The 30 books I intend to read in 2017

Not necessarily in this order…

  1. Graham Greene. The End of the Affair. Penguin, 1962. (Book first published 1951.) 187 pages.
  2. John Yorke. Into the Woods: How Stories Work and Why We Tell Them. Penguin, 2013. 300 pages.
  3. Jared Diamond. Guns, Germs and Steel: A Short History of Everybody for the Last 13,000 Years. Vintage, 2005. (Book first published 1997.) 457 pages.
  4. Patricia Highsmith. The Talented Mr Ripley. Vintage, 1999. (Book first published 1955.) 249 pages.
  5. Robert B Pippin. Fatalism in American Film Noir: Some Cinematic Philosophy. University of Virginia Press, 2012. 106 pages.
  6. The Mind’s I: Fantasies and Reflections on Self and Soul. Composed and arranged by Douglas R Hofstadter and Daniel C Dennett. Penguin, 1982. (Book first published 1981.) 483 pages.
  7. Alison Bechdel. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. Jonathan Cape, 2006. 232 pages.
  8. Alberto Manguel. A History of Reading. Flamingo, 1997. (Book first published 1996.) 319 pages.
  9. Dudley Andrew. Mists of Regret: Culture and Sensibility in Classic French Film. Princeton University Press, 1995. 350 pages.
  10. Steve Silberman. Neurotribes: The Legacy of Autism and How to Think Smarter About People Who Think Differently. Allen & Unwin, 2015. 521 pages.
  11. Ali Smith. Autumn. Hamish Hamilton, 2016. 260 pages.
  12. George Eliot. Middlemarch. Wordsworth Editions, 2000. (Book first published 1872.) 688 pages.
  13. Herman Hesse. The Glass Bead Game. Trans. Richard and Clara WInston. Vintage, 2000. (Das Glasperlenspiel first published 1943.) 530 pages.
  14. Martin Jay. Songs of Experience: Modern American and European Variations on a Universal Theme. University of California Press, 2005. 409 pages.
  15. Patrick Ness. The Knife of Never Letting Go. Walker Books, 2008. 479 pages.
  16. Steven Pinker. The Better Angels of Our Nature: A History of Violence and Humanity. Penguin, 2012. (Book first published 2011.) 841 pages.
  17. Tony Judt. Ill Fares the Land. Penguin, 2010. 237 pages.
  18. Eleanor Catton. The Luminaries. Granta, 2013. 832 pages.
  19. Bruce Springsteen. Born to Run. Simon & Schuster, 2016. 510 pages.
  20. Joe Moran. Armchair Nation: An Intimate History of Britain in Front of the TV. Profile Books, 2013. 376 pages.
  21. Richard Feynman. Six Easy Pieces. Penguin, 2001. (It’s complicated.) 138 pages.
  22. James Gleick. The Information. Fourth Estate, 2011. 427 pages.
  23. Richard McGuire. Here. Hamish Hamilton, 2014. 320 pages.
  24. David Hendy. Noise: A Human History of Sound and Listening. Ecco, 2013. 335 pages.
  25. Naomi Klein. This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate. Penguin, 2015. (Book first published 2014.) 466 pages.
  26. Stephen Miller. Conversation: A History of a Declining Art. Yale University Press, 2006. 328 pages.
  27. Sven Birkerts. The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age. Fawcett Columbine, 1994. 229 pages.
  28. Raymond Williams. Border Country. Parthian, 2006. (Book first published 1960.) 436 pages.
  29. Ted Hughes. Birthday Letters. Faber and Faber, 1998. 198 pages.
  30. David Bordwell. The Rhapsodes: How 1940s Critics Changed American Film Culture. University of Chicago Press, 2016. 142 pages.

That’s 11,385 pages. Dividing that by 300 (which allows for a fair few non-reading days) produces a number just under 38. So if I aim to read 40 pages a day, every day, then by the end of 2017 I will have read all of these books!

Reading and writing

I have gotten out of the habit of annotating books.  I started underlining and note-making in the margins when I studied GCSE English literature, and continued to do so during my A-level in the same subject, and in the books that related to my literature modules on my undergraduate degree.  One strong motivation was that during this period I sat many open-book examinations, and my annotations helped me to locate quotations swiftly.

Re-reading (any version of) any text includes as part of the experience a re-visiting of one’s former reading self.  With a well-annotated text, though, that aspect of the experience becomes both sharper and deeper.  One can read a precise record of what one thought about a particular word or passage (or what other thing/s one was prompted to think about when reading it), and get a sense of what seemed worth commenting on during that earlier reading.  (And what didn’t; I wanted to begin this entry with a quotation from a writer who noted that one of the things that most struck him upon re-reading a marked-up text of his own was that he had passed over in silence passages that now seemed wonderful to him.  I’m fairly sure that Wayne Booth was the writer in question, but have been unable to locate the quotation.  Perhaps if I annotated more thoroughly…)

In the case of famous intellectuals these matters can become ones of public interest.  I remember reading in an article by Carlo Ginzburg on ‘Morelli, Freud and Sherlock Holmes’ a point which rests upon the author’s knowledge of things that Freud had in his library, and could therefore be taken to have read.  (Not a watertight assumption!  There are still more books than I would care to enumerate that remain unopened on my shelves.  [Which makes me think in turn of Gatsby, and D’Angelo Barksdale’s reading of a particular detail of that character’s character.]  A book cannot be annotated without having been read though…)  Freud’s library is still preserved; I’m sure others’ are too.  My point here is that for any dedicated reader there is surely at least personal value (and value for one’s interested descendants or other loved ones) in leaving material traces of the thoughts that accompanied one’s reading activities.

I say my habit of annotating books went away, and this is true; yet I am a rather prolific annotator of photocopied materials.  (And though I do not use them that much, I am also glad of and sometimes avail myself of the note-making possibilities afforded by .pdf files and most e-readers.)  So why not books too?  I understand and sympathise with the fact that some students endeavour to keep the books they buy unblemished with a view of selling them on later.  But I never really wanted to – want to – sell any of my books.  (When I was particularly hard up I did part with a few books that earned a good price.  [One of them, appropriately for the topic of this post, was Genette’s Palimpsests.]  I’m glad I didn’t have to sell many though – and in fact, I could really use right now copies of two of them I let go: The Practice of Everyday Life and Being and Time.)

I confess I am slightly precious about the appearance of my books.  When I transport them between work and home I will sometimes wrap them up, or more often sandwich them between two library books (!).  A related bibliophilic instinct is a reluctance to alter even with a deliberate and careful act the appearance of a nicely-presented object (and most books are nicely-presented objects).

But I’m thinking that these are not good enough reasons to continue to abstain from entering into a pencilled dialogue with authors in the margins of my books (I’m not a monster: pencil is a better choice than pen, and I still would never countenance annotating a book that was not my own).  I have known this in the past to be invaluable to the processes of both thinking and writing, and I intend to resume the habit in the hope that it will prove so again.

I’d love to hear from others about their annotating habits.