didn’t set out to make this an iron-clad rule but in the end, barring half of Don DeLillo’s Underworld (which I quit because, unbelievably, I was finding it a bit boring/repetitive. This shocked me a great deal), I did end up reading only books written by women. This was surprising, as I thought I’d cave at some point and read, perhaps, the new David Mitchell, or perhaps something by Ballard or Nicholson Baker. Yet that didn’t happen. That wasn’t because I exercised an iron will to keep picking books written by women, neither was it because of dogged stubbornness or determination to hit a target. I didn’t have to keep convincing myself. It was easy. That’s because there are a huge number of amazing writers out there who also happen to have two X chromosomes and I was lucky to have encountered a bunch of brilliant bloggers who have been sharing their thoughts on great writers they’ve read who also happen to have two X chromosomes. The pool was rich with writing brilliance. Consequently I have read some amazing new (to me) contemporary writers (Evie Wyld, Hannah Kent, Elena Ferrante, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Kathleen Jamie, Helen McDonald, Annie Dillard); reminded myself of some more familiar, great contemporary writers (Ali Smith, Helen Oyeyemi, Yoko Ogawa, Helen DeWitt); explored in more depth some classic (or should be classic) female greats (Virginia Woolf, Tove Jansson). Not that I’m reflecting on 2014 at all.

I don’t plan to exclusively read female writers, but I think after having experimented and explored for the last year I’ve discovered an appetite to experiment and explore some more. In the course of reading around different female writers I have, inevitably, encountered others that I’d like to read that I simply haven’t had time to. The following are writers I’d like to read (either for the first time, or in more depth) in the not-too-distant future:

Joan Didion – I have Katie Roiphe to thank for that one.
Edna O’Brien – because I bought the Country Girls trilogy from the secondhand bookshop and I’m itching to read them.
George Eliot – because she is greater than just Middlemarch and my collection of Eliot books is growing.
Rebecca Solnit – 2 books in my collection, none read yet. Yet I’ve encountered her writing elsewhere and she’s always impressed me as an intelligent, insightful woman.
Elena Ferrante – because the 3 books of the Neopolitan series are watching me…watching me I say!
Carol Shields – because she’s been recommended to me by too many people, there must be something in it.
Jane Gardam – for the same reason (also her Old Filth trilogy has just been reissued, quite beautifully)
I also want to go back to reading Japanese writers more regularly. I’ve committed to joining in with January in Japan, as promoted here in Tony Reading List  which will see me reading my first book by a male writer in a year, though Kawabata is surely an artist worth making the break for. I have a particular love for Japanese writers, there is something about Japanese fiction which really resonates with me. There is a well established catalogue of male Japanese writers that I’m already familiar with, so I’d like to explore the female writers in more depth. Writers who have made my ‘to read’ list so far include: Minae Mizumura (A True Novel, recommended from more than one source); Fumiko Enchi, because The Waiting Years was amazing; Yoko Ogawa, because everything I’ve read that she’s written has been amazing in quite different ways; and some writers that are completely new to me including Masako Togawa, Yoko Tawada, Morio Kito and Mitsuyo Kakuto. My aim is to try to read one per month, but I’ll see how that works out.  

I’d like to read more translated fiction in general. I’m not sure how I’ll fit that in, but I’ll find a way. Of course Ferrante will be in translation, as will the Japanese fiction (though I’m working on my Japanese reading skills…one day) so perhaps it will be easier than I think. There’s also one other commitment which I haven’t yet mentioned, which is my #TBR20 commitment over on Twitter. The idea behind this (if you’re not already familiar) is that it’s a commitment to read 20 books you already own, before buying (or borrowing) any more. I will have to break this to read the Kawabata (which I’ll loan from the library) but otherwise I’d like to stick to this commitment which may help me get through January with cash still in the bank. I haven’t made a list, I don’t want to be too prescriptive about which 20 books I read, and I have read 8 already (though I may have slightly cheated by including a children’s book in there) but there’s an opportunity to dig out some of my books in translation I haven’t yet got around to and kill two birds with one stone. And when I’ve finished, I will feel extremely virtuous. Then again, there is this amazing biography of Tove Jansson’s work which is tempting me and I do have some book tokens just burning to be used…

One thing I don’t want to do in 2015 is read more. My reading is lightweight compared to some (I’ve seen listings in excess of 150 books per year, whereas I generally average between 60 – 80, not that I’m counting (I’m really not)), but it is enough. I think if I try to read more I’m only going to absorb less. One of the things I’ve enjoyed about reading Woolf (which I haven’t quite finished) is how much richer the experience is when I’m forced to delve deeply, to take my time. I am enjoying re-reading favourite novels, or taking my time over difficult, but rewarding, books. I don’t know if this is an age thing, or just a realisation that I cannot read everything so I should make sure that what I do read is fulfilling to me. It is not quantity, but quality that matters. I’ve been lucky to have encountered a lot of fulfilling books recently, and I’ve no desire to give that up.

Aside from these (ambitious) goals, I’d like to continue reading non-fiction books. I’ve enjoyed the many I’ve read in the last 12 months, and I have a shelf-full of others that I really need to work my way around to.

Wishing you all another great year of reading pleasure.