Books Read in April:
Wodehouse: A Life by Robert McCrum
The Ginger Man by J.P. Donleavy
Rock Stars Stole My Life by Mark Ellen
Books Read in May:
The Undertaking by Audrey Magee
Frank: The True Story that Inspired the Movie by Jon Ronson
Field of Prey by John Sandford
Watching War Films With My Dad by Al Murray
Spellbound by Beauty: Alfred Hitchcock and his Leading Ladies by Donald Spoto
Creation Stories by Alan McGee
A Blink of the Screen by Terry Pratchett
Galveston by Nic Pizzolatto
One Leg Too Few: The Adventures of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore by William Cook
Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
Okay, so the first thing you’ll notice is the disparity between the amount of reading done in April and May. In part, this is because The Ginger Man took up more time than I thought it would: I’ve tried to read it twice before but never managed to get to grips with it. This time I persevered, and now I never have to read it again. We all have books that, for some reason or another, fail to connect with us. For me, The Ginger Man seems destined to remain one of those, but at least I’m no longer nagged by my failure to finish it.
The main reason for getting so much reading done in May, though, is that I spent a lot of the month on aeroplanes, and planes are one of the few safe havens remaining to those of us who want to read undisturbed by people on cellphones, although even that little nirvana is gradually being encroached upon.
I’m also really protective of my time alone when I’m doing publicity. I spend whole days talking to people – readers, booksellers, journalists, publishers – and I enjoy doing it. (After all, there’s nothing terribly difficult about having people spend hours telling you how wonderful you are, and those who love books are generally good company.) To continue enjoying it, though, I need to balance it with a little time to myself. It’s why I never take up friends’ offers of a bed at their home instead of staying in a hotel, and it’s also why I like to slip away for a meal or a glass of wine in the evening with only a book for company. Sometimes, I may even do some writing. I’ve also come to realize that I only have one liver, and it’s hard to be the good time had by all every evening.
And in the end, writers are, by nature, solitary. Books are created in solitude, and not always when one is at one’s desk. Even on tour, I tend to be thinking about the book on which I’m working. Free time becomes precious, and reading fuels writing. Promotion is a kind of balancing act between the public and the private, between what one needs to do to create awareness of the book (and taking pleasure from the task, as it’s an important aspect of being a writer in the modern world, and should be done with good grace) and what one needs in order to keep creating new work, which is one’s own space. When I began writing, that space was always the little office I kept at home. Now, because of the demands of travel, I’ve learned to bring that space with me.
Anyway, I seem to have ploughed through quite a number of books in May, although I confess to only reading the Discworld stories in the Pratchett book, and I skipped the extended interviews in the biography of Cook and Moore. (And I felt guilty for doing so, as if I was somehow cheating. It was like not eating my greens.)
One thing did strike me recently about my reading, although I must credit friend and minion Clair for bringing it to my attention: so far this year, the books that I’ve read have been overwhelmingly male. This caused, to borrow a phrase from the late Douglas Adams, a long dark tea-time of the soul, especially since I was reading Al Murray’s Watching War Films With My Dad at the time, a book that couldn’t be more male if it had a penis dangling from the front of it. I mean, I’m not the kind of person who goes into a bookstore and announces that “I need a book, any book – just as long as it’s not written by a woman, because I don’t like those kinds of books, whatever kind they may be.” I didn’t consciously set out not to read books by women, but was I unconsciously doing so? Had I simply slipped into a kind of bad habit or was the relative absence of female authors on my list underpinned by a set of assumptions that I couldn’t even admit to myself?
The solution, I determined, was just to adapt my reading behavior, because I didn’t want to be “that reader.” Hence the Audrey Magee book, and the Wharton, and I’ve just finished Sarah Lotz’s The Three, although that’s something for the June list. Neither The Undertaking nor Ethan Frome was exactly cheery, although, to be fair, the former concerns a marriage of convenience during World War II, and takes in the Holocaust and the horrors of the Russian front, so an absence of hilarity is largely to be expected. The latter, meanwhile, draws conspicuous attention at an early stage to the potential danger posed by an elm tree near a sledding run, leading one to suspect that an elm tree/sled incident is on at cards at some stage. Wharton does not disappoint on this front, although she manages to add a twist to the whole business that will cause the casual reader to look askance at elm trees forever after – and, indeed, to cast a cold eye on life in general.
So a good month of reading, then: allowing for stories and interviews skipped, I’m up to 30 books read so far this year, and I’ve also taken a step on the way to being a better person. I’m positively glowing with self-satisfaction…