A Reading Diary

20 Sep

An ex of mine was a librarian (ex-libris, then?) and an avid reader. She consumed books so prodigiously that she had to keep a reading diary just to remind herself which books she’d read and which she hadn’t. It was from her that I got the idea of keeping a reading diary of my own. I began it for the same reasons and so that I’d be able to look back at a map of my reading journey across the years. Some pages are filled with joyous reading discoveries. Others find me resorting to the tried and tested.

The diary goes all the way back to 1996, charting seventeen years of my reading life. I’ve kept it faithfully, a page or two per year, ever since. Among the novels read for reasons of pure indulgence we find stories read aloud to my children, books read for research purposes and works by my writing friends (the last entry is for the manuscript of an excellent novella by Mari Biella).

I wish that I’d begun a diary long before, but there it is.

Postcards from destinations unknown. Who can say where our reading journeys may lead us?

The entries reflect the turbulent times through which I’ve lived, a decade and a half shifting between periods of torpor and turmoil. Births and deaths, moving between nine jobs and four different counties, people drifting in and out of my life like wraiths… man, it’s been anything but uneventful. Life might be hard at times, but at least when my time’s up, I’ll know that it’s been lived. When work or relationships or other matters have proved challenging, my reading diary shows it. I’ve noted here before that I tend to read between fifteen and twenty books a year. So when a page has just a handful of entries on it, you can tell that the dark days were in the ascendancy. In two consecutive entries, the page entries total seven and ten. In another there are just four. And one year has a single entry… The total was fourteen last year but this year I’ve already read eighteen. It may yet prove to be a good year, reading-wise, at least.

I also wish that I could get into the habit of writing a little about the books that I’ve read. I did write down my impressions in the first reading group that I joined. Here’s an excerpt from what I had to say about Angela Carter’s The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffmann:

The Writing: Having read sf/fantasy in my youth, I have problems with the tone

Original? I was reminded of all kinds of things here – Tolkien, Pratchett, Burgess, Barberella… Perhaps an original piece of bricolage? I’m convinced she must have read Warner (The Aerodrome) & Desani

How good is it? To me, not as good as The Magic Toyshop which formed a more coherent whole. Pretentious, pseudo-philosophising – like, A.E.Van Vogt!

I made some great friends – my son’s godfathers among them – but I can never remain in such groups. I simply can’t allow twelve of the books that I read in a year to be determined for me by others. My time for reading is too short. In any case, I’m not much of a joiner-in. That must be the reason why I’m the sole member of the literary movement, the Woof Polite.

Citizens of the Woof Polite, you have everything to gain by your chains…

2010 was a strange year for me and I made a terrible mistake career-wise. But it was interesting from a reading point of view. Below are my entries for that year. There are a couple of re-reads and the manuscript of a friend’s novel, random finds and recommendations, books that I hadn’t read by favourite authors and a clutch of titles by the matchless Georges Perec.

  1. The Hot Dragon by J Huw Evans
  2. The True Deceiver by Tove Jansson
  3. The Maintenance of Headway by Magnus Mills
  4. My Golden Trades by Ivan Klíma
  5. Lancaster Down! by Stephen Darlow
  6. Life a User’s Manual by Georges Perec
  7. W, or the Memory of Childhood by Georges Perec
  8. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
  9. Travelling Light by Tove Jansson
  10. The Anthologist by Nicholson Baker
  11. The Emigrants by W G Sebald
  12. Exercises in Style by Raymond Queneau
  13. Borges and the Eternal Orang-Utans by Luis Fernando Verissimo
  14. Gold by Dan Rhodes
  15. My Life as a Fake by Peter Carey
  16. Timoleon Vieta Come Home by Dan Rhodes
  17. All the Names by José Pessoa
  18. Finn Family Moomintroll by Tove Jansson
  19. Metropole by Ferenc Karinthy
  20. Things: A Story of the Sixties by Georges Perec

Warning: exercise extreme caution when trying out these titles at home – your sanity may be at risk.

All text and images © PSR 2013

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10 Responses to “A Reading Diary”

  1. www.laurensapala.com September 20, 2013 at 10:55 pm #

    The Emigrants and Master and Margarita were already on my to-read list, but I’m bookmarking this page and adding the rest of these titles as soon as I have the chance!

    • Paul Sutton Reeves September 21, 2013 at 8:24 am #

      Hi Lauren and thanks for dropping by.

      I wouldn’t recommend every one of these books – they’re just what I happened to read that year, for what ever reason. The two that you mention are definitely worth reading, though. ‘Life a User’s Manual’ was a re-read and is my favourite book of all time. ‘Metropole’ is mesmerising. I love Janssons’s adult fiction and Klima was a great discovery for me.

  2. JHuw Evans September 21, 2013 at 6:40 am #

    Thanks for ranking me at the top of the page. No need to let everybody know it was a chronological list is there?

    I don’t think reading my book will impact anyone’s mental equilibrium. Writing it? Hmmm? Trying to get it published? Definitely.
    Does the Woof Polite have a clubhouse? Or at least a padded room. Must all members be barking?

    I am struggling to remember what I’ve read this year. Must start a diary myself.

  3. Paul Sutton Reeves September 21, 2013 at 8:29 am #

    Hi Huw and thanks for commenting.

    Entry to this exclusive literary club definitely depends upon impeccably unhinged credentials.

    The list is chronological – otherwise ‘Life a User’s Manual’ would be top of this or any other list, from this reader’s perspective. Your novel is very much deserving of a wider audience, though, and let’s hope it’s not too long before it finds one.

    Diaries are the way forward!

  4. PK Read September 21, 2013 at 10:36 am #

    Okay, heading off to put Life a User’s Manual on my To Read pile. Currently, my reading list is still in 3-D form, i.e. the pile on top of the bookshelf has been read within the past year, the untidy stacks in front of all the neatly rowed books are the To Read list, and the neatly rowed books have been mostly read, and deemed worthy of a potential reread or reference someday or never, but I can’t part with them.
    For a recently read book to make it from the To Read pile to the of the bookshelf can take an incalculable amount of time, as those stacks grow like weeds on a hot day after a summer rain, whilst the piles at the top of the bookshelf grow at the more or less steady rate of winter wheat.
    Once the top of the bookshelf runs out of room, the books are gifted or put in sacks for donation. Occasionally, and usually in the case of a book I read solely to keep up with current culture and publishing trends (ex: Gone Girl – don’t get me started…), I manage to resell on Amazon, which is good because then I can put the experience behind me just a little less poor for the journey.

  5. Paul Sutton Reeves September 21, 2013 at 11:05 am #

    Hi Paula and thanks for stopping by to comment.

    I enjoy ‘Life a User’s Manual’ more each time that I read it, and it’s not a short book! Those who want a straightforward narrative won’t like it, but no one who reads this blog would expect my favourite book to be like that anyway…

    Your reading system sounds intriguing. I have to get rid of books from time to time, but anything I’ve enjoyed I tend to keep. Lots of them make their way out to the writing den.

  6. Tamar Hela September 21, 2013 at 8:30 pm #

    I love this post! I consider Goodreads to be my reading diary of sorts and now try to be better about reviewing books I love. But I really like the idea of an actual journal or diary just for the books I’ve read.

    Also, I loved the “ex-libris” joke. Nice touch. 🙂

  7. Paul Sutton Reeves September 21, 2013 at 11:20 pm #

    Hi Tamar and thanks for your blast of positivity!

    Yeah, it’s a good idea, I think. Otherwise one’s reading history tends to disappear into the ether. I’ve not participated in Goodreads to date. Do you recommend it?

    I try to amuse where I can…

  8. Mari Biella September 23, 2013 at 9:19 am #

    Excellent post, as always, Paul – and many thanks for the mention! I apologise for not commenting sooner, but I’ve been suffering from a nasty case of stomach flu.

    I’ve been keeping a reading diary for several years, and I’d recommend it to anyone, readers and writers alike. When I look back through it, I’m often struck by how much of a progression I can see, not just in terms of my reading choices but in how I respond to the books I’ve read. Sadly, the old school exercise books in which I made my early handwritten comments didn’t survive my move abroad, which led me to take my reading diary online a few years ago, to Goodreads. Like you, though, I find that my reading often suffers when life in general is rough.

    Interesting list for 2010, too – I think there are several things there to add to my own to-read list!

  9. Paul Sutton Reeves September 23, 2013 at 5:41 pm #

    Hi Mari and thanks for your kind comments. I’m always happy to talk about the work of my writer friends.

    Ah, Goodreads… I hear much about it but I’ve yet to investigate. It’s sad when old things get lost in house moves, like your exercise books. I’ve lost no end of things in my many moves. Perhaps it’s been just as well to let go of most of it or I’d be living like Mr Trebus. I certainly find that stressful times make it difficult for me to concentrate on books that carry any weight.

    Sorry to hear that you’ve been unwell – get well soon!

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