Sunday, July 31, 2016

The Year of Reading Dangerously by Andy Miller

The Year of Reading Dangerously: How Fifty Great Books (And Two Not-So-Great Ones) Saved My Life by Andy Miller
Published November 2014 by HarperCollins Publishers
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
Nearing his fortieth birthday, author and critic Andy Miller realized he's not nearly as well read as he'd like to be. A devout book lover who somehow fell out of the habit of reading, he began to ponder the power of books to change an individual life—including his own—and to the define the sort of person he would like to be. Beginning with a copy of Bulgakov's Master and Margarita that he happens to find one day in a bookstore, he embarks on a literary odyssey of mindful reading and wry introspection. From Middlemarch to Anna Karenina to A Confederacy of Dunces, these are books Miller felt he should read; books he'd always wanted to read; books he'd previously started but hadn't finished; and books he'd lied about having read to impress people.

My Thoughts:

  • Andy Miller had, like so many of us, grown up loving to read. Maybe more than most of us. He spent an incredible amount of time at his local libraries growing up, read every book in the school library, and took no small amount of grief as a child for being such a book nerd.
  • In his son's first three years, Miller read just one book - Dan Brown's The DaVinci Code. Instead he read work emails, music magazines, business proposals, newspapers, Excel spreadsheets. I hadn't been distracted by quite so many things but, while my kids were very young, I was lucky to read more than a couple of books a year, preferring to stick with magazines which worked better with the brief periods of reading time I could squeeze in.
  • When he started reading The Master And Margarita he said his "life changed direction" and he began his year of reading dangerously, a year when he was not "reading for pleasure." Instead he was "reading for dear life." 
  • I've been pretty well convinced to never pick up The Master and Margarita after reading what Miller had to say about it, even though he loved it.
  • Miller began with a list of a dozen books he called the "list of betterment." It was largely a list of books he had previously lied about having read and included only a dozen books. It's his belief that all readers lie about having read books they think they should have read but haven't. Not sure I agree about that, at least not in the blogosphere - we're forever making lists of books we should have read but haven't!
  • On only his second book, George Eliot's Middlemarch the whole thing almost came to a screeching halt. His wife convinced him to continue, to "let the book do the work" and told him that it didn't matter if every line made sense. "The drift would do for now." I can relate to that - more than once I've kept reading, accepting that I'll get out of the book what I can and won't worry that it might not be what the writer intended.
  • In the end, Miller made his way through 50 books in a year, reading 50 pages a day. While he ended up loving some books (including Middlemarch), it was more important to him that he took something away from each of them. It ranged from a lesson the book meant to teach to the idea that he must persevere, even when he'd prefer not to. 
  • I have a hard enough time giving up on books I'm not enjoying. Miller would have me believe that I need to push on through. You'll notice that I didn't learn that lesson from him, having recently succeeded in giving up on Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk
  • Fifty books on that list of books he felt were really important and must be read - I hadn't even heard of a lot of them. What does that say about the kind of reader I am? 
  • The book is a blend of memoir and book criticism. It is filled with humor (particularly in all of the footnotes) and readers will be able to relate to Miller's struggles. It felt a bit uneven, sometimes focusing for long periods on Miller's life but more often to long stretches about the books. When I cared about the books, that was fine. When he was talking about books I'd never heard of, and quickly sussed out that I would never read, things dragged. 
  • If you're interested in this one, I recommend reading it a chapter at a time. It doesn't suffer from being read that way but might if you tried to power through it. Of course, that's entirely up to you - unlike Miller, I have no intention of telling you what to read or how to read it. 

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