I’ve covered the books I have read which I find unputdownable and I’ve given a list of putdownable books but I also have a category for aspirational books. For me reading is about impulse – picking the book off the shelf which suits your mood and will fill the gap.
There’s plenty of advice out there http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/bigread/top100.shtml to remind you of what’s available. This is annoying and embarrassing. I’m pretty sure I’ve read 26 of the 100 but there is, at my age, a further 10-15 where I can’t be sure – I may have just seen the film. There are also some bad books on this list in my opinion and also five or six where I haven’t heard of either book or author! Just reading the list reminds me that I would like to read the Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, Perfume and some Terry Pratchett but other factors come in to play to stop me.
Reading is about pleasure and you can’t force a book (as I know to my cost as I still wrestle with The Lacuna – holiday this week should consign it back to the shelves never to be read again). It’s also impulse when it comes to purchasing – often I’ll browse on Amazon or have a look round Waterstone’s – and I’m completely aware that I am a victim of marketing. In a store with thousands of books I am going to have my attention drawn to colourful spines, attractive images on the cover, the blurb (read as if it was some sort of unedited independent review), what is out on the tables, what is on offer. The chances of me selecting something that is stacked correctly on the shelves is pretty slim unless I am actually searching for it. Exceptions that prove the rule were when I finally read Scoop by Evelyn Waugh and Catch 22 by Joseph Heller. I’m left selecting the books they want me to select which are typically the most popular or newest but almost certainly not the best. This is a phenomena I come across all the time — how many older films have I still not watched because I didn’t see them in the cinema first time around and didn’t make a not to watch it when it came on television. In my head I’ve somehow translated that into “if I didn’t see it when it was in the cinema it was because it wasn’t worth watching”. When it comes to eating out I end up going to the same old places because I can’t remember the ones people recommended when I’m under pressure. The Geek in me is tempted to write a list so that I can refer to it… so here is one of them – the books I really must read.
1. Pride and Prejudice. I’ve never read any Jane Austen and I know that it’s my loss. We’ve even got them in the house but I’ve never had the impulse to pick it up.
2. Anything by Martin Amis. I love Kingsley Amis and I love modern British fiction. He and Julian Barnes used to be best of friends before it all went sour over Martin dropping Barnes’s wife as his literary agent. I think I know Martin Amis through two of my favourite authors but I’ve never picked up one of his novels.
3. The Old Man and The Sea – Ernest Hemingway. The children both had to read it as an exam text and both loathed it with a passion. I’m irresistably drawn to finding out what the fuss is all about.
4. Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm by George Orwell. Ok!, get your jaws off the floor. I admit it – all I know about these novels is what I have heard from other people’s conversations. I can answer some trivia questions and I have even bluffed it in polite company rather than admit my inadequacy. I could easily add Lord Of The Flies in the same bracket
5. War and Peace. Everyone likes a challenge. I’d at least like to have tried and failed on this, Anna Karenina or Crime and Punishment. I list this with absolutely no expectation of success or joy.