Looking Ahead

ImageI am always envious of those readers who seem to be able to look forward to the coming year and make reading plans which they confidently forecast they are going to be able to carry out successfully.  For me this has always seemed to be the surest route to failure.  It’s a bit like the Great Expectations experience writ large.  As the year goes by so I am repeatedly faced with my inability to live up to the predictions I made with such confidence back at the beginning of January. Nevertheless, I still continue to try and beat the fates by outlining my intentions even if it is only in the broadest possible way.  So here goes for 2016.

At the top of the list go three dozen or so books many of which I don’t yet know the titles of.  These are the books that I’ll need to read for my three book groups and the August Summer School.  January’s selections are Anne Tyler’s A Spool of Blue Thread,  Ian McEwan’s The Children Act and David Mitchell’s  The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet.  The first two will be re-reads but the Mitchell is new and I’m excited about that as I really loved The Bone Clocks and have wanted a reason to fit more of his work into the schedule ever since.

Another inescapable list will be books to do with the Shakespeare plays I shall be teaching during the year.  The groups focus on one play a term and this year we are going to be studying The Merchant of Venice, Othello and Antony and Cleopatra.  Lots of blood and violence there then.  Othello and Antony and Cleopatra were my A level texts and it will be interesting to come back to them from a very different point of view.  We don’t focus on close readings but rather on how the plays fit into the era in which they were written, their publishing history and the ways in which they have been produced on the stage from Shakespeare’s time to the present.  This year, for at least one of the plays (The Merchant of Venice) there will be an updated novel version available as part of the Hogarth Shakespeare project.  Howard Jacobson’s Shylock Is My Name is due to be published in February.  I have been very sceptical about this enterprise, but having heard Jacobson talk about the book last summer I probably will read it.  Tracy Chevalier is tackling the Othello re-write, but there is no publication date as yet.

The other reading to which I am already committed is that for my course on Dorothy L Sayers.  I still have more than half a dozen of the Peter Wimsey novels to finish as well as all the short stories.  I am not a short story reader and I suspect I shall only tackle those if it becomes obvious that I can’t complete the module without doing so.  The course finishes at Easter but I’m hoping that it will jump start another project I’ve had in mind for some time. I read an inordinate amount of crime fiction but without any real direction or purpose.  What I would like to do is use the essays in The Companion to Crime Fictioas an organising tool to undertake a more deliberate exploration of the genre, be that through a chronological approach or according to sub-genre. I’m particularly interested in the ways in which plots are organised and how they are signalled to the reader.  Has that changed over time?  Are there specific features associated with specific sub-genres or perhaps specific countries of origin?  What I would really like to do is set up another book group to facilitate discussion but whether I would have the time to run a fourth is doubtful.

Over and above these, as it were, social reading commitments there is, of course, my little list.  I’ve already marked down any of my ‘must read’ authors who have books due between now and the middle of the year and as soon as I can I shall put in library reservations for them.  In any one twelve month period the number of novels I get through in this category probably runs to about thirty so, when you add that to what I’ve already outlined, you’re coming very close to the hundred odd books that I get through in a year.  Perhaps then I had better stop at this point or there will be no room for any serendipitous reads that I discover as 2016 goes on.  Will I, I wonder, have the courage to come back in twelve months time and see how well I’ve managed to stick to my forecast?  That, I suspect will depend on how successful I’ve been.

25 thoughts on “Looking Ahead

  1. You get to teach Shakespeare? How wonderful! And a course on Dorothy Sayers sounds intriguing as well. I’m not very good with sticking to plans either, so I hardly dare to anticipate what I will be reading this year, but a reread of Shakespeare sounds like a very good plan. I’ve been living on the memory of close readings of him at university (I studied English), but that was a long time ago and I miss him.

    1. Yes, I teach Shakespeare classes for U3A, which is wonderful because it means everyone is there because they want to be there and they are all so enthusiastic that we are able to work pretty much at Masters level, which is very satisfying. If you want to explore Shakespeare again then do try and see some even if it is only on DVD. That is where the magic really lies, in the theatre. I can recommend some good recorded productions if you would like.

  2. I am planning little because I know I won’t stick to it! But I’m jealous of your Sayers reading – how wonderful!

  3. Happy New Year to you and The Bears!
    The Companion to Crime Fiction sounds a very interesting project – I look forward to reading more about that.And Dorothy Sayers too – I’ve been reading my way through her books and hope to read more this year.The Hogarth Shakespeare project sounds good too. I’m a bit hopeless at sticking to reading plans and find listing books makes me strangely reluctant to read them – how odd is that?

    1. It’s an excellent survey, Margaret, with essays that deal with historical perspectives, separate sub-genres and individual writers. It’s such a weighty tome that I had to get the ebook version. My reading stand would accommodate the hardback, it was too heavy. And I don’t think you’re hopeless at sticking to reading plans. I’ve just been reading on your blog about the way in which you’ve succeeded in all the challenges you took on last year. I think you’re marvellous.

  4. You’ve got such a marvellous list to look forward to. I’m quite scattergun i my reading – I’ll read about something and think, that sounds good, and then forget about it. Your list sounds a bit like all the best books that I’ve forgotten to put on my list. Especially the Hogarth – I’d forgotten that I am waiting for the Jeanette Winterson to go into paperback.

    1. Mine’s a library copy, Denise. Any books I buy this year, other than the several editions of the Shakespeare that I buy for each play I teach, will have to be ebooks. I have no more room for anything else.

  5. Your Shakespeare classes always sound so good to me, and I’ll be interested to hear what you think of Jacobson’s book. I loved Winterson’s take on A Winter’s Tale, but I’m not sure about some of the other upcoming books. I’ll just wait and see what reviews are like. The Folger Theatre in DC is doing an updated version of Merchant called “District Merchants” later this spring. It may be too late for your class, and I don’t know if they’ll be selling scripts, but it sounds like it could tie in well with the way you’re approaching the plays.

    1. I’ve been wary of the Shakespeare project ever since I heard about it, Teresa. I’m always worried about books that are, as it were, written to order. However, I heard Howard Jacobson talk about his novel in a discussion at Stratford about whether or not ‘The Merchant of Venice’ and ‘The Jew of Malta’ were antisemitic. He was the only person on the panel who didn’t think they were which made me wonder how he would tackle it. Incidentally, in preparation for the third session on the play I started yesterday watching the available DVD productions, beginning with the BBC 1980 show. It is very straight and very traditional, so definitely antisemitic, but Warren Mitchell was superb as Shylock. I’ll look out for a script of ‘District Merchants’, it would be interesting to put it against Jacobson’s update. Some years ago Arnold Wesker also wrote an alternative version called ‘The Merchant’ in which Antonio and Shylock were friends and the bond really was a merry one. Then, of course, they found themselves bound by the law. It was excellent and I don’t know why it doesn’t get a revival.

  6. I don’t really like to plan ahead too much where reading is concerned and I find I’m usually much more successful with projects and challenges which allow plenty of flexibility. Your plans do sound enjoyable, though, particularly the Dorothy L Sayers course (I’ve read some of the Peter Wimsey books, but not all) and the crime fiction project. I would be interested to know what you think of the David Mitchell book too, as I have a copy of that one which I haven’t read yet.

    1. It’s the Mitchell book that I am most excited about, Helen. I read ‘The Bone Clocks’ last year, my first by this author and was bowled over by it. I have been looking for an opportunity to schedule another and so when one of the members of my book group suggested this I was very pleased, the more so because this particular friend always chooses books that I find intriguing and thought provoking. I am expecting good things.

  7. Ah yes, committed reading. I don’t teach any more but always commit to reading for review purposes, and though I get to read some great books that way, it does cut down the opportunities for just browsing around and following my whims. Your courses sound great — I’d love to take the crime fiction one myself. I’ve read The Thousand Autumns and rated it quite highly.

    1. Well, that’s good to know, Harriet. The person who selected it for the group always chooses books that have depth and sensitivity so I look forward to anything that she recommends and if you are behind it as well then I will anticipate it even more.

  8. If you had asked me two weeks ago what my plan for 2016 is, my answer would be simply “finishing what I’ve already started” – reading the remaining Booker list winners and half the remaining titles on my classic club list. But then I saw Roof Beam Reader has a Shakespeare project and Future Learn also has a new Shakespeare course and I just couldn’t resist.
    Your crime fiction project sounds superb, any chance of making it an on line book group? I’m sure yiu would have plenty of takers. Maybe even someone would volunteer to co-host….

    1. Is that the ‘Othello’ course, Karen? I’ve signed up as well. I know most of the people involved and am expecting good things. We will have to compare notes. I will think around ways of putting a crime fiction project on line. It wouldn’t be until after Easter because of my Wimsey commitments but there might be a way if enough people were interested and prepared to help….

  9. Sounds like a good and varied year of reading! I’m doing Dorothy Richardson’s “Pilgrimage” series and Heaven-Ali’s WoolfAlong, then some more Trollope and getting through the TBR – that’s vague enough to do me, I think!

  10. I’m very bad at giving any sense of direction to my reading, so I’m not even trying anymore. Someone gave me David Mitchell’s The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet at xmas. I haven’t read anything by him, and your choosing this very book in January might prompt me to pick it up sooner than I thought.

    1. I’ll let you know how the discussion goes about the Mitchell, Smithereens. The only book I have read by Mitchell so far is ‘The Bone Clocks’ and I thought it was a very clever piece of work, in the best sense of the word clever, so I am hoping for good things.

  11. Wow, that’s a lot of reading you have planned for the year! With so much “obligation” reading, it’s a wonder you have time for anything else! I hope you get to do your crime fiction project. It sounds like an interesting study to make.

    1. I’m hoping I haven’t bitten off more than I can chew, Stefanie. I know that the book group commitment is heavy but one of the things I really miss about no longer teaching novels to students is the chance to discuss books face to face with other readers and have my eyes opened to aspects of a book that I might otherwise have missed. My book groups make up for my retirement.

  12. Dear oh dear, you are reminding me that I had a scheme of reading each Shakespeare play in chronological order from the beginning to the end (I just picked one proposed chronology to go with, one seems as good as the other as far as the reading project is concerned). If I recall correctly, I stumbled on The Taming of the Shrew in, oh, 2010ish? and haven’t been able to talk myself into resuming. Curse you Taming of the Shrew! And your troubling gender politics!

    1. I did just that one summer, Jenny, when I was preparing to write a dissertation on the way in which Shakespeare’s idea of the character of the Fool developed. It is a fascinating exercise and wonderful if you want to see how his writing grew as he matured.

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