Wednesday, July 1, 2015
Review: The Year of Reading Dangerously
You know when a story that has the potential of being semi-decent gets garbled by the person telling the story? And you know those stories that just kind of drag on without having much of an adherence to what you thought they'd be about? This is both.
In The Year of Reading Dangerously, Andy Miller has a job already involved in the subject of fiction, but doesn't make much time of his own to read. When he finally fills this perceived hole in his life with the power of the printed word, he decides to make a project of it, and explore specific literary titles on his self-composed "List of Betterment" to further his grasp on his favorite subject: books!
I'm usually a pretty big fan of both Memoirs, and Books About Books; I'd probably say they're two of my favorite subset genres. However, what's entertaining about a Memoir, is that the voice and the storytelling ability makes the book both personable and personal, and what's so enthralling about Books About Books, is listening to someone else's take on works that you have informed opinions on, as well.
Therefore, the long and short of it all is that I didn't really love the way Miller discussed the books he read, and I didn't like the kinds of books he was choosing to explore. I thought he was a little more elitist than absolutely necessary when talking about classic fiction, and that the book selection he read wasn't something that would appeal to a whole lot of people beyond himself (which is something he admitted, saying that the selection wasn't representative of classic fiction or all-inclusive in any way).
I think it was the inherent pretentiousness in his manner of discussion that did me in. Not a lot of the books he chose could really be described as "accessible," but then again, that was part of the challenge of them, wasn't it? Still, when he mocked his wife's pick of Pride and Prejudice as being boring, and I thought back to an earlier section when he reveled in discomforting his mother with a copy of the Communist Manifesto, I cringed inwardly.
(It seemed like there were more than a couple of sentences I underlined, that almost could have been quotes from the Guy in Your MFA parody Twitter account.)
I don't want to dig myself too deep into the negativity, because at the heart of the matter, I admire what he did: saw a problem in the lack of good reading material in his life, acknowledged that he was only masquerading as someone who really had a thorough knowledge of books, and sought to correct that by making a list of the titles he thought would help better himself. And then he actually read them!
Unfortunately, at the end of the day, I just kept finding myself speed-reading. I managed to get through the whole thing, which, as Miller himself found a couple of times in his own selected material, is the real battle of it. However, I didn't enjoy it myself, and I can't think of anyone off the top of my head that I'd recommend it to, because even if the more stalwart among my English major friends would appreciate what he had to say, they probably wouldn't appreciate how he said it.
Still, there's a reader for everything, I guess? Was that the moral?
Final Verdict: This memoir had a voice that was hard to listen to and a topic that wasn't evenly explored, which made it, for me, a dud.