How I Read Now

Some of my 2014 reads

At the side of this blog you will see a Widget which shows you what I’m currently reading on Goodreads. I was surprised to realise that I joined Goodreads in October 2010. I certainly didn’t start using it properly until 2012 and in 2013 I took on the Goodreads Challenge (a bit like a New Year’s Resolution to set yourself a reading challenge and see how long it takes to achieve it). In 2013 I thought I might be able to tackle 35 books – roughly 3 a month – and was surprised that I managed 38. For that reason, to some extent Goodreads can be seen as a bragging site: “look how many I’ve read” or “check out the size of my library”. Or a giant Book Club or Reading Group. None of which appeal.

So, why do I bother? Because, dear readers, I have an appalling memory. I finish a book which I love and a week later I can just about recall the main characters’ names. In a couple of weeks’ time I can pretty much guarantee I’ll remember only their first names and a couple of months after that they’ll be gone too. My husband has read four of my books recently and I can scarcely remember the plot details. Worrying. So, maybe if I make comments as I go, and post a review when I finish this will help jog my memory.

For me, it’s not the quantity of books that counts, it’s the variety. Before I got into social media I had been reading roughly the same sort of books all year round. Hence I’ve read almost all of Jo Nesbø’s Harry Hole novels, quite a few of Lindsey Davies’ Falco books, etc. and I could quite probably have gone on in that vein, Scandi-Noir thriller after Scandi-Noir thriller. Then came Goodreads. And recommendations via social media as well as in newspapers and magazines.

I decided to use my Kindle as a recommendation storage device. I created a folder snappily titled ‘Samples to try’ and whenever I read a review that sounded promising or was offered a recommendation I downloaded a sample of the book to the folder. Not all were a success. I see from my ‘I give up!’ folder that I abandoned at least 5 books last year including Careless People by Sarah Churchwell (I really wasn’t interested enough in F. Scott Fitzgerald and his cronies) and Under the Greenwood Tree by Thomas Hardy (just plain oo-arr dull).

Lists can be annoying. The Guardian, Daily Telegraph, etc. frequently publish “100 Books to Read in A Lifetime” lists which cam make you feel downright inadequate but they can also point you in the direction of books you might otherwise never have considered. And the joy of owning a Kindle is that you can download samples of these books, ready to peruse when the time is right. Similarly, if I hadn’t come across hashtags on Twitter like #ReadWomen2014 I would probably never have read Passing by Nella Larsen, Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood or Westwood by Stella Gibbons. The last was one of my favourite reads of 2014, staying with me long after many of the others.

The Year of Reading Dangerously: How Fifty Great Books Saved My Life by Andy Miller (reviewed here) made me realise there’s an element of reading we don’t often write about and that’s the choice of book. Why do we choose a particular book at a particular time? This is something I’m trying to make more of an effort to record on Goodreads. (So far this year there have been interesting little segways in my reading from House of Mirth to A Room of One’s Own to Testament of Youth. One has almost suggested another or there has been a link that I wasn’t previously aware of).

Certainly after finishing a book I find it very difficult to choose the next, unless there is something I have been desperate to start. Quite often I will read a few pages of 5-6 books before I settle on one. If I have been reading something set in the future I often feel the need to return to historical fiction and vice versa. I had had The Strangler Vine on my TBR list ever since the 2013 Baileys Long List was announced and I started it twice before eventually getting into its theme. And it wasn’t that the writing was tricky, just that I needed to warm to the storyline. Sometimes you have to wait for a book to appeal to you and for you to be ready to read it.

One thing I’m trying to steer clear of this year is the Literary Bandwagon. You know how it is: a new book by a famous author is published and it seems as if everyone has to be the first to read and review it. I’m also avoiding contemporary fiction for the time being because I’m having a bash at writing and find I don’t want to be influenced by anything contemporary. So, it looks like I’ll be sticking to my version of the List of Betterment or science fiction for the foreseeable future. Not such a bad thing.