Posted by: Sarah | December 30, 2005

Reading Woes

Bookworld and So Many Books both report that they’ve read 50+ books this year. This is dismaying. I’ve just totted up my list and find that I’ve read a grand total of 37. My To-Be-Read stack is currently squatting on my life like Philip Larkin’s Toad. And growing. Today, for example, I popped into Waterstone’s and came out with two more books (*see below). A book token was burning a hole in my purse and there are some terrific half-price offers in the Big W at the minute.

Times columnist Damien Whitworth shares my anguish in a piece about the annual Christmas book splurge, though I do manage more reading time than he does, mainly because my offspring have flown the nest and I’ve given up watching TV, except for about 2 hours a week.

But the downside of this book bounty is that it amplifies the truth about my reading habits. In reality the long hours of contented reading never occur. I consume only a fraction of the books that I buy or that are bought for me…In total my Christmas haul adds up to 1,975 pages. On a good night I might read ten pages. Often the book doesn’t even get opened, or if it does I have to re-read chunks to remind myself of the stuff I read the night before as my eyelids were fluttering shut. Embarrassing though it is to admit, I probably manage 30 pages a week of pure pleasure reading. At that rate I’ll have finished my new books sometime in April — 2007. Last year’s Christmas books are still stacked on the bookcase by the bed….Am I a rare hopeless case? I very much doubt it. Taking into account all the other entertainment options that eat time, perhaps those who are not raising kids or carying an insane workload and regard themselves as vaguely literate manage a book or two a month. Perhaps I move in especially uncultured circles but a straw poll of friends finds few who are quite this voracious. I expect most of us spend as much time reading about books as we do between their covers.

The full article is here.

*The books are Untold Stories by Alan Bennett and 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare by James Shapiro, if you really would like to know.

I’ve also just received from Amazon Marketplace Lost Worlds: What Have We Lost and Where Did It Go? by Michael Bywater, which looks like a book to dip into rather than read cover-to-cover. I bought it because I heard an extract read on BBC Radio 4 one day last week when I took time off work to do some Christmas cooking. It was most deliciously read by Stephen Fry. A complete delight.

I’d love to know what books you’ve received for Christmas or bought recently.


  1. A nice list this year. 🙂

    Guy Gavriel Kay: A Song for Arbonne / Tigana
    Dorothy Dunnett: King Hereafter
    Bernard Cornwell: The Last Kingdom / The Pale Horseman
    Rebecca Gablé: Die Hüter der Rose
    Stephen Lawhead: Byzantium

    Plus a few opera CDs.

    There are no non-fiction books on the list this year, because I already got the big fat catalogues/essay volumes about these exhibitions for my birthday in October.

  2. Gabriele

    Interesting books! The Last Kingdom is on my TBR stack and The Pale Horseman will be there when the paperback comes out. I’ll be interested to hear what you think of King Hereafter. I got bogged down with it when I tried to read it a few years ago. But I probably wasn’t in the right frame of mind at the time. I know plenty of people who loved it.

    Those exhibitions sound wonderful. I forget sometimes that parts of Germany were in the Roman Empire.

  3. My favourite book from my Christmas presents is: Sheep in the Cotswolds: the medieval wool trade by Derek Hurst. Not going a bundle on novels at present, though await pb Pale Horseman.

  4. Well, the Romans came as far as Göttingen, we have the remnants of a marching/relay camp here. But after the Varus disaster in 9 AD, only the part west of the Rine was integrated into the Imperium, the tribes east of it remained an uneasy bunch. The limes, connecting the Rhine border with the Danube, was a bit like the Hadrian’s Wall, border and trade/cultural exchange area both. Things got a bit different in the 4th century, because the migration waves from the east pressed upon the border tribes like fe. the Alamanni, forcing them to fight their way into the Imperium (like the Goths at the Danube). That didn’t happen in northern Britannia.

  5. I received three books for Christmas:

    My wife gave me:

    Sylvester and the Magic Pebble (a book from my childhood, one of my favorites)


    Mind of the Raven: Investigations and Adventures With Wolf-Birds (I’m really looking forward to this one…ravens frequent our roof quite frequently)

    …my mother-in-law gave me:

    Some Writers Deserve to Starve!: 31 Brutal Truths About the Publishing Industry (I wonder if she’s trying to tell me something 😉

    …and I bought myself:

    Britain AD (which I only recently became aware of via Alex Bordessa’s blog…looks quite interesting.)

  6. Christmas presents:
    ‘Alfred: Warrior King’ by John Peddie
    ‘Going Postal’ by Terry Pratchett
    ‘Roman York’ by Patrick Ottaway

    I bought myself ‘The Death of Kings’ by Clifford Brewer, a wonderfully obscure and fascinating little book on the medical history of the royalty of England from Edward the Confessor onwards, written by a retired surgeon. If this book was a radio programme it would be one of those half-hour documentary gems on subjects you never knew you were interested in that Radio 4 broadcasts in the middle of weekdays.

    Wil: if you like Francis Pryor’s ‘Britain AD’, you’ll like his earlier book ‘Britain BC’. Prehistory is Francis Pryor’s specialism and it shows – this has a feel of solid scholarship and someone who really knows his stuff.

  7. Wil

    The Ravens book sounds good but I’m not sure I want to know any more Brutal Truths about the publishing industry ;-(

    Wil and Carla

    I haven’t yet read Francis Pryor’s “Britain BC” and “Britain AD” but I did see the two TV series they linked with. I wasn’t convinced by his provocative theories as (necessarily) briefly given on TV but I’m sure he sets them out in more depth in the books, so they’re on my TBR list. In “Britain AD” I’m interested in the language thing, which I think Alex mentions, as does an reviewer of the book. I’d post the link here but I haven’t worked out how do that in the comments box yet. Duh!

    John Peddie was known mainly for giving a practical military slant to ancient history (e.g. “The Roman Army Machine”; “Hannibal”) — I’d be interested to see how he covers Alfred the Great. Maybe you’ll post on the book when you’ve read it, Carla?

    I love those Radio 4 programmes when I can catch them. “Lost Worlds” was a recent example for me and I bought a copy of the book for myself and another for a birthday present.

  8. Alex

    Re your Sheep book: Is there a photo in it of the stunningly handsome stuffed Cotswold sheep with the corkscrew curls that I saw in the Corinium Museum? No wonder the English wool industry throve (thrived?) in the Middle Ages!

  9. Francis Pryor’s theories are certainly provocative. I don’t buy his thesis that there were never really any invasions at all, but then I think he’s partly reacting to the (in my view) equally unlikely assumption that observed changes in material culture necessarily imply repeated population replacement. This reminds me of the row in evolutionary biology between ‘gradualists’ and ‘punctuationists’, who set up ever more extreme straw men and knocked each others’ theories down in verbal fisticuffs when it seemed obvious to an outside observer that they were both right. Richard Dawkins bangs heads together brilliantly in one of his books.
    The language shift from Brittonic (or Latin? do we know which was the dominant language in the heavily Romanised areas?) to English is remarkable and must surely be pivotal in understanding what happened. I thought the ‘AD’ series skipped over this a bit. I also thought he skipped over the genetics studies. One of these days I really must get hold of the original publications of those genetics papers and see if I can figure out what they really show. I suspect it’s a case of the science being pushed too far in support of a commentator’s pet theory.
    I’ll post about John Peddie’s book on Alfred, and other books I read, in due course. And I will be thrilled if someone comes to read!

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