Tuesday, January 05, 2016

The Year of Reading Widely

Not a New Year's resolution as such, but at the beginning of 2015 I made a decision to abandon my normal reading matter for at least the next twelve months.  The fact was that my reading choices had become pretty much narrowed down to a diet of crime thrillers. Now, there's nothing wrong with crime fiction, much of it very well written, but after awhile it can become pretty repetitive - you can start to predict the denouement of a novel within the first few pages.  No plot twists can surprise you any more, no 'perfect crime' mystify you.  My reading matter used to be far more varied, both in terms of genre and subject matter, I used to read far more non-fiction, for instance, covering all manner of topics, not to mention science fiction, fantasy, even literary fiction.  But crime took precedence over time as the novels were simply more convenient to read - they had easily digestible formulae, character types and neat, logical plotting.  By the beginning of last year, however, I was starting to feel frustrated by it all - reading wasn't giving me the pleasure it once had.  I wasn't exposing myself to new ideas and styles as I once had.

So, for the past year I've largely avoided the crime genre, (I did try reading a seventies espionage novel during the Summer, but ended up abandoning it as I found it so pedestrian and reactionary).  Instead, I've gone out of my way to find more eclectic reading material.  On the one hand, I decided to finally get around to reading something I've been meaning to try reading for years but just haven't got around to - PG Wodehouse.  Consequently, I've read, and enjoyed, a number of his 'Jeeves and Wooster' series in the past twelve months, (I'm reading 'Code of the Woosters' right now), and hope to move on to some of his other works in the coming year.  I've also read a lot of non-fiction, including several travelogues (which is odd, as I'm not much of a traveller myself - perhaps reading about it is some kind of substitute, by travelling vicariously through the experiences of others), which I surprised myself by enjoying. I read a lot of books of film criticism and film history as well, over the course of the year, which has all fed into the movie podcasts I've started doing, not to mention the increasing number of film-related posts I've been doing here.  I've reacquainted myself with literary genres I haven't sampled in years, notably one of Michael Moorcock's many fantasy trilogies.  Perhaps the novel which affected me most was a nautical tale by a Dutch author entitled 'The Captain', which chronicled a young Dutch tug boat captain's journey to pacifism whilst on convoy duty during World War Two.

I've been aided in my quest to change my reading habits by one of my local charity shops which had a whole section of shelves given over to musty old hard backs of considerable vintage.  It has proven a rich source both for hard back novels from the forties and fifties and esoteric travel tomes.  (I was a bit perturbed when I went in there the other day, for the first time in a couple of months, to find that half of this section had vanished, to be replaced by a set of shelves dedicated to erotic fiction.  Not the sort of thing I expect to find in a charity shop).  As I've indicated, what started as a twelve month experiment has now become the norm in terms of my reading habits.  I had a look at the crime section in the aforementioned charity shop the other day, but none of the titles on offer held any allure for me any more.  I'll doubtless end up reading some crime novels in the next few months, but they'll be interspersed amongst a lot of other, more varied reading matter.  I don't know whether this exercise has resulted in me being a better person, but it has certainly exposed me to more varied perspectives than before and has returned my reading habits to the healthy eclecticism they once were.      



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