What should I read next?

11 August 2016

The Modern Library: The Two Hundred Best Novels in English Since 1950. Carmen Callil and Colm T[ibnThe Modern Library: The Two Hundred Best Novels in English Since 1950. Carmen Callil and Colm T[ibn by Carmen Callil

In 2013 we spent R2952.83 on books, including this one at R167. In 2012 we spent R3940.40 on books, and in 2011 R2019.95. But when Val retired in 2014, we could not afford to go browsing in bookshops and just buying whatever took our fancy, so we rejoined the public library.

In 2014 our spending on books dropped to R1653.50, and in 2015 to R50.01. But browsing in a library is not the same as browsing in a bookshop. In a bookshop, the popular books will be stocking the shelves. In a library, the popular books will probably have been taken out by others.

That is where books like this come in. OK, it’s someone else’s choice, and their taste may not coincide with yours, but you at least know that some book lovers think it is worth reading. And, to back it up, at the back of the book are some lists of winners of some of the major literary prizes. And if you don’t find the book in question, another one by the same author might be worth a read.

The authors’ list has descriptions of each book and why they think it is worth reading, so from those I’ve compiled a list, which I take to the library, at least when I remember to.

One of the bloggers on my blogroll, A Pilgrim in Narnia | a journey through the imaginative worlds of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the Inklings, says:

I am a list-driven reader. I like logging my works on Goodreads, and use an excel sheet to keep track of the books and essays I read. My bulletin board has certain lists I’m going through: top 20th c. SF books, top 20th c. Fantasy books, Discworld, Harold Bloom’s Essential List, a World Fantasy Conference List, everything C.S. Lewis wrote, and a list of key Christian books. I am slowly going through these lists, book by book, and hope to be done around 2030 or so, provided no one writes anything good between now and then.

I wouldn’t go as far as to say that I am a list-driven reader, but I do try to make lists of books I’ve bought and books I’ve read, and more so in recent years.

When I was at school my mother used to work for a firm of estate agents and auctioneers, and when she wasn’t busy she used to look at some of the auction lots, which sometimes contained bundles of books from deceased estates, and quite a lot of our books were obtained that way. One of the books she bought was The Booklover’s Record, with the inscription, “To M Norenda, with love from Minnie, 1938”. My mother give it to me, and I added the date I acquired it, 5 January 1956 — I was 14 at the time. It had eight tabbed sections for writing in:

  1. Books recommended
  2. Notes about books read
  3. Books borrowed
  4. Quotations from books
  5. Books lent
  6. Extracts from criticisms
  7. Authors and Publishers
  8. Sundries

I’ve now made many of those sections into fields in a database, in which we’ve tried to record books in our library, books we’ve borrowed from other people and libraries, books we’ve read or want to read, and so on. Like Brenton Dickieson I’ve tried to record some of them on Goodreads, particularly ones that I think friends may be interested in, but most I try to record in the database, and have transferred most of the ones I initially recorded in A Booklover’s Record. There are, of course, some books that the original owner read or had recommended.

In July 1938, for example, the original owner noted having read Insanity fair by Douglas Reed, with the note “Douglas Reed is a depressing ‘European situation’ writer.” Insanity fair is on our shelves too, though a 1939 reprint, and I read it in 2002.

Before computers were available I used to note some books I had bought and read in my diary, with comments on them, and some of those I have also transferred to the database — that doesn’t work too well with GoodReads, which is mostly for current reading. Even with such lists, however, we’ve still occasionally bought books and got home to find we already had a copy. But between the book list and my journal, I can usually check on when I read a book, and sometimes who recommended it to me.

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