Tag Archives: Reading List

Reading Roundup

BY JON PILL

I’ve rather fallen behind in my monthly reading book review posts. So here’s a quick update.

I’m tracking my reading a little closer over on GoodReads. Which is where I have lifted most of the stuff below. For the other month’s you’ll just have to make do with a simple list and a yes/no/maybe answer to the question ‘Would I recommend?’:

November Reading:

  • Mean Free Path by Ben Lerner. Maybe.
  • A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms by George R R Martin. Yes to fans.
  • The Martian by Andy Weir. Yes.
  • The Gambler by Fyodor Dostoevsky. Maybe but not before his more important works.

December Reading

  • The Hustler by Walter Tevis. Yes but only after seeing the movie.
  • Classics: A Very Short Introduction by Mary Beard and John Henderson. Yes, highly.
  • Russian Literature: A Very Short Introduction by Kelly Catriona. No.
  • Marquis de Sade: A Very Short Introduction by John Phillips. Maybe, if you are interested in hearing the rosiest possible case for the Marquis.
  • History: A Very Short Introduction by John H. Arnold. Yes.

January Reading

I got one big classic off my plate by finishing listening to the Big Read audiobook of (1) Moby-Dick; or, The Whale.

I also listened to Jezza Irons reading Eliot (who is the bestest) on the BBC, since he read several complete collections I can count the following books as read via my earholes:
(2) Prufrock and Other Observations
(3) Poems
(4) Four Quartets

For entertainment I read Peter Watts existentially challenging hard sci-fi novel (5) Blindsight which was fun and full of interesting non-fiction ideas, whereas (6) Geography: A Very Short Introduction – which is actual non-fiction – did not.

The only other proper classic I’ve got through this month was the rather uninteresting (7) Theogony/Works and Days by Hesiod, the far less interesting or fun coeval of Homer.

Further Reading

Since 2016 came and went with most of my reading goals incomplete. Other than reading a decent 99 books (well over my goal of 82), and though I would normally aim one higher for the following year I don’t feel that’s realistic.
2016 was an ideal year from a reading standpoint, and this year reading is going to have to take a back seat to writing goals so, although I will nominally be aiming for 100, I’ll be happy if I get 60ish.
I want to make sure I read more non-fiction, especially science. I’ve missed that from my reading over the last year or so. I’ll aim for twelve substantial non-fiction texts and see how many insubstantial ones I can fit in around that.
I’m also going to continue with my overview of the Classics with a focus on the British novel. I still have these books to go from my original list.

I also have a list of  books I started ages ago and never finished. I’d like to cross some of them off as well. They are:

The highest priority list I am working on is research for the novel I am working on. These include books that are stylistically similar to my novel, deal with similar themes, have historical information in them that I need, or which I think will be otherwise helpful to my thinking about the novel I am working on.

I’ve trimmed the list a little from last year, there were a few that just didn’t feel as necessary as they did when I first made this list and as with the other lists have knocked off those I finished in 2016. I’ve also added The Sacred Willow, another Xmas gift:

I also want to read the following Shakespeare works. Although I have seen or listened to performances of these nine plays, I haven’t actually read them. So for completion’s sake, I’m gonna do that this year. Then I have read the lot.

 

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The Best Books For Writers – Part 4: Books on Reading

BY JON PILL

Previously on… 

Part 1 – Books on Being Writerly

Part 2 – Books on the Craft of Writing

Part 3 – Books on The Writing Life

Generally speaking the advice all new writers get is: 1) Write. A lot. 2) Look over everything you write critically. Ideally with others. 3) Read widely and closely.

If you dropped English after GCSEs and didn’t pay that much attention before them, is that reading is often a really passive activity. Reading closely, which is the main way one absorbs the interesting stuff from what one reads, is a learned skill. These are some books that help guide you towards that.

Part 4 – Books on Reading Like A Writer

1. Top Pick: Reading Like A Writer by Francine Prose

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Reading Like A Writer by Francine Prose

Probably the first best book to read on this subject, Reading Like A Writer goes step by step through the kind of things to look for when close reading: words, sentences, paragraphs etc… up to higher level structural things.

As the title suggests the focus is on reading to figure out how a piece works, and to collect examples of good writing in our brains for reference. To that end the book is full of practical examples and comes with a reading list at the back.

2. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism by Various

A huge book with all the key texts in Literary Theory from the Ancient Greeks to the latest trends. Each author and gets an short introduction and biographical note that puts their work in context.

This is probably the best reference for how other people have viewed reading over-seriously throughout history. Like most of the humanities – ideas which are stupid or monomaniacal as individual ideas add up to provide a nuanced and interesting collage of a world view when anthologised.

3. The Common Reader by Virginia Woolf

VW’s multivolume collection of critical essays aimed at the reader who has a taste for books but is not concerned with the kind of ‘rigorous’ criticisms of the Norton anthology.

She gives her thoughts on the work of a huge range of literary greats and sidetracks into other bookish musings throughout. Worth reading for Woolf’s prose alone.

4. How Fiction Works by James Wood

A slightly odd book, but informative. This is Wood’s analysis of the realist novel, and gives a readable breakdown of a particular sort of style, raising writerish questions and providing at least one of the answers to them.

I’m not sure I fully trust Wood’s manifesto as being what all fiction should be, but deffo some of it.

5. The Fun Stuff by James Wood and 6. The War Against Cliche by Martin Amis and 7. Many other similar collections.

Plenty of writers – like Amis – have turned critic for at various periods in their lives, some have always and only been critics – like Wood – collections of their essays on other people’s writings are a source of ways of thinking about what you read, and can help prod your brain in interesting directions about books you’ve already read.

5 and 6 are just two examples that I happen to have dipped into and found useful recently. I leave the possible 7s to your personal researches.

Coming soon…

Part 5 – Books on Art and Arting in General

 

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February Reading Round-Up

A pitiful showing after last months many many books. There are instead just a few including and limited to:

Photo on 29-02-2016 at 18.38.jpg

Caution: may contain paper.

Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare, who is a massive sexist.

The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Freidrich Engels, who taught me that if you want your theories to become the most important political philosophy of the 20th-Century the trick is to come up with really memorable metaphors.

Titus Andronicus by William Shakespeare, who is a massive racist.

Tom Jones by Henry Fielding, whose chapter titles are funnier than most modern rom-coms.

Falling Man by Don DeLillo, who doesn’t seem to know anyone except weirdos and scary children.

Novel Without A Name by Duong Thu Huong, who writes the most poignant story of cow molestation I’ve ever read.

The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien, who made me so unsure what truth even is.

Reviews and ratings here.

 

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Reading List

I mentioned in my last post that one of my reading projects is to plug the literary gaps left by doing a science degree. The list is below, but I’ll caveat it first by saying that this isn’t meant to be comprehensive, the vast canon of things that exist is way too extensive. Given that I’ve other reading demands (research, style, erotic fulfilment) I figure that I am being optimistic even with my list of about 40 titles. Especially when those titles include Tom Jones and Middlemarch.

It’s also tailored to my particular reading history: there is no Dostoevsky on the list because I have read a fair amount of him fairly recently, no Sterne because my copy of Tristram Shandy is on loan indefinitely, and no Tolstoy because: Too. Many. Words. And I may need to read War and Peace as research for my current novel.

There’s also a bias towards the European tradition, although, particularly for foundational texts  like the Gita and The Qu’ran, I’ve tried to have a variety. This is because, being an English speaker, that is my cultural canon. I’ll be reading more world literature in future, I promise.

Your thoughts please in the comments:

August ‘15 (Ancient)

(X) Dammaphada – Anon

(X) Baghavad Gita – Anon

(/) The Old Testament – King James Authorised

September ‘15 (Greek)

( ) The Apocrypha – King James Authorised

( ) Lysistrata – Aristophanes

(X) The Oresteia – Aeschylus

(X) Electra – Euripides

(X) Antigone – Sophocles

October ’15 (Roman)

( ) The Aeneid – Virgil

( ) The Metamorphoses – Ovid

( ) The New Testament – King James Authorised

November ’15 (Early Medieval)

( ) The Qu’ran

( ) Tales From 1001 Nights – Anon

( ) Speaking of Siva – Various

( ) Inferno – Dante Alighieri

December ’15 (Late Medieval)

( ) The Saga of the Volsungs – Anon

( ) Canterbury Tales – Geoffrey Chaucer

( ) Decameron – Giovanni Boccacio

January ’16 (Renaissance)

( ) Monkey – Wu Cheng-En

( ) Don Quixote – Miguel de Cervantes

( ) Oorinoko – Aphra Behn

( ) Tale of a Tub – Jonathan Swift

February ’16 (1700s)

( ) Robinson Crusoe – Daniel Defoe

( ) Wailing Ghosts – Pu Songling

( ) Tom Jones – Henry Fielding

( ) The Sorrows of a Young Werther – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

March ’16 (Early 1800s)

( ) Emma – Jane Austen

( ) Eugene Onegin – Alexander Pushkin

April ’16 (Early Mid 1800s)

( ) Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte

( ) Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte

( ) Moby Dick – Herman Melville

May ’16 (Late-Mid 1800s)

( ) Great Expectations – Charles Dickens

( ) Fathers and Sons – Turgenev

(/) The Toilers of the Sea – Victor Hugo

June ’16 (Late-1800s)

( ) Middlemarch – George Eliot

( ) Germinal – Emile Zola

( ) Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy

July ’16 (1901 – 1918)

( ) Nostromo – Joseph Conrad

( ) The Rainbow – D H Lawrence

( ) Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man – James Joyce

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