I am in London today, I’ve got tickets to go to the curator’s tour of the Pre-Raphaelite: Victorian Avant-Garde exhibition on at Tate Britain. I’ve been looking forward to it for months now. *excited squeaking* I know a lot of the works from seeing them in the glorious Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool but it’ll be lovely to see them together with other key works that are new to me. Other things I will be doing with my day include hunting good vegan food and re-visiting Westminster Abbey which I love exploring and haven’t been to in years. There may be a bookshop visit or two planned as well. (I’ll tell you all about it when I get home, promise!)
I did sit down with the intention of polishing up a draft book review or writing about one of the books I read over the weekend but actually, I want to tell you about a book I bought a couple of weeks instead as it strikes me as the sort of book I became a book blogger to share…
I know that’s not the greatest image of the book cover (I’ll take my own photo for my review in a week or two) but it’s A Lifetime’s Reading by Philip Ward and the sub-title is ‘500 great books to be enjoyed over 50 years‘.
The title and sub-title sound a bit generic in 2013 with so many books about books and endless lists of things to read before you are X years old or dead but this book is rather different. First, it’s from 1981 which gives it a slightly different more classics-oriented scope. Second, and this is what really ensured I bought this when I found it in the secondhand bookshop, it’s really, really good for world literature and fiction in translation recommendations.The style is lovely too – written by a very quirky and helpful librarian who had clearly read very, very widely himself.
It’s split up into ‘years’ and each year it suggests ten authors and works to read and some background and reference titles that will help you understand them better. Ward also throws in some music suggestions when it fits the titles (one book suggested has been used as the basis for an opera so he suggests getting hold of a recording and listening to it after reading) and mixes poetry, a bit of non-fiction and plays into his suggestions to keep the reader stretching their skills. There’s not many contemporary books included but it would give you a great foundation to tackle more modern titles from and background cultural references you might need to get the most out of them.
What makes it pretty unique is each year’s reading is linked to a country.
His plan suggests that since most of his readers will be English they start years 1-3 with a few basic world texts and a decent amount of English classics and then start moving out to other countries, starting with Northern France in Year 4, until by the end of the fiftieth ‘year’ you’ll have read several books and many, many classics from just about every corner of the globe. He also recommends trying to tie in real travel to the countries if it can be afforded in the designated year (which is why the expensive to get to countries like Australia and New Zealand come later in life and after several years of closer-to-England-and-cheaper European countries not already visited so you can save for them).
I love the world view that stands behind this book and shines through Ward’s commentary, the idea that it is a foolish reader who stays in their own culture and doesn’t reach out to explore the riches that lie a little further afield. There’s some really fascinating suggestions in the book and I will be writing a proper review once I’ve got to the end, I’ll definitely be quoting a few bits from it too.
It’s the sort of book that you’ll never hear about except from a book blog really – it’s older, it’s non-fiction, it’s a bit niche, it’s not a bestseller and never was. Unless someone picked it in their Desert Island books or mentioned it in an interview as a old favourite or huge influence on their reading life it would just remain forever off the radar and the secret joy of a few lucky fans. If you saw it in a bookshop you’d be gambling if you bought it. Originally I got into book blogging to share my thoughts, I came back to book blogging this year to shine a light on books like this.
Happy Monday. Be sure to read something quirky. :)