How to choose a book

The other day, a list came appeared in the news about books that teachers liked. It was commented by some that teachers seemed to stick fairly closely to the national curriculum. You will notice that I tend a read a lot, but I wasn’t always like this. During my time at university I read very little. I think I went through some Douglas Adams and wasted far too long on Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series. I only really picked up my reading after I left university and started spending significant amounts of time on trains, commuting around the south-east of England.

So even though this blog contains reviews of over 100 books I’ve read in the last two and a half years, I don’t really consider myself well-read. In many ways I think I’m catching up on lost reading. Whenever I talk to others about books, people often seem flabbergasted by what I haven’t read. When this list of teachers’ favourite books was issued, I realised I had only read 29 of them in full (some are series, of which I have only read a few). This got me thinking; do I read what I want to read or do I read what I want to have read?

It’s quite an interesting thought. For the most part I read what I think will interest me, though when I scan down such lists as these I do catch myself thinking, “I really ought to read that”.  But this seems borne out of curiosity about what a book might be like rather than what I actually know of it. For example, before I read it, I was of the opinion, based on the high opinion of other people, that Midnight’s Children was one of the great works of 20th century fiction. When I eventually read it, however, I was very disappointed. For some time, I’ve been pondering reading Hilary Mantell’s Wolf Hall, though I’ve not yet bought it. Given how highly praised it has been, I just fear a terrible let-down.

Some time ago, I posted on this blog a list of books that were on my reading list. You can read it here. I’ve now added links for all those that I have subsequently read. I was thinking about making another such list, though some of the books would still be there. Some, even though I haven’t read them, will have dropped off. For example, I had two books by David Mitchell on there, but having been let down by Cloud Atlas I decided not to bother with the other one.

However, there are some problems with my reading, both that which I have done and that which I wish to do, which need addressing. Or at least I think it needs addressing. This is where I am tempted to read books in order to have read them. If you look through the list of books and authors, notice how many of them fall into the same ‘ethnic and social grouping’ (for want of a better phrase) as myself. How many are men? How many are white? How many are British? How many are middle class? It seems like a disproportionately high number. I think I choose my reading based on the subject matter, hoping that it will either entertain, inform or make me think afresh about something. Have I been subconsciously prejudiced?

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