Vincennes Review Of Books 2017

I’m going to put right upfront, firstly that I read a lot of books last year, and secondly that I’m delighted about it. Let’s start by looking at a graph:

It seems to be the trendy thing to do, in other people’s reading reviews of the year, to do some sort of explaining around how to read so many books. I can right now tell you the first factor that contributed to my reading so much — I read some really short books, and some really easy books. I even read The Bible in easy mode (i.e. a vernacular translation) this year! Before we move onto other factors — because of course there are other factors — here are five books I read in 2017 that are both easy and good:

  1. Homegoing — Yaa Gyasi
    Subscribers will already know this as one of my books of the year. What an absolute joy on the sentence to sentence level. It’s 300 pages long but you’ll cream through them.
  2. Master Of Reality — John Darnielle
    Don’t be fooled by the fact that this is in the 33 1/3 series, it’s also a work of fiction, very good, and importantly for this list, 100 pages long.
  3. Chess — Stefan Zweig
    I had hoped to play along with the chess game in this book, an opportunity which Stefan Zweig denied me, but on the plus side it means that you read this 82 page book exceptionally quickly.
  4. Hippos Go Berserk! — Sandra Boynton
    As this is a board book for quite small children you should not need extra commentary from me about how quickly you can get through it.
  5. The Inimitable Jeeves — PG Wodehouse
    If you’re looking for an introduction to the happy world of Jeeves and Wooster you could do a lot worse than to start with The Inimitable Jeeves. I’ve lent out my copy but I think it’s about 180 pages long, certainly nothing much more stressful than that.

Another of the factors in my reading was that I was quite unhappy for quite substantial chunks of the year. This explains the hefty volume of re-reads, which are mostly accounted for by my churning through PG Wodehouse books to cheer me up. This can’t be an unusual thing, but it did mean that my attention was directed particularly to a quotation on the inside of one of my Wodehouses to the effect that “they should prescribe this for depression instead of Prozac ha ha ha“. They should do no such thing. This is a very silly statement. It is like saying that they should prescribe tampons for bullet wounds. Yes, it works, but only while the PG Wodehouse novel/Lil-let is being directly applied to your miserable mind/gaping chest wound, and the flood of gloom/gore starts right up again as soon as this application ceases.

Coming out of this haze caused me to think about where the people who write the books I read come from. I had this ides of myself as someone who reads from quite a wide variety of cultures, so you can imagine my consternation when I realised that in fact I have read more books by alumni of Dulwich College than books by people from the entire continent of Africa. Let’s visualise that for a minute.

This makes it quite clear to me that my reading is a lot less diverse in reality than it is in my mind, something it would be good to correct this year. Let’s see if I manage that! It feels like a very vague aim and one I’m not really set up for success with right now, so if you have a recommendation for a non-Anglo-American author or book, please let me know it.

In previous years, I’ve been implicitly or explicitly snippy about reading at volume. Books start to blur into each other! You start to optimise to numbers and not the sheer joy of reading! etc! What I forgot was how many good — enjoyable, interesting, funny — books you read when you read a lot, and how many connections you find between those enjoyable and interesting and funny works. In the most part without being defined “projects”, my reading started to cluster around themes with (as seen below) Lauren Elkin’s Flânuse, Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities and Catherine Merridale’s Lenin On The Train acting as central points:

I’ll read less this year due to meaty projects both reading and non-reading related, but what I’ve learned and enjoyed learning this year is that reading large numbers of books doesn’t have to be just a way of grimly staving off your own thoughts but can also be fun and satisfying.

Aims from last year

Pepys 1661 diary

I did this. I still love Pepys. What a nice project this is proving to be.

Hanif Kureishi’s Buddha Of Suburbia

I did this. This is a great book, do read it if you have not. It’s really very funny and a zippy read.

Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness Of Being

I did this. There’s a very cute dog in this book, but Maciej’s words that “every twenty pages the story steps outside for a cigarette so that the author can deliver a short philosophical homily” are truer than, if you have have not read this book, you presently imagine they could be. Read this if you want. I don’t mind either way.

Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels

I did this. This was an easier read than I expected, but perhaps reading Pepys helped here. I liked the bit where he was rude about the Royal Society.

Also on the list is The Tale Of Genji, and maybe The Pillow Book, although I won’t beat myself up if I don’t get to that one.

Hysterical lol @ the idea I was going to read a 1.1K page Japanese medieval epic that I didn’t aready own. No, I read neither The Tale Of Genji nor The Pillow Book. Moving to aims for 2018.

Aims for 2018

Books about human/animal/other consciousness — I have been reading such interesting magazine articles on these topics lately, and am really excited to dive into some of these ideas in a bit more detail. Currently looking forward to Sy Montgomery’s The Soul Of An Octopus and Alva Noë’s Out Of Our Heads around this topic.
The Tale Of Genji— actually do it this year, I have the book and a reading partner and we are ready.
Pepys Diary for 1662 — will he drink too much, go to the theatre too much, spend too much money and stare at pretty ladies this year? Only time will tell!
Read the Bible — going back to the NIV this year. If you want to join me, in any translation, YouVersion have recently introduced Plans With Friends so joining me has never been easier! Let me know if you want in.

Previous years: 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2007, 2006

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