I’m slightly embarrassed to admit it but 2009 marked a new cultural low for me; in twelve months I only managed to read two books from cover to cover. To further my shame let me add that I read both of these in December.
In my underwhelming defence I did start a number of books this year. I got about halfway through Bill Drummond’s The 17, and was enjoying Richard Yates’ Revolutionary Road before it went missing in the move. I also finished another book this year – a beautifully dog-eared 1960s Livre de Poche copy of Albert Camus’ L’Etranger that Mrs Custard bought for me off the internet. Sadly I started that in August 2008 so can’t add it to last year’s tally either.
Anyone bored enough to scan through the favourite books on my profile will notice that fiction doesn’t rank too highly in my list of pleasures. There are one or two things on there that I really love (especially Donna Tartt) but most were read years ago. Prior to L’Etranger (which most people read when they are about 16) I can’t actually remember what the last piece of fiction I read was. Maybe the Life of Pi or Tom Robbins’ Villa Incognito (“Pla-bonga pla-bonga!”) - whenever they came out… This has been a cause of great distress for many of my book-loving chums who insist that one cannot live on non-fiction alone.
Ever one for grand empty gestures I have decided to redress the balance in 2010. Not only do I pledge to read more books (though reading three books would be no more impressive really) but I promise that almost all of them will be fiction. I say almost because I’ve already started on Michael Palin’s latest book of diaries and can’t wait to get stuck into Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography by David Michaelis (which has possibly the finest cover to grace a book since Pooh and Piglet Go Visiting and Nearly Catch a Woozle).
To prove that I mean it, not only were my two December books both fiction (Stephen Fry’s debut The Liar and Truman Capote’s original novella of Breakfast at Tiffany’s) but I’ve already gone back and finished the brilliant Revolutionary Road (Frank Wheeler as model for Mad Men’s Pete Campbell anyone?) Just so I don’t get stuck in the 1950s I’ve turned to Peter Carey’s Oscar and Lucinda. And before you ask no, I’m not just reading books that have been turned into films – I haven’t seen any of the adaptations either.
One outcome of my return to fiction has been experiencing anew the transportation effect that a truly great story can have. The ability of good writers to send readers on out of body experiences to other times, places, ages and genders can be somewhat disconcerting when the train pulls into the station of a morning and the book covers are temporarily closed. Real life tends to lose a bit of gloss in comparison. When I raised this with one fiction worshipper she suggested that the opposite were true, and that without that 30 minutes of escape ‘how else do you think we’d get through the day?’
So I publically swear to do better in 2010 and I may make the odd reference to my reading habits in this corner of the internet. I shan’t try and review any of the books I read but if anyone would like to start a virtual Mint Custard book club then feel free leave suggestions below. It would be lovely to hear from you. Now if you'll excuse me I must get back to Victorian England; there’s a church to build and cards to play.