A New Design for a Reading Life

I have read many wonderful books this year, but something has gone wrong.

tumblr_lwvmyjdxHY1qz71rio1_400I’m aware that I’ve read less then I used to, and less than I might, and that I’ve been spending far too much time working on plans and lists, and hunting down books.

I will always love a project, I will always follow the links from book to book, but I need to do things differently so that my plans and projects are working for me, making sure I continue to read the authors I love, guiding me towards new possibilities, and making sure that my reading time really is reading time.

I’ve been through a lot of ideas over the last few weeks and now I think I have a plan.

* * * * * * *

I’ve ditched my 100 Years of Books project.

Reading the 20th Century was lovely – and I don’t rule out doing it again one day – but the 1850  to 1949 century wasn’t working.  Huge numbers of books congregated in some years and other years offered nothing at all. And suddenly every book that called me was either too late or too early.

So out it goes.

* * * * * * *

My Non Fiction Adventure stays, a list of books that I want to read and I’m allowed to alter.

I’ve read almost entirely fiction – and knitting books – this year , and the non fiction is piling up.

* * * * * * *

I’ve rebuilt my Classics Club list, around the books I’ve read since the club began. The books that were there just because I ought to read them and the books that I’ve lost interest in have gone; and the books I forgot and the books that I’ve discovered since I made my first list have arrived.

It’s still one book for author so that The Classics Club can introduce – and re-introduce – me to as many authors as possible.

I’ll follow up the ones I love; I’ve been doing that since the start.

I think – I hope – that these are the right classics for me:

  1. The Female Quixote by Charlotte Lennox (1752)
  2. Emmeline by Charlotte Turner Smith (1788)
  3. A Sicilian Romance by Ann Radcliffe (1790)
  4. A Simple Story by Elizabeth Inchbold (1791)
  5. The Coquette by Hannah W Foster (1797)
  6. The Antiquary by Sir Walter Scott (1816)
  7. The Collegians by Gerard Griffin (1829)
  8. Helen by Maria Edgworth (1834)
  9. Old Goriot by Honore Balzac (1835)
  10. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (1844)
  11. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte (1848)
  12. Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackery (1848)
  13. The Morgesons by Elizabeth Stoddard (1852)
  14. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo (1852)
  15. Bleak House by Charles Dickens (1853)
  16. Villette by Charlotte Bronte (1853)
  17. The Daisy Chain by Charlotte M Yonge (1856)
  18. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (1857)
  19. Scenes of Clerical Life by George Eliot (1857)
  20. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins (1859)
  21.  Cloister and the Hearth by Charles Reade (1861)
  22. Henry Dunbar by Mary Elizabeth Braddon (1864)
  23. Uncle Silas by Sheridan Le Fanu (1864)
  24. Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell (1865)
  25. The Fortunes of the Rougons by Emile Zola (1871)
  26. Hester by Margaret Oliphant (1873)
  27. The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope (1875)
  28. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (1877)
  29. The Leavenworth Case by Anna Katherine Green (1878)
  30. Moths by Ouida (1880)
  31. Belinda by Rhoda Broughton (1883)
  32. Bel-ami by Guy Maupassant (1885)
  33. La Regenta by Leopoldo Atlas (1885)
  34. Thyrza by George Gissing (1887)
  35. Eline Vere by Louis Couperus (1889)
  36. The Real Charlotte by Somerville & Ross(1889)
  37. Esther Waters by George Moore (1894)
  38. Effi Briest by Theodor Fontane (1896)
  39. The Beth Book by Sarah Grand (1897)
  40. Elizabeth and her German Garden by Elizabeth Von Arnim (1898)
  41. Red Pottage by Mary Cholmondeley (1899)
  42. The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton (1905)
  43. Fidelity by Susan Glaspell (1915)
  44. Cullum by E Arnot Robinson (1920)
  45. Kristin Lavransdattir by Sigrid Undset (1922)
  46. Anderby Wold by Winifred Holtby (1923)
  47. The Home-maker by Dorothy Canfield Fisher (1924)
  48. The Constant Nymph by Margaret Kennedy (1924)
  49. The Painted Veil by W Somerset Maugham (1925)
  50. The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall (1928)
  51. Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sea by Patrick Hamilton (1935)
  52. The Weather in the Streets by Rosamond Lehmann (1936)
  53. Mariana by Monica Dickens (1940)
  54. Black Narcissus by Rumer Godden (1947)
  55. One Fine Day by Mollie Panter-Downes (1947)
  56. The Far Cry by Emma Smith (1949)
  57. The World My Wilderness by Rose Macaulay (1950)
  58. A Game of Hide and Seek by Elizabeth Tayor (1951)
  59. Fenny by Lettice Cooper (1953)
  60. The Fountain Overflows by Rebecca West (1957)

* * * * * * *

I ‘m working out the details of  a brand new project too.

There is no list – this time the project builds the list.

It’s called The Remember This Book List and I want it to be a home for the lesser-known older books that I love and that I don’t want to be forgotten.

I think I know how it will work, but I want to make sure before I explain.

* * * * * * *

Suggestions would be very welcome. And please do tell me about your own plans, and how you organise your reading life.

23 responses

  1. An interesting & thought-provoking post! It’s become increasingly clear to me over the past couple of years that I won’t thrive on a reading plan – anything that looks like reading to a schedule (author-based reading weeks seem to work). I think I’ve very much read what I wanted to this year, as you say following the links from book to book, and recommendations from you & other favorite bloggers. I haven’t made as much progress with my Century as I’d hoped, but I left the project open-ended from the start, and I’ll probably continue to fill in years with books I find, rather than looking for books to fit the years.. I also haven’t made as much progress on clearing out the TBR shelves – or I’ve added new-to-me books as fast as I’ve cleared older ones out. I am pondering what to do about that, if anything. And a lot of library books are going back unread, which bothers me a bit.

    I’ll be interested to hear more about your developing project, and also about the non-fiction that you have waiting.

    • I think my century failed because I set a deadline, and because I’djust finished the 20tg century. That was much easier because there were short books I could try for the difficult years, but the Victorians wrote at much more length.

      Your approach is definitely better.

      My TBR and library pile both need reducing and I will be trying to to read from my own shelves much more next year.

  2. Sounds like a great way of moving forward. Our projects and challenges need to be enjoyable at the end of the day. I find I have read a bit less this year too. I need to be careful I don’t undertake too many challenges and just read what I want at the right time for me. I am massively intrigued by your list as there are several titles I don’t think I have heard of. Good luck with it, I think your reading will be enhanced by the changes you are making.

  3. I’m glad you’ve found a way to improve your reading life and wish I could come up with some solutions for my own lack of direction.

    Look forward to hearing about your new project.

    • I’ve learned from experience that having a list to refer to, a list to build, and room to do other things is what works best for me – it’s working out the specifics and finding the right balance that’s tricky.

      I hope you find the right project and the right direction soon – you’re already reading great books though, which is the most important thing.

  4. I find reading is easier and more enjoyable when I simplify my plans so I understand and admire your willingness to shift things a bit. I’ve recently decided to read only by whim for the rest of the year and I am loving it. I only read things that call to me now so I am not frustrated or disappointed in myself. I do feel a lot of guilt about not reading the latest ‘hot’ books as I feel I must do sometimes as a librarian, but I’ve given myself permission to not worry about that until the new year. Your new Classics Club list is full of goodness!

    • No reasonable library patron could expect a librarian to have read everything – being informed and interested is more than enough for me. And I’m sure you do well directing people to less obvious book choices.

  5. I love reading about your freed up, judiciously revised plans. And also about other’s plans and approaches. Recently I just looked at the piles of books I’d been collecting (and piling up in the kitchen), and I was surprised that I could organize them into a coherent “northern lights” reading plan. Making the lists, by genre, actually freed mental space I’d been devoting to juggling them in memory! 🙂 I’m also reading for book tour reviews, but only a very few. Then there is the ongoing thread of morning reading of a meditative bent that never makes its way into a post but always enriches my days. Thanks for sharing, and caring so much for your fellow readers!

  6. I got stuck a bit in the Classics Club list – primarily because my reading of one book made me want to read another classic which I had originally not included in the list, plus a couple of classics were DNFs, so I modified my list a bit too.

    • My approach now is that none of us can – or should – read every classic, but we should pick through and find the ones that speak to us. I’m much happier now that I’ve re-worked my list, and I hope that your changes work for you.

  7. I do not have a blog as it would be too much pressure.I like to read what i like and whatever speed i like.I think you should continue to alert us to out of print gems and mention “new books” you may have got from the library.Mainly read books you may have piled up first and clear out books you no longer wish to keep/re read.

    • I do still pretty much read what I like when I like, and I accept that not everyone who read will like every book. Usually I’m at least a book ot two ahead of my blogging schedule, so I don’t feel the pressure too much, and I gain a lot from thinking about what I’ll like.

      I do plan to focus on the books I have in the house more, and I’ll always read a mixture of new, classic and obscure, because that’s always been what’s worked for me.

  8. I like the look of your revised Classics Club list, and it sounds as if your new plan will work for you. I’ve tried to join a few reading challenges this year, but it can become increasingly difficult to juggle everything without feeling tied in some way. I’ve found it easier to accommodate shorter (monthly) reading projects such as the Women in Translation and German Lit months, but it’s important to find projects that feel right for you. Wishing you all the best with your developing project, and I’m intrigued to hear more!

    • Monthly events like that with a broad scope work for me, and specific author events where there’s plenty of notice. But I’ve realised that you can’t do everything – I set aside my German translations because I was already committed to Australian reading/

  9. I sympathise very much – and I confess that I’ve almost given up on planning *anything* as far as reading goes. The trouble is I am so biddable when it comes to reading that I go off at a tangent at the drop of a hat. I’ve come to realise that the only way to read is to read what I want, when I want. So my only forthcoming challenge is reading the Forsyte Saga next year. Apart from this I may drop into things like German Lit Month and Ali’s Willa Cather week – but only if I feel like it. Good luck with your plans – they sound manageable and your classics list is lovely!

    • That’s why I need the structure – to stop the books I have and really want to read being displace by new discoveries. I don’t rule out The Forstye Saga, but I really want to read more Trollope during his bicentenary and Pilgrimage is still calling, so if I start I won’t be progressing at readalong pace.

  10. I just can’t do a specific reading plan. I am even reading two or three different books all the time, depending on my mood. For me, trying to set up a plan is doomed for failure.

  11. I’ve realized that lists don’t work well for me either. I get easily distracted, especially when I read a book and then want to read another book because of it. I’ve read 20 classics this year, which is great for me, but my Classics Club list has grown from 51 to 70 at the same time. I’m still trying to figure out how to balance that. Good luck with your new plans! They sound great and will hopefully work better for you so that you are satisfied with your reading and reading progress.

    • That’s why I have one book per author on my list – I’m thinking of it as a starting point, and I’ll stop for a while and read more of an author a like before going back to the list. That’s always worked, it was other things I needed to untangle. Though there still aren’t enough reading hours in the day for my liking!

  12. I sympathise. I used to take part in a lot more challenges and events but eventually I didn’t seem to have time for the books I just fancied reading so I have really cut back. The only long running challenge I am part of now is The Classics Club. Then there are few short events I take part in during the year which involve my favourite genres and/or authors. Good luck with the change, I hope it works for you.

  13. Your list looks lovely–and inspiring! My usual plan goes with my inclination…once I find an author that intrigues me I stick with it until I’ve read at least ‘a cluster’ of output from the same author. That gives me a good sense of the style, the era, and the author’s voice; I try hard not to get distracted and nibble off onto greener pastures until I’ve done that. That probably stems from the fact that I am just as interested in the author and WHY he/she wrote as I am interested in WHAT they wrote. In addition, I go off onto re-reads of old favorites, as this year I am re-reading Austen, but now reading for the first time (thanks to you) Margaret Kennedy. I have enough Kennedy books squirreled away now that I should be good for the winter. This approach to reading fiction is rather self-limiting, obviously, and explains why I haven’t ‘discovered’ other authors, yet. (but that’s what blogs are for! to find out what others are reading and make plans for the future.:o) )

    I love your book lists. Thanks for sharing them!

  14. Looks like some good decisions there. I’m SO GLAD that I decided to make my own “Reading the Century” project as “natural” as possible – I’m just seeing what fits into it, having a vague look around decades I’ve missed, leaving the list as an inspiration for anyone who wants to buy me books, and finding the natural interests I have in various decades, well, interesting.

    I like to have a challenge or two on the go but nothing to prescriptive. I did the Virago Group Pyms out of order because I had a conference and read a big batch of them in one month, and enjoyed Ali’s Hardy read because it was one every two months and it didn’t matter if I got a bit behind.

    I’ll be continuing to Read The Century next year, and I’m looking forward to re-doing the Forsytes and starting Trollope (I’m doing Barchester first, I’ve decided) but I think the Trollope thing will just be pick one up as I fancy reading it. Finally, I’ve been inspired by reviews on this blog and others and will be having a lovely Month of Re-Reading in January!

    Funnily enough, I’ve pretty well always read new books in the order in which I acquire them, which makes choosing new ones off the shelf easy.

    I hope your new plans work well and reignite your joy in reading!

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