New year books

Book reviews: the editor’s quarterly

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What do editors read?

This year, the Christmas and New Year holiday was the first time I had taken a break from working for several years, in 2014 I was even proofreading on Christmas Eve. Having a complete break from work gave me some much-needed time to relax and meant that I read some more heavy-weight books (in fact, they were the Other Half’s Christmas presents). I enjoyed taking this time out to read so much that I made an unwritten New Year’s resolution to read more books.

Kindle or paper?

I often see comments in social media from fellow editors about the books they are reading. Sometimes I wonder how they have time to do any editing. If I’ve been reading a complex academic text all day then the last thing my eyes and brain want to do is to concentrate on small print, long sentences and obscure words in the evening. I also try to avoid reading on screen in my spare time, though I do have an ancient first generation Kindle, this tends to be reserved for holidays or books I don’t want to be seen reading.

So, now we’re over a quarter of the way through 2016 I thought I would review how well I’ve done with my reading project. The up-to-date figures are: total number of books read eight, comprising seven real books (five new/ two second-hand) and one Kindle book.

Here’s my complete reading list to date

I started with The God Delusion: Richard Dawkins – this hardback had been on our bookshelf for a few years. It was my first Christmas heavyweight, and a subject that I enjoy discussing with my OH. Dawkins’ writing style is so readable, even with complex subject matter. Sadly I did spend a bit of time noticing the Oxford style… oh look, a capital letter after a colon. Next, I moved on to his seminal work The Selfish Gene. I’d read this many years ago when it was first published, however the 30th anniversary edition contains a lot of new material. Again, I enjoyed Dawkins’ easy-to-understand explanation of complex issues (and spotting the quirks of Oxford style too).

The only Kindle book I’ve read this year has been Sane New World: Ruby Wax. At the end of last year I started learning mindfulness meditation using a phone app (if you haven’t discovered it yet, I can highly recommend Headspace). I was keen to learn more about how the brain works and after watching Ruby’s TED talk on You Tube I downloaded her book. She covers a lot of complex scientific issues with her indefatigable humour.
That pretty much covered my New Year reading. Once I was back to work there was less time for reading and so I reverted to my usual habit of reading lighter-weight French books. It might sound pretentious to say that I’m reading in French, but I find that it’s a good way to practise a second language – it’s a type of multi-tasking, rather like listening to podcasts whilst on the treadmill. I also find that if I read in the evening whilst English TV is on it is easier to concentrate if I’m not reading in English, not quite sure why that is, as it doesn’t work the other way round.

La Vie est facile ne t’inquiete pas by Agnès Martin-Lugand (Life is easy, don’t worry) is the more cheerful sequel to a desperately sad book I read last year – I was in tears from the first page. The heroine, who has lost both her husband and daughter in a car accident at the beginning of the first book, finally achieves happiness after much Parisian anguish. I followed this with Katherine Pancol’s La Barbare. Previously, I’ve enjoyed quite a lot of Katherine Pancol, which I always think of as French chick-lit, but I didn’t really warm to the heroine in this one and it was a struggle to get to the end.

I did sneak in an English language book whilst I was recovering from a bout of ‘flu. The Reluctant Fundamentalist: Mohsin Hamid was another second-hand copy that had been around for a while. The book is written in the dramatic monologue style, with the events occurring in the course of just one evening. The technique creates a tense atmosphere building to an unresolved ending. If you’ve never read a book written in this style I recommend you try, another is Camus’ The Fall.

In March, I re-read one of my favourite French books – La Bibliothèque des Coeurs Cabossès: Katarina Bivald. This is not strictly a French book as it was originally written in Swedish and has been translated into several languages. In fact, an English language version (The readers of Broken Wheel recommend) has now been published and there is talk of a film. It’s a lovely chick-lit story of the bookish Swedish heroine opening a bookstore in rural Iowa. I’ve noticed a growing trend for Scandinavian literature, not just crime noir, and plan to check out some more translations soon. Marc Levy is a world-class French novelist whose work I’ve only recently discovered. Film rights to his first novel were bought by Steven Spielberg even before publication. I found a second-hand copy of Oú es-tu? (Finding you) whilst sorting some jumble for a friend recently – it’s a story so gripping I polished it off in a couple of days.

What books are you reading at the moment? Leave me a comment with your recommendations and let me know if you find reading in a second, or even third language enjoyable, helpful or perhaps otherwise. I’ll post an up-date in July and see if I have managed to beat my total to-date of eight in the next three months.

New year books
My first quarter reading list