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Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Looking Back on The Year of Reading Backwards...

I know it's a cliche but can you believe it's March already! Before the year runs away with me completely I thought I might do a bit of a year-in-review to round up last year's Year of Reading Backwards . Some of you may remember that my aim was to:

- read more of the books already on the shelves
- catch up on some modern classics
- have a go at re-reading some favourites

So how did I fare? Well, I'd say it's a bit of a mixed score-card. I read 26 books in total (not including about a million kids books!) of which 14 fitted into the 'Year of Reading Backwards' category. Of those I'm particularly glad I finally caught up with The Woman In White by Wilkie Collins, 1984 by George Orwell and I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith. After reading such gems of course I wondered why it had taken me so long to get around to them!

As for the re-reading well I'm afraid to say the year just served to confirm my suspicions (or so I thought...). For much of the year I just couldn't bring myself to pick up a book I'd already read. It just seemed like such a waste of time. For the sake of the experiment I did re-read, A Room With A View by E.M. Forster and The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera but I must say that as much as I enjoyed them I didn't enjoy them as much as I had on first reading (perhaps that's because I was in Paris just having visited Florence when I read the former and read the latter when it was a much anticipated and acclaimed new release). Perhaps my pleasure in reading, like many people's, is tied up with time and place? Having said that, my year in reading ended somewhat surprisingly when I found myself so engrossed in Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus that having finished it I immediately flicked back to the first page and read it through again!

I'm still intrigued as to why people choose to re-read (or not). In her article, The Pleasures and Perils of Rereading , Lisa Levy discusses quite of few of those reasons chief among which seems to be the pleasure and security derived from returning to a book as an 'old friend'. For others it is the satisfaction that comes from pulling apart a text to really get behind the authors craft and intent. The perils include the very real possibility that you may return to the 'old friend' only to find that it no longer 'speaks to you' bringing to an abrupt halt a life-long love affair (perhaps this is my secret fear?).

So this year I'm challenging myself in a completely different way and have signed up to the War Through The Generations Reading Challenge. The theme for this year is World War I so I'm giving myself another chance to finally read Pat Barker's Ghost Road trilogy which was on last year's list. I'm also planning to read Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms, Vera Brittain's Testament Of Youth and Max Egremont's biography of Seigfried Sassoon. Perhaps you might like to join in too? You can read as little as one book if you like and there is a great reading list to help get you started.

P.S: I mentioned in a previous post that I am now 'tweeting' as well so if you would like to follow me you can find me @Birdwiththegold.

EDIT: I've just discovered the Australian Women Writers 2012 Reading and Reviewing Challenge and signed up for that too. More details soon...


  1. I really enjoyed this post. I definitely think the pleasure we take in certain books is very much tied to experiencing them in a certain time and place. I like the point you make about not wanting to return to some books as they may disappoint. I think this reinforces how time and place are so important. I read For Love Alone as a teenager and it made a huge impression on me, but I don't think it would have the same effect now. I've found some books even more wonderful upon re-reading - several Virginia Woolf books for example. But this was about time and place, also. The first time I read them I was too young and didn't understand or appreciate them as well as I did the second time around. Some re-reads I have really enjoyed are My Family and Other Animals (Lawrence Durrell) and anything by Nancy Mitford.

    I love I Capture the Castle! The film is very good, too.

    I'm thinking about joining your World War 1 reading challenge...

    I didn't intend to write such a long comment!

  2. P.S. What is The Little Shadows like? Did you read Good to a Fault?

  3. Wow ... I think you did really well to read what you did. I've been shockingly bad at finding time to read so far this year. I really loved I Capture The Castle too ... I really must watch the film. :)

    1. You must see the film Tracey...I highly recommend it...

      ...but I really like Bill Nighy...oh and I want to live in a castle with a moat...well the crumbling one in the it's no wonder I recommend it!


  4. Hi Jill in a Box and welcome! To answer your last question first I've just finished reading 'The Little Shadows' and really enjoyed it. I read a review that described it as a Little Women meets Ballet Shoes (there's a bit of Anne Of Green Gables thrown in towards the end) which seems appropriate. Its soft old-fashioned tone is just right for the subject matter. I didn't read 'Good To A Fault' as my Mum was sick at the time it came out and it felt a bit close to the bone.

    Like you I also read For Love Alone when I was younger and am too scared to go back to it (I'm not the same person any more) but I really want to go back to Virginia Woolf for the same reasons you outlined.

    P.S Just started Jeanette Winterson's new autiobiography, 'Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?' so I'll let you know how I go!

  5. Hi Tracey

    I think you were one of the people who mentioned I Capture The Castle when I asked for some recommendations so thank you! I just read in bits and pieces whenever I can. I gave up looking for solid reading time a while ago and it seems to be working for me (I've read so much I've had to get reading glasses!). Looking forward to reading the short, short story you tweeted about.

  6. You'll be pleased to know that your reading efforts have inspired me!
    I've always been too lazy to borrow from the 'real' library, but then the bookmobile came along, and I found I can browse the catalogue online and reserve all manner of books and DVD, and pick them up from the truck every fortnight. Yay!
    I've just started The Night Circus, hope I enjoy it as much as you did! :-)

  7. Hi Caz, Interesting to see your reading stash...There was a bit of a debate between Alain de Botton and Melvin Bragg on The Book Program yesterday with Mariella Frostrup about the concept of "Religion for Atheists". MB brought Richard Dawkin's theories into the arena and was quite scathing about what he called his weak arguments. The book sounds interesting but a little scary...I'm going by Frostrop's description of 'agape resteraunts' which sound a cool concept except the huge flat screens with didactic figures preaching directions 'at' the eaters...shades of 1984! (which I haven't read either!) An interesting debate...Be interesting to hear your views...

    I have a really soft spot for 'I Capture the Castle' I think it's because the character of Mortmain reminds me of my dad! I've read it a number of times. Maybe we can overlook weaknesses in a novel just because we want to preserve the place it has in our memories. Perhaps some people can kid themselves so as to avoid disappointment. I do wonder though, if how we respond to a book that we return to not only relates to how we've changed since reading it but also how good the book is. If it's a real masterpiece maybe it can transcend the context that it's read in, our age how we've morphed etc... ...Just at thought...

    By the way thanks for tweeting about Shakespeare & Co...I'd totally forgotten about them...we want to visit Paris if we can some time I want to go even more...that and the Bookanistas...

    Keep tweeting...

  8. Hi Deb, it's so lovely to hear from you! I do miss your blog but I know what a drain it can be sometimes especially when you really need to be doing something else. I hope the break has meant that the artistic juices are flowing freely without distraction. Just don't get too sucked into the world of Twitter (it's the world's biggest rabbit hole but I'm still in Alice-like awe of it).

    I haven't actually read the Alain de Botton book yet (Tom bought it for me) so I can't really comment on it yet but I'm interested in the debate.I'll see how I go and let you know what I think. Hope its not too wacky (although demolishing weak arguments in your head can be fun too!).

    I think you're right about the quality of a book transcending time and place too. Not every book is a masterpiece I guess and maybe it's only the really fine ones we should revisit while the others should stay safe in our memories? I'm reading Jeanette Winterson's new autobiographical book, 'Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?' at the moment and dipping in and out of her older fiction and I must say the pull to re-read them is very strong.

    Hope you get to Paris soon. Such an amazing place. I've only been there once long, long ago and for some reason I forgot about Shakespeare and Co too so didn't visit it. Life's regrets...

    Hope we'll take again soon
    Caz x

  9. Hi Caz

    Thanks for signing up for the AWW challenge earlier this year. How did you go? Could you spare a moment to fill in this feedback survey? It's very quick (10 questions, mostly check boxes, 2 minutes). It'll provide feedback to Bookseller & Publisher.

    Even if you were nowhere near reaching your goal, your feedback is appreciated. Next year's AWW challenge has a "read only" option, too, if you're pressed for time.

    Thanks again.