The Year of Reading Dangerously by Andy Miller has been sitting on my to-be-read list for a few months now. It seemed like a good book (in the vein of The Know-It-All by A.J. Jacobs, which I enjoyed), but I was just never in the mood to start it. After I finished A Visit from the Goon Squad, I went looking through my audiobook library for something new. I have a decent number of books in there I haven’t gotten to yet, but most of them seemed kind of heavy (The Color Purple, The Age of Innocence, Slaughterhouse-Five). I’m currently reading Anna Karenina (I like to have a few books going at a time), and wanted a relatively easy and short read to balance it out. The Year of Reading Dangerously fit the bill, especially given that I’ve kind of embarked on a similar journey this year.
In his book, subtitled How Fifty Great Books (and Two Not-So Great Ones) Saved My Life, Andy Miller chronicles the process of completing what he calls “The List of Betterment,” which consists of several “great” books he hasn’t got around to reading. After realizing that, since the arrival of his three-year-old son, he’d only read a single book (The Da Vinci Code), Miller sets out to become well-read by the time he turns forty. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Miller himself reads the audiobook (I always love when authors read their own books), and does a terrific job! His anecdotes are, for the most part, funny and clever. And though we come from very different backgrounds, they spoke to my inner bookworm. I completely identified both with his quest and his love for books.
What I loved most about this book was that Miller described these great books in a way that made me want to read them. Although The Master and Margarita has been on my to-read list for a while, I never actually had a desire to read until now. He is also honest when he doesn’t care for a book or when he likes a book, but accepts that it has flaws. His struggle through long, dense novels made me feel like I can finish and actually enjoy them, too.
After reading/listening to this book, I felt extremely motivated to read some of these great books myself. While some of the books on Andy Miller’s List of Betterment don’t interest me (Krautrocksampler, for example), I went out and bought copies of both War and Peace (which terrifies me) and The Master and Margarita. I have also adopted Miller’s policy of reading fifty pages a day. After deciding this, I finished the second half of Anna Karenina in only four days (I ended up reading more than fifty pages a day). War and Peace shouldn’t take me more than twenty-four days (scary, but doable), and The Master and Margarita can be easily finished within a week or so. (Why I didn’t think of/decide to do this earlier, I will never know.)
This was the perfect book for me at the perfect time. It honestly made me feel even better about reading, and more confident in my opinions. I don’t have to like War and Peace, despite it being hailed as one of the greatest novels ever (though, it being a novel is arguable – Tolstoy himself claimed that it’s not). But I still feel great about making myself read it. Last year, I read fifty two books. This year, I’m going to beat it.
P.S. Check out my Goodreads 2015 Reading Challenge and add me as a friend here!