This article appeared in the Nov/Dec issue of NewBooks Magazine; see newbooksmag.com for more…
In this year of sporting achievement, I set myself a typically sedentary challenge: to read a different theme or genre each month. Although voracious, I usually vary styles and subjects, avoiding repetition. This year, I wanted to challenge myself to read more widely, to pull more books off my groaning shelves, to see what gems I’ve been ignoring. I sketched out twelve themes to explore with a rough idea of which books to include, allowing reading group commitments and impulsive choices to slip in; permitting certain books to ‘hangover’ into other months.
I had an easy start to the year, reading female romantic fiction in January: from Marian Keyes’ This Charming Man to More Than Love Letters and Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict (amongst others), I was surprised at the quality and variety of writing but was ready for ‘meatier’ stuff in February:
‘male adventure and historical fiction’. Bernard Cornwall’s The Winter King and Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth were both rollicking adventure romps with a definite male flavour; nubile women in diaphanous robes; strong and resolute male heroes. Before I Go To Sleep snuck in, as did Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?, a great alternative pair for half-term holidays.
March’s non-fiction was a non-starter, despite my enthusiastic pile to read: If Walls Could Talk, She-Wolves, The Diamond Queen, and Watching the English were all dipped into. It whetted my thirst to vary my ‘diet’ with a few more factual reads.
April is a cruel month so I enjoyed ‘murder in my library’ with classic British crime. By side-stepping Christie, I discovered the delights of Josephine Tey, Patricia Wentworth, Margery Allingham and Gladys Mitchell with some MC Beaton slipping in. (My notes also say I read Fifty Shades of Grey this month; less said the better!)
May was ‘merrie’ with historical fiction, moving from Tey’s Richard III’s ‘mystery’, The Daughter of Time to Phillipa Gregory’s The White and Red Queens. H.Rider Haggard’s She was finally finished by Kindle and A Gathering Storm by Rachel Hoare was a quick weekend-away treat.
June welcomed Stephen King. He’s written so much; I’ve read so little. I read parts one and two of The Dark Tower; they were sufficient. Under The Dome was quickly aborted for August’s ‘Another Country’ theme.
Kamila Shamsie’s Burnt Shadows was a beautifully lyrical family and national saga; The Song of Achillies an ancient but fast-paced love story; The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency an amusing, light start to a series, counteracted by Winter in Madrid with tales of spying, love and nationalism. The much anticipated The Far Pavilions remained far off…
With a deep breath, I launched into September’s sci-fi/fantasy month. I started on familiar ground with H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds (Edwardian visionary thrills) and Alan Garner (Welsh/Cheshire myths and adventures). I found gems in Julie Myerson’s beautifully disturbing Then, Adam Roberts’ bleak Snow, Erin Morgenstern’s magical The Night Circus, but was deadened by (and gave up on) Iain M Banks’ Culture novels. I’ll save the Game of Thrones for another time.
October felt academic with ‘unread classics’: dipping into Shirley, Lady Audley’s Secret, Anna Karenina, The Scarlet Letter, and Persuasion.
November (at the time of writing) will be a combination of ghost stories with vampires: MR James, Sheridan le Fanu, Edgar Allan Poe, Let the Right One In, The Passage.
I’ll round the year off, appropriately, with Dickens.
I’ve relished following up recommendations and discovering books I’ve always wanted to read. I’ve been more disciplined in my reading choices and reflected on why I like what I usually choose. Each month, I’ve run out of time; my children, husband, and life make loud demands! Having only skimmed the surface of genres and authors this year, I look forward to continuing the experiment into 2013.
What would you suggest I try next: Nordic Noir? Regency? Iris Murdoch? Hilary Mantel? Both Trollopes? Do let me know!
Amabel Craig (@bookworm78) will continue to blog about her experiment at https://bookwormmum.wordpress.com.