The task of compiling my reading list for the coming year is becoming less of an art and more of a science. In fact, it is practically formulaic.
Step 1 – Choose a Series
I like to read a book series each year and since it can potentially take up much of the year it is the logical place to start. In 2018 I will be reading the five novels of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy which I have in a single volume.
Step 2 – Choose Hardy
This is one part of the formula that will change from next year because 2018 marks the end of my journey of reading Thomas Hardy’s six most enduring novels. I will be ending with his two great tragedies – Tess of the d’Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure.
It’s been a great journey so far. I wonder if I should pick another author to read through like this from 2019?
Step 3 – Choose India
Each year I read books about India, set in India or by Indian writers. In 2018 I will be reading:
Chef by Jaspreet Singh, a novel that was shortlisted for the 2009 Commonwealth Writer’s Prize
The Last Jews of Kerala by Edna Fernandes, a book on the history of Kerala’s Jewish community
Great Monuments of India, a coffee-table book but one that I will read from cover-to-cover. It will be fun ticking off the ones I have visited and the ones I have yet to see.
Step 4 – Choose Religion/Philosophy
I have a broad definition of what this genre constitutes. For my 2018 list I will be reading Candide by Voltaire and The Caged Virgin by Ayaan Hirsi Ali.
Step 5 – Choose Science
In 2018 I will be reading the ambitiously-titled Consciousness Explained by Dan Dennett. Should I count this as a science book? The problems of consciousness seem to be one of the last scientific problems to disentangle itself from philosophy. Dennett is a philosophy professor but one that is science-friendly and has even been called ‘a scientist’s philosopher’. The book was published 25 years ago but was recently named as one of the top-10 books on consciousness in an article by The Guardian.
Step 6 – Choose History
For my 2018 Reading List I will be reading Simon Schama’s epic narrative history of the French Revolution; Citizens. I have long been a fan of Schama’s BBC documentary series’, particularly A History of Britain and Power of Art. It will be great to finally read one of his books though it looks like heavy-going.
Step 7 – Choose from my TBR List
Technically this entire exercise is about assaulting my TBR list. Steps 1-6 are only there to ensure I have some key genres covered. For this step, I try to fill the remaining space in the year with books from my TBR list, making sure I cover some classics, modern classics, contemporary literature (all somewhat arbitrarily defined) and non-fiction in there.
For classics in 2018, I will be reading The Arabian Nights, Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, Erewhon by Samuel Butler and The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett.
My modern classic will be The Good Earth by Pearl S Buck
For contemporary lit, I will be reading The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch and Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie.
For non-fiction, I will be reading Jung Chang and Jon Halliday’s biography of Mao.
I don’t include steps in this process to ensure I have prize winners or nominees to read each year (Nobel, Pulitzer, Booker, Women’s, etc). Perhaps I should since I do care, but as you can see from these books, I have those bases covered anyway.
Like The Shahnameh, which I read this year, the ‘original’ Arabian Nights is a multi-volume affair but I will be reading a one-volume selection of the most famous stories from the Sir Richard F Burton translation. Because of my experience of reading The Shahnameh, I think I won’t be reading The Arabian Nights continuously. Instead, I may break it up into chunks and read it between some other books. Given its format, I don’t think this will create problems.
Like many, many people, I loved Wild Swans when I read it this year. I’m looking forward to reading Chang’s Mao given the insight into her own evolution of feelings towards Mao from Wild Swans. Like Wild Swans, her biography of Mao is banned in China.
The complete list looks like this:
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams (1979-1992)
Tess of the d’Urbervilles, by Thomas Hardy (1891)
Jude the Obscure, by Thomas Hardy (1895)
Chef, by Jaspreet Singh (2008)
The Last Jews of Kerala, by Edna Fernandes (2008)
Great Monuments of India (2009)
Candide, by Voltaire (1759)
The Caged Virgin, by Ayaan Hirsi Ali (2004)
Consciousness Explained, by Daniel C Dennett (1991)
Citizens, by Simon Schama (1989)
The Arabian Nights (Burton translation – 1895)
Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad (1899)
Erewhon, by Samuel Butler (1872)
The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett (1911)
The Good Earth, by Pearl S Buck (1931)
The Sea, The Sea, by Iris Murdoch (1978)
Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie (2009)
Mao, by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday (2005)
I think it is a good list; eighteen books (if I count Hitchhiker’s as one) and a fairly diverse set.
Step 8 – ?
In previous years I have been able to read more than what I’ve prescribed myself on my reading lists. Usually because something turned out to be easier and faster to read than I had expected. If I find I can squeeze some more reading in, where should I turn to?
Maybe not my TBR – that is being amply covered. Instead I do have a ‘cheat list’ – a list of books I’ve allowed to jump ahead in my TBR for various reasons. That will probably be my first stop.
My Choose India step (Step 3) is pretty light this year – three short books and only one is a novel. So I may look to squeeze something else in, given how much I have around.
I’ve also had the good fortune of having writers contact me seeking a reviewer in previous years. Although I did turn one down, it has otherwise been a rewarding experience. If I find myself with some extra time, and don’t otherwise receive an attractive offer, I may jump on NetGalley and snoop around. The ideal candidate would be a novel, ‘literary’, unpublished (but about to be) and by a new(ish) writer.
Let me know what you think of my list and what reading plans you have for the new year