#24 – Read all the BBC Top 100 books: Progress update
At the time of my last progress update (September 2013) I had been reading at an average rate of one book per month and was worried that I wouldn’t complete the list before my 40th birthday. This rate of reading has continued; since September I’ve read a further seven books taking my total to 75 of the list completed. 25 to go and 36 months to complete it in so (War & Peace and Ulysses permitting), hopefully I should be OK.
The first of the books I’ve read since my last update was Of Mice and Men. Not sure how I managed to escape doing this at school as it seems nearly everyone else did, but there we go. I found it a touching and memorable book, demonstrating the power of dreams and the strength of friendship.
My next book was The Count of Monte Cristo. Somewhat weightier, but one which fortunately drew me into the story and made me want to keep picking it up. Another book with a theme of the value of friendship through difficult times. I was impressed by the main character’s drive and determination and although some plot twists were improbable, it was nevertheless a good read. I cared about the Count and what happened to him. The reveal was possibly a little slower than it needed to be but I certainly wasn’t despairing of ever getting to the end.
In order to give myself a little light relief between the longer reads, I’ve been trying to intersperse childrens books with more ‘serious’ literature. As report previously, I’ve continued to struggle to track down classic childrens books in libraries but luckily a friend lent me a few. I loved Swallows and Amazons (another one I’m not sure how I missed when I was younger) with its carefree sense of a bygone era, although it made me a little sad that modern children aren’t able to enjoy the same freedoms and adventures as these (admittedly privileged) children do. But a delightful little bit of escapism nevertheless.
Then it was on to two Roald Dahl’s. I was looking forward to these as I loved The Twits as a child and he is iconically such a fun author. Sadly both Charlie and the Chocolate Factory ad Matilda left me cold. Both books seemed slow to start, took a long time to get anywhere and then didn’t, really. For example, it takes more than half the book for Charlie to discover the Golden Ticket and then there’s actually very little description of the wonders inside the Chocolate Factory, which was what I wanted to read about. It seems subsequent film adaptations have used a large degree of poetic license! As for Matilda, whilst I enjoyed the appalling descriptions of her parents (as I too think that TV is the root of many evils), I was left wondering what actually happened and where the story was. Oddly, it seemed even more far fetched than Charlie in places! No doubt if I’d read these as a child my view might well have been different but as an adult I found them juvenile and uninspiring. This is certainly not the case with all childrens literature, some stands the test of engaging an adult readership very well (Harry Potter, and Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights trilogy being excellent examples). I wonder if perhaps this is why these ‘classics’ are no longer available in libraries.
Back to the heavier stuff, next up was Gormenghast. To my horror it turned out to be a trilogy rather than just a book (more reading, more time required). It started promisingly enough. I enjoyed the first book. The second started to go downhill and the third made no sense at all. In fact, it didn’t seem to fit with the first two in any way. I suppose the trilogy could broadly be described as fantasy but I prefer my fantasy novels to be about witches, wizards, dragons and magicians so I was disappointed. More difficult was the fact that I didn’t identify with any of the characters and therefore didn’t really care what happened to them. The ‘stage’ is littered with bodies by the end but not one of the deaths made me even remotely sad. To me, that’s a serious failing in a book. I also felt that there was no discernable plot; the trilogy as a whole just seemed to wander about, going nowhere with lots of unnecessary and tedious side plots which pointlessly ended up in blind alleys and did nothing to advance the main story. I was left wondering if the whole thing was a massive allegory and I’d missed the point. Two months of reading time I’ll never get back. Sigh.
Fortunately after a slightly disappointing run, my most recent read was great. A refreshingly good story, a real page turner: The Pillars of the Earth. Historical fiction based on true events, characters who were interesting, engaging and most of all believable and (unlike other books I’ve read recently) a genuine, honest to goodness plot. It helped that the action was set in places I know and have visited and it was clear that Follett had done his research. The street scenes describing Winchester are accurate and I could even relate them to the layout of the modern city. Reading this book was particularly well timed. As well as being familiar with Winchester, just a few weeks ago I visited Canterbury Cathedral (one of the UNESCO sites I’m visiting as part of The List) so it was easy to imagine the settings Follett creates. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the publication of The Pillars of the Earth and I was lucky enough to attend a talk by Ken Follett at Winchester Cathedral about the book and his writing in general, plus to get my copy signed and buy the sequel. I’m looking forward to reading that one (although who knows when I’ll have time to read anything that isn’t on the BBC list)! If you’re looking for a good read I’d highly recommend The Pillars of the Earth.
Better get started on the rest of those 25 books I guess…