‘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: