What I’ve been reading recently
I’ve always been a great reader, and more recently I’ve become convinced that reading is a necessary part of being a writer. I think it’s good to expose oneself to a variety of styles. When you spend your days writing, you can easily become stuck in a rut, even when you have to write in as many different styles as I do for my array of clients. So I read a variety of books, fiction and non-fiction, classic and modern, to keep my writing fresh. Here are some of the books I’ve been reading recently.
Go Set a Watchman – Harper Lee
I only recently read To Kill a Mockingbird, and I really enjoyed it, so I thought I’d give the much-hyped sequel a try (NB – it’s a sequel as far as the chronology of the narrative is concerned, but I think it was actually written before the original). I’m halfway through it at the moment, and I’m not finding it as good as TKAM. I think what made TKAM so good was that it was written from the naive point of view of a child. Now that Scout’s all grown up, the writing has, in my opinion, lost its edge. I’ll withhold judgement until I actually finish it though.
The Road to Little Dribbling – Bill Bryson
I adore Bill Bryson’s witty prose and his ability to write interesting and hilarious things about absolutely anywhere that he visits. I’ve read quite a few of his books, and particularly loved Notes from a Small Island because it was so funny to read an American perspective on my own country. The Road to Little Dribbling is the sequel, written 20 years later. Bill has, of course, lived in the UK for decades, but that doesn’t make his observations any less amusing (and shrewd) as he journeys from one end of the UK to the other along what he dubs ‘the Bryson Line’. I laughed out loud virtually every page, and didn’t want the book to end.
A Village Christmas – Laurie Lee
This is a collection of essays on English rural life by the author of Cider With Rosie. Arranged into seasons, they depict nostalgic scenes of country life in the small villages around Stroud in the early 20th century, and a way of life that has largely vanished. I really enjoyed reading the winter ones in the run-up to Christmas, with their cosy descriptions of yuletide festivities in a more innocent time. As a literary form, I enjoy collections of essays, as each one is a handy length for reading before bed. I might publish my own collection of essays one day.
SPQR – Mary Beard
This is what I’m reading at the moment, as I mentioned before. It’s a weighty tome, as any history of Rome naturally would be. I’m enjoying learning new things about Rome’s past, as well as revising some of the events and issues I studied at university. Of course, these are not covered in quite such detail as I was required to study them at university – the book would run to many volumes if it were! The thing I like about Mary Beard is her ability to write accessibly without dumbing things down. This is an important skill for any writer, yet one that authors often fall short on. Many academics revel in their own pompous prose, alienating their readers with complex language and syntax just to make themselves feel good about how much they know compared to other people; other writers go to the opposite extreme, patronising the reader. Mary Beard manages to strike just the right balance, producing erudite writing that treats the reader as an intelligent human being able to grasp the complexities inherent in studying the ancient world. I’m quite sure that there is no better person to guide you through ancient Rome than Mary Beard, even if you have no prior knowledge of the subject.
If anyone has any recommendations for what I should read next, please feel free to share them in the comments!