We read to understand, or to begin to understand. We cannot do but read. Reading, almost as much as breathing, is our essential function. — A History of Reading, Alberto Manguel
Last year I gave myself the goal of reading one hundred books in a year and hoped there would be more time to do it. I don’t believe my wish caused the global pandemic. If it did, time was still not in my favour.
I’d received a promotion in my day job, which meant more of a commitment in a demanding place, one which I continued to go to during lockdowns. Mid-January I met a wonderful woman who, continuing to be wonderful, I was living with at the end of the year. There was writing too: redrafting novels, short stories, writing some new short stories, fifty-thousand odd words on two projects which didn’t get moving and the submitting of my writing (two acceptances: www.inkandescent.co.uk/mainstream and http://mironline.org/illneverhaveanother/). Despite this, I reached my target and pushed a bit more to 102 books read. For a writer, I came to reading books late. I was in my early twenties. This is akin to a pro footballer kicking a ball for the first time in their thirties. Since then, I’ve become a convert to books and have tried to continue to devour them, love them, talk about them, envelope them within the gaps of my reading life. Despite this, those gaps are wide as oceans. Last year, I wanted to place more rafts in them.
There was no plan for what I would read. Rather, the books came to me in a jumble of what I’d seen in bookshops, heard about from friends or online reviews, or the vastly populated land of the TBR list. Some books came to me through living a social life, as much as one could last year. Charlotte by David Foenkinos, a book written in a fascinating style, I saw in The Jewish Museum’s gift shop after seeing Charlotte Salomon: Life or Theatre? (https://jewishmuseum.org.uk/exhibitions/charlotte-salomon/). The exceptional The Cost of Living by Deborah Levy came to my eyes while walking around the library, just before the first lockdown. Karl Ove Knausgaard’s Winter came to me because the year had reached Winter, and while I couldn’t read it in a pub, I took it on my phone with me.
Then there was pure old curiosity which drove my choices. I returned to some writers whose work I loved and wanted to read more of (Annie Ernaux, Bill Hayes, Olivia Laing, Vesna Main), books I wished to know more from their blurbs alone (Skint Estate, The Appointment, The Polish Boxer) and those to seek understanding, in Faulkner’s words, “…to muse why it is that man does what he does” (King Kong Theory, GBH, Three Women).
As I didn’t have a plan last year and discovered so many gems on the way, do I have a plan this year? Yes, and no. To place alongside those rafts in the oceans of what I do not and have not read, I would like some personal galleons to come alongside them of writers I’ve never read (Austen, Plato, Perec), ones I’ve only read little of (Hemingway, Cheever, Plath, Zadie Smith) and those who I’ve yet to finish (Moby Dick, Dostoyevsky, Ducks, Newburyport).
Reading a hundred books in a year will never satisfy a curious mind. And nor should it.