Sunday, January 21, 2007

The great year of reading

Spurious has often referred to his "Great Summer of Work" of a couple of years ago. This year marks the 20th anniversary of what could be called my Great Year of Reading; the year the dam of not-reading was finally breached. In 1985, the first cracks appeared. I read lots of JG Ballard. Never again. But it started something. In 1986, a trickle ran over the parched earth. 24 books. Plenty of Milan Kundera, Martin Amis, David Lodge, Philip Roth and, someone who was still well-known then, DM Thomas. In 1987 the waters broke.

It began with Isabel Allende's The House of the Spirits before reverting to type with lots of JM Coetzee, Primo Levi, Updike, Nabokov, Peter Carey, VS Naipaul, and Amis and Roth again. In June, I discovered Chomsky. In September, I read Joseph Brodsky's sublime essays Less Than One. In November, I finished Swann's Way. Can such discoveries ever be made again?

1988 was a disappointment after that; what did I expect in reading three Joyce Carol Oates novels?! But the list does include Josipovici's The Lessons of Modernism, Janouch's Conversations with Kafka and Bryan Magee's The Great Philosophers. And I re-read Less Than One.

Looking at the '87 list, I wonder about novels that have little or no resonance in memory: Maggie Gee's Light Years, Omar Rivabella's Requiem for a Woman's Soul, Irini Spanidou's God's Snake, Nadine Gordimer's A Sport of Nature, and those that I recall as excellent yet contain no remembered detail: Jayne Anne Phillip's Machine Dreams and Jane Rogers' The Ice is Singing. Perhaps, since then, everything has been a re-reading, a return in search of the truth to an enchantment whose fulfilment is apparently only a gloomy repetition of the conditions requiring its presence.

The most embarrassing part of the list is the recurrence of the name Colin Wilson. I read a lot of him that year. The Outsider of course, but also things like Maslow and the Post-Freudian Revolution and innumerable, mercenary books about crime. Today I see he is interviewed by Michael Berkeley on BBC Radio 3's Private Passions about his taste in music. Go there for some no-nonsense good cheer.

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