Monday, March 02, 2015

The Year of Reading Dangerously

British editor Andy Miller, fast approaching 40, was busy living life…very busy.  Married and the father of a small son, Miller spent a good portion of his days just getting to and from the job that made his lifestyle possible.  At home, his evenings were spent accomplishing ordinary tasks such as helping his wife put meals on the table and reading bedtime stories to his son.  All in all, not a bad life, but one day Miller came to the odd realization that for a man who made his living working with words, the only reading he did for pleasure anymore came from magazines, newspapers, and websites – and most of that reading happened during his almost-daily commutes.  Sadly, books were no longer a part of his life.

He decided to do something about that – and he shares the results of his efforts with the rest of us in The Year of Reading Dangerously: How Fifty Great (and Two Not-So-Great Ones) Books Saved My Life.  Some may quibble with Miller’s choice of books, even with the word “great” in his book’s subtitle, but he made it through the year.  He read the books, and his life was changed for the better for having done it. 

Miller’s “List of Betterment” includes many books generally considered to be among the finest ever written, but it also leaves room for a few titles that will probably bewilder most American readers (Krautrocksampler and The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, for example).  Not all of the rest of Miller’s reading was confined to acknowledged classics from previous centuries.  The list also includes relatively recent titles such as A Confederacy of Dunces, Catch-22, Beloved, The Handmaid’s Tale, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and One Hundred Years of Solitude (a title he pretty much despised). 

Andy Miller
The Year of Reading Dangerously, though, is more than just another book about books.  It is, instead, a mini-autobiography in which the author spends as much time recounting why he chose these particular books and relating them to his life experiences as he does discussing the books themselves.  His choices are personal ones, and he uses a Henry Miller quote to make that clear.  Miller (Henry), when speaking of “books that had remained with him over the years,” said “They were alive and they spoke to me.”  It follows that simply reading the book list reveals much about Andy Miller to the rest of us. 

Are you wondering what the “two not so great” books Miller is hinting at in his book’s subtitle are?    Well, one is Dan Brown’s rather infamous The Da Vinci Code and the second is another Dan Brown book that Miller, in the end, decides not to bother reading at all, leading to a bit of inaccuracy (he admits) in that subtitle.


Upon the completion of Miller’s dangerous reading year, he said, “I am myself again.  But I no longer tell lies about books.”  He doesn’t have to now.  And neither do the rest of us, if we decide to do our own reading as dangerously.

11 comments:

  1. I really want to read this, but I'm not sure how to deal with the spoilers, as quite a few of the books are on my to-read list. Would reading this ruin a lot of those books (I would assume so), or does he skirt about the major spoilers?

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  2. Rob, I think that for the most part you would be OK. There are, as I recall, some "mild" spoilers, but only in general terms. I think that his spoilers are more often the kind of thing you would find on book jackets that give away enough to get you to buy a book. Mostly what he does is to relate the books to his personal life in some way to explain what he got out of reading them or why he wanted to read them in the first place.

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    1. That's great to hear! I'll likely pick it up next time I come across it then.

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  3. I like to read about reading so I know I'll enjoy this book.

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    1. You given me an idea for a new series of posts, Susan...books about books. I don't think I've ever highlighted them as a group here on Book Chase (but after eight years, it's starting to get hard not to repeat myself).

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  4. I'm adding this to my list. Reading what others consider when reading and why they made their choices is always interesting.

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    1. I think that al avid readers enjoy books like this one, Jenclair. Thankfully, more and more of them seem to be getting published these days. I've written another review, this one on a book called Tolstoy's Purple Chair, that I will be posting in a few days...another book about reading and its impact on the lives of readers. I think you would like that one, also.

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    2. Make that "Tolstoy and the Purple Chair"

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  5. Sounds like an entertaining book. Why "reading dangerously" though, what was so dangerous, does he say?

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    1. I think by "dangerously" he means relating what he reads to the real world and as directly as possible to his own life rather than worrying about what was said about the book in the classroom or in the press, etc. He vowed to learn from the books he read and to take action when appropriate to do so. He read all the books he had been bluffing about for a number of years and dared to give his own opinions about them now instead of some consensus of opinion about them he got from reading reviews and critics. (I suspect that this is so unclear that it really doesn't answer your question. If so, I apologize.)

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