For the first time ever I have kept a record of the books I’ve read this year. It’s made me realise that there are a lot of books I don’t tend to count normally, books for research, crime fiction, ordinary novels I simply forget about. I was under the impression I read about 100 books a year, but I turn out to have already read 120 with December still to go.
So my attention has wandered to the pile of books beside my bed. Every year there are casualties that make it to the prime reading location but never quite move on from there. For the most part, these are the books that send me to sleep. Not, you understand, because they are bad books, often far from it. But they require concentration and they have fairly dense prose. If I read them in bed, I’m sunk, or at least sleeping, in short order. Over the course of the year they pile up, and my good intentions to finish them remain constant, but theoretical. This is the pile at the moment:
Obviously Musil is there because he is still ongoing (and will be for some time). I was loving the Patrick Leigh Fermor but he is such a rich truffle of a read that I can only take a little at a time. Ditto the Sarah Bakewell. The tiny thin book is Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet, and they are there mainly so I have them close at hand, but still it would be good to reach the end. The Yourcenar and the Joseph McElroy you’ve already heard about. The non-fiction book on Titian was somehow bypassed. Anyway, I have a plan to finish off as many of these this month as possible.
But there are always other books calling for my attention, too. The next pile features some I’d like to read if I can. The Mirabel Osler book, The Rain Tree, is a memoir about growing up amongst some of the artists of the mid-20th century – Ford Maddox Ford and Stella Bowen particularly, and is quite the most beautiful hardback I’ve seen. Black Thunder is a crime novel I was sent for review, ditto the Camus biography, and Yossarian Slept Here, Erica Heller’s account of growing up with the author of Catch-22 as her father. I’d like to read Julian Barnes’ Booker prize winner, The Sense of an Ending, and Neil Gaiman’s Stardust is an overdue final read for the RIP challenge (am I the only one with several outstanding challenge books?). Elizabeth McCracken’s novel, The Giant’s House, was sent to me by a dear friend and looks wonderful. And I’m currently reading the Romain Gary novel on top of the pile.
I also looked back at my reading intentions at the start of the year. I said I’d read more Victorian novels, some YA, a handful of Japanese authors and some unusual biographies. I’ve read lots of biographies, a couple of Victorian novelists, but only one Japanese novel and no YA at all. So one of those might end up in the mix. I know if I try to tie myself down too strictly, I will end up reading different books entirely from the list I create – so contrary! – so I like to have some wriggle room and some choice. What’s everyone else reading this month?