World Book Day does exactly what it says on the packet. It promotes books. To celebrate this incredible UNESCO initiative – which started in 1995, and this year will provide £1 books for every young person under 18 in the UK and Ireland – I thought I’d share a little of my reading habits.
Since 8 Feb 2014 (National Libraries’ Day) I’ve been reading a ridiculous amount of books by Nottingham authors as research for Dawn of the Unread. So far my favourite book has been John Worthen’s biography of DH Lawrence. I also read a lot of Nottingham-related books through my role as Literature Editor at LeftLion magazine. The best book I’ve read in the last twelve months is City of Light by Christopher Richardson, which explores Chartism, Socialism and Cooperation in Nottingham during the mid-1800s. It was through this book that I discovered Operatives’ Libraries which became central to my story about Arthur Seaton in Issue 12: For it was Saturday Night.
As much as I enjoy reading about my home city it means that I’m never reading entirely for pleasure, as I always have to stop reading to take notes. Therefore, I need pleasure books too.
Prizes are one way of directing reading that can be quite useful. The Orange Prize, for example, introduced me to Téa Obreht’s The Tiger’s Wife (it won in 2011) and would definitely be in my all- time top ten books. I also like to read the Guardian First Book Award because I like to support new writers. So far winners have included Zadie Smith’s White Teeth (2000), Robert Macfarlane, Mountains of the Mind (2003) and Kevin Powers The Yellow Birds (2012). But my hands-down favourite would have to be Jonathan Safran Foer’s, Everything Is Illuminated (2002). This is one of the best prizes for directing reading and its success is largely due to consultation with reading groups, who are often a lot better judge of books than the literati.
I mention this as I am becoming increasingly disappointed at the Booker Prize shortlist. For the past five years I’ve tried to read everything on the shortlist but I don’t think I’ll be doing this anymore. Last year I eagerly read the two American inclusions but I found one indulgent and the other disjointed. To Rise Again at a Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris started brilliantly and I loved Paul O’Rourke, the 40 year-old slightly curmudgeonly dentist, who despite having a successful practice, just can’t find happiness in anything. And then the existential angst got too worthy with the introduction of a Biblical tribe called the Amalekites.
This awful experience, ironically, sent me back to the Booker and I picked up a copy of The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt, which was shortlisted for the 2011 prize. I bought the book because many critics were disgusted that a Western had been nominated for the prize. I’m 100 pages in and absolute love it. It’s like the Coen Brothers at the O.K. Corral. Which brings me down to a very simple point regarding reading: A good book is simply one that makes you turn the page. It’s surprising how many authors fail this simple test in their crusade to create meaningful masterpieces.