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).
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.