I’ve never really been that enamoured of book groups. I was briefly part of one when I lived in Brighton but somehow it didn’t quite fit with the way I like to experience, think and talk and about books. What it did do was give me a structure to what I was reading.
I was talking to a friend of mine this week who told me that they were reading their way through twentieth century fiction by decade, which sounded like a great idea. It reminded me that when I was at University I was on a mission for a while to read my way through a list of the best 100 books of the century, a list which had come out at the time. It was a great way of getting me to stop picking up the latest paperback and instead go back to some of the ‘classics’ many of which had passed me by, having given up English literature at school aged 15.
I think it was the first time that I first read One hundred years of solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez which I absolutely loved and which introduced to the world of magic realism. I then spent some time reading more and more by Latin American authors. It also introduced me to Lawrence Durrell whose books I am more captivated by than pretty much any other author (more on him another time). It also got me reading DH Lawrence for the first time and made me read The Ragged Troused Philanthropists by Robert Tressell. In my previous job I was in the audience at our Welfare to Work Convention when at the beginning of the speech all those who’d read it were asked to put up their hands. It was quite amusing that it was, as the speaker said, a quick way of identifying all the lefties in the room. Very accurately it turned out.
I forced myself to read Ulysses by James Joyce right to the end and I’m not ashamed to say I got absolutely nothing from it. Even if I get no enjoyment at all from a book I usually have to finish it. The only two I ever remember failing at were Ben Okri’s The Famished Road and War and Peace by Tolstoy. Both of which I must remedy at some point given how amazing I hear they are supposed to be.
In the end I had read 60 plus of the top 100 and started to wander down all sorts of previously unexplored literary avenues. Having some kind of structured approach to what to read was great.