“Ooh, look, she’s reading a book, isn’t that nice”, a mother cooed to her toddler on the bus the other month, when same toddler was intrepid enough to take an interest in my reading self. It was a heartening comment as it shows how books (real ones made of paper) are still generally considered to be A Good Thing. At the same time, I felt a bit of a fraud. 2017 has not been a great reading year for me. Increasingly, I have been so little engaged in the book I’ve had on the go that I’ve preferred spending spare moments trawling the net or partaking of mood-lifting villain clips on Youtube.
Mind you, I haven’t completely neglected the reading part of life this year. I started on some of my impulse buys from this and previous years and managed to finish at least some of them. Tainted by Brooke Morgan (an impulse buy from the Strand, no less) proved to be well and evocatively written, though the genre – domestic chiller – isn’t really my cup of tea. With the irresistibly named If We Were Villains by M. L. Rio it was the other way around. I found the prose style a little precious, but the genre and setting was exactly the kind of thing I enjoy: the novel followed a group of drama students at a prestigious, seemingly idyllic College for the Creative Arts in Illinois. I’ve been stage struck since childhood and I love stories taking place in a theatre/drama school setting; it didn’t hurt that the College specialised in teaching its drama students nothing but Shakespeare. (It’s a little unlikely, though: surely, a successful drama education needs a bit of range?) The novel owes a heavy debt to The Secret History as we see a group of talented but not necessarily wise group of young students grapple with collective guilt. Fortunately, though, they don’t let the guilt get in the way of a lot of Shakespearean acting scenes.
Another impulse buy was the promising-looking family saga Roses by Leila Meacham – however, I’m ashamed to say I gave up on this one. My shame stems from the fact that it was written in a very enjoyable, page-turning style, so quality-wise there was no excuse not to finish it. The problem was I just couldn’t get behind the story, which seemed to follow the old pattern of “tough female neglects what really matters (family, love of her life) in favour of something that matters less in the great scheme of things (her family’s plantation)”. If you have no problem with this storyline and would like to try a doorstopper that’s unusually well-written, this could well be worth a look. For my part, I just thought the heroine’s family and love interest were tiresome and felt full sympathy with her for prioritising the plantation.
Truth be told, there have been few novels this year that I’ve felt like losing myself in. This is irksome. I want to be the lady on the bus who reads a nice, old-fashioned book; being bookish is part of my identity. Steps will have to be taken in 2018: the question is, which ones?
At the end of the year, I always feel full of ambition regarding the cultural consumption of the year ahead: there’s so much to explore and whole new worlds to be discovered. Once the new year gets started, though, my ambitions tend to shrink very fast. I have a theory that this could be connected to sleep, and the lack of it: it’s always easier to set yourself life-expanding goals after a good lie-in. Also, once you get started, it’s discouraging if you happen to read more than one book in a row by authors you’ve not tried yet and find them disappointing. Much as I’d like to make new discoveries, perhaps I should be more open this year to re-reading classics from favourite 19th-century authors and reading more Ambitious Book Projects by the few high-prestige authors I’ve already tried and liked. It may not be the most innovative way to go, but it could be a way to get properly into the reading habit again.
There’s no denying that my Once Upon A Time obsession has got in the way of reading a bit, more than Downton Abbey ever did. Downton at least had the saving grace from a book point of view of making me interested in family sagas (admittedly, my search for the perfect family saga was not a great success). So maybe 2018 will be the year when I discover fantasy?