Sixteen books for 2015
My reading over the past three years has been somewhat disorganised. Normally my method is to read books roughly in the order I procured them while alternating between classic literature, non-fiction, modern classics and contemporary fiction. If I find I have a bunch of books of a similar theme, topic or worthy of reading together, then I try to do just that. For example a few years ago I embarked on a Russian phase – reading books of Russian history and culture before tackling some of the behemoths of classic Russian Literature. Orlando Figes’ Natasha’s Dance and Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment were the highlights for me.
But moving to a new country, and the delay in getting my library shipped over, meant I was restricted to what I had brought with me and was available to me. Two trips to India meant I moved up my many books on Indian history or by Indian authors, plus vacationing meant reading the sort of pop-fiction that is suitable to long hours in transit and with jet lag. Starting a blog meant I also diverted towards short novels that I could read quickly, topical or new books or books with a film tie-in.
The result of all this is that I now have a considerable backlog of books that I had meant to have read by now but have yet to do so. It totals about three years’ worth of reading. I have more or less decided that it is time to tackle some of these and the plan for 2015 is to read the following:
Napoleon as Military Commander, James Marshall-Cornwall
A Fine Balance, Rohinton Mistry
On the Road, Jack Kerouac
Power, Bertrand Russell
Family Matters, Rohinton Mistry
God’s War, Christopher Tyerman
Clapton, Eric Clapton
The Interpreter of Maladies, Jhumpa Lahiri
The Battle for Spain, Antony Beevor
The Cairo Trilogy: Palace Walk, Palace of Desire, Sugar Street; Naguib Mahfouz
The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy
The Penguin History of New Zealand (Illustrated), Michael King
The Chronicles of Narnia, CS Lewis
The Portable Atheist, Various selected by Christopher Hitchens
16 books (or 22 depending on how you count Narnia). It may be an ambitious amount of reading given that I can be a slow reader, a bit pensive and reflective, but based on past experience it should be manageable, though I may not have as much free time this year as in previous years. Whether I can stick to it is another matter. I may be tempted to throw Gone Girl in there, just so I can get it and the film out of the way. Michael Fassbender and Rachel Weisz have been in New Zealand filming the adaptation of ML Stedman’s The Light Between Oceans, so that may cut ahead in my queue as well.
It’s an interesting mix; there is a lot of history, more Indian writers, a modern classic, philosophy, a trilogy by a Nobel Prize winner, even a [sigh] celebrity memoir. But alas, there is no classic literature, no science, for me this year. It’s hard to say what I am most looking forward to. I have been wanting to read God’s War and The Battle for Spain for a long time. I am a little worried I may feel compelled to start a major diversion towards the large number of books on WWII in my collection (including three more by Beevor) after reading The Battle for Spain.
There are a few titles here that I expect to be somewhat dry or difficult; a couple that people have said they strongly disliked and gave up on. Knowing me, if I have that experience I will still plough through.
Eric Clapton has had an interesting life, whether he will be open and frank about it, including his relationships, controversies and beliefs, is another matter. Celebrity memoirs are notoriously subjective, self-serving and selective. If what some publishers are saying is true, we may see fewer celebrity memoirs in future as sales suggest the public is losing interest in the genre.
If anything, Egypt’s struggle to make democracy work in recent years has made me even keener to read Naguib Mahfouz. If anything, recent events should give his work renewed context.
I have low expectations of The Chronicles of Narnia. Like many people, the surface fairy-tale level has lost its appeal in adulthood. The underlying Christian symbolism is similarly unrewarding as it feels a little cheap and manipulative. However, the third layer of medieval astrological symbolism is interesting and may be worth a new look.
I wanted to read Rohinton Mistry’s first three novels together (I have just finished Such a Long Journey, see here for my review). Thrice short-listed for the Booker Prize with three well-received novels, is he the unluckiest person to have never won the Booker Prize?
Overall, I think it will be a great year of reading.