‘The Year of Reading Dangerously: How Fifty Great Books Saved My Life’ is Andy Miller’s account of his journey through reading fifty books he had always intended to read. After years of pretending to have read classic novels he had never even glanced at and realising that the only book he had read was ‘The Da Vinci Code’ by Dan Brown in the three years since becoming a parent, Miller set about finally getting round to some of the great works of literature which had passed him by for so long.
Going back to some of the classics I have long intended to read and other older books which have been on my reading list for some time is something I have been thinking about a lot recently. I read ‘The Master and Margarita‘ by Mikhail Bulgakov not long ago and although I didn’t understand all of it, I’m glad I’ve read it. This is also the conclusion which Miller arrived at when he finished the classic Russian novel which inspired him to create his so-called “List of Betterment”.
‘The Year of Reading Dangerously’ isn’t intended to be a bluffer’s guide to fifty classic novels and the list itself is “neither a prescription nor a set of numbered instructions” (p. 3). It is an autobiography told through the books Miller has read and is one of a number of so-called “bibliomemoirs” which have been published this year including ‘How To Be Well Read’ by John Sutherland and ‘My Life in Middlemarch’ by Rebecca Mead. Rather than a list of book reviews, Miller describes how he fitted in his reading around looking after his young son and commuting by train to London and also discusses the books which influenced him as a child and an adult.
Miller’s List of Betterment is ambitious. He learned to love ‘Middlemarch’ by George Eliot, was baffled by ‘The Unnamable’ by Samuel Beckett and almost gave up on ‘Pride and Prejudice’ by Jane Austen. The chapter comparing ‘Moby Dick’ by Herman Melville and ‘The Da Vinci Code’ by Dan Brown is very funny and draws more parallels between the two novels than you might imagine possible. Jokes aside, Miller also poses interesting questions about the nature of our reading habits and experiences. Does failing to finish a book make you a lazy reader? Do you read books just so you can tick them off a list? I generally don’t believe in forcing yourself to finish books you feel you ought to read. However, if you do intend to read those unread classics languishing on your shelves then Miller’s call for action is certainly inspiring.
Miller’s entertaining and, most importantly, honest account of his rediscovery of classic literature is essential reading for everyone. Which books would appear on your List of Betterment?
‘The Year of Reading Dangerously’ is also available as an Audible audiobook. Here’s a clip of Andy Miller reading from the first chapter:
12 responses to “The Year of Reading Dangerously by Andy Miller”
I do like the sound of this biblio memoir there are many classics I’d like to read
At the moment I am most bemused by Middlemarch because it gets so much praise and I cannot imagine the appeal but feel like I should give it a try. Otherwise I feel constant guilt that I don’t read enough Canadian literature (as a Canadian) and find so much of it simply okay but not great.
You could do worse than starting with Canada’s greatest living writer, Margaret Atwood. 🙂
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My discomfort with Margaret Atwood goes back to university 30 years ago and there are complex reasons behind why I never forgot how much I hated her work. Of course she is written a lot since then. I love to hear her talk and have books of her essays and nonfiction but I have to get over my issues around her fiction.
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Mmmmmm which books would be on my list? Difficult. I suppose my starting point would be those books that I could never finish; Dr Zhivago, War and Peace, Silas Marner, Moby Dick, Ulysses etc etc. The reviewed book sounds interesting especially your comment on the writer comparing Moby Dicj with Da Vinci Code. That chapter alone sounds like its worth the cover price alone.
My score on the classics is low, but I tend to sandwich them between others. This is not always a good recipe as I find myself stringing Middlemarch out over several other books (but seriously enjoying it – much more than, say, Anna Karenina). Becket and Marquez have come on board this year as well. In fact I keep different books in different rooms for different times of the day. This might, of course, explain my scrambled mental processes.
Middlemarch is a gem, but it is *very* difficult to get in to. And I couldn’t get more than a chapter into The Master and Margarita. It’s hard to imagine anyone struggling to get through Pride and Prejudice though, the prose is so perfect and fluid.
I was quite young the first time I tried P&P and it had been described to me as a story about 5 young women, so I thought it would be similar to Little Women! But at the time I couldn’t put into context this obsession with finding a husband. In those days I found Charles Dickens easier to read than Jane Austen.
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This sounds good – I’ll definitely be getting it when it comes out in paperback.
A comparison between Moby Dick and The Da Vinci Code? How strange! 😀