A Reading Challenge for 2017

Following my previous post, after having read ‘The Year of Reading Dangerously’ by Andy Miller, I have decided to compile my own ‘list of betterment.’ However, I will not be attempting 50 books.  I am sticking to a very realistic 10.  One a month with two months’ holiday!   I will be reading one book every month and then blogging about it.  The reasons I am doing this are threefold.  Firstly, I wish to improve my writing, and they say it is essential to read well and often.  Secondly, I want to see whether some of these ‘classics’ live up to the hype.  Finally, I also hope these books will challenge me in some way and stretch my reading muscles.   An added bonus will be that I can stop saying ‘I really must get around to reading that someday.’

I will be commencing in January 2017 and look forward to hearing your opinions on the books.

So, this is ‘My Reading Gym:’

  1. Middlemarch by George Eliot. According to Virginia Woolf, this is ‘one of the few English books written for grown up people.’  If I enjoy it even half as much as I liked ‘The Mill and the Floss,’ I am in for a treat!


  1. Les Jeux Sont Faits by Jean Paul Sartre. I read this at school and remember loving it, but I have entirely forgotten most of what it’s about, so I would like to re-read it.  I think I may try and read it in the French.  From what I remember it wasn’t that difficult.



  1. Persuasion – Jane Austen. I haven’t read a lot of Austen, so I was spoiled for choice.  Thought I would start here (as I haven’t seen a TV version of this one!)



  1. The Master and Margarita by Bulgakov. This was one of the books Andy Miller read and seemed to enjoy, so thought I’d give it a go.   Have read very little Russian literature so it should be an education in itself.


  1. Stoner by John Williams. I reckoned I would need something I knew I was going to love after the previous read.  I LOVE this novel.  I have read it before and am desperate to read it again, so I will.


  1. Of Human Bondage by Somerset Maugham. My father was a great fan of Maugham, and this is a book I read years ago, and again have been meaning to re-read as, truth be told, I can’t remember a darn thing about it.  Not a great sign, but anyway.


  1. Atomised by Michel Houellebecq. This one I have much trepidation about.  The only reason I am reading it is due to the sheer passion with which Andy Miller raves about it.  We shall see.  I sense it may not be for me.  This is the big gamble on this list. Another French writer.


  1. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys. My writing teacher has mentioned this book in nearly every one of our classes, so thought it was high time I read it.  I am also intrigued with the concept of the mad woman in the attic from Jane Eyre.  I loved Jane Eyre, so am looking forward to this one. The only other woman on the list –  I know, but I do read a lot of literature by women the rest of the time, and have read a lot of literature by women, so I don’t feel too guilty.   Keep reading below the picture!


  1. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy.   Another classic it is high time I read.  Enough said.


  1. The Ginger Man by JP Donleavy. What a way to finish. Considered a masterpiece, published in Paris in 1955, and banned in Ireland and the USA, this novel is a must read and I had to have an Irish author on the list somewhere.


Phew, I am exhausted and yet excited at the thought of reading all of these books.  Hopefully by the end of 2017 I will have broadened both my literary education and my writing!   Please do let me know your thoughts, and if you have a ‘list of betterment,’ what’s on it?


Review of ‘The Year of Reading Dangerously’ by Andy Miller


I picked this book up in the library and was immediately drawn to it, because I love to read or hear about other people’s views on books.

I am SO glad I did (pick it up that is).  Not only is it highly informative, it is witty, erudite and extremely entertaining.

Andy Miller is like the Duracell bunny stoked up on caffeine.  The facts are numerous and at times baffling, but the whole is more than the sum of its parts.  The book is part memoir, part literary discussion, and is also filled with witty anecdotes, and passionate views on the books he discusses.

In the three years following the birth of his son Alex, Andy Miller had managed to read one book – The Da Vinci code by Dan Brown.  For someone who read a huge amount before that, he decides to do something about it, so he makes a list of books he wishes to read, which he calls ‘The List of Betterment.’

Miller tells us in hilarious description not just about the latest tome he is tackling, but the effect of it on his life.    He initially begins with a list of thirteen books.

Of the first thirteen books, I had only come across five, which surprised and intrigued me.   I knew of the following five:

Moby-Dick Herman Melville

Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen

Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy

Of Human Bondage – Somerset Maugham

Middlemarch – George Elliot.

Of these I have only read two – Austen and Maugham.

The other eight books are :

The Master and Margarita – Mickhail Bulgakov

Post Office – Charles Bukowski

The Communist Manifesto – Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels

The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists – Robert Tressell

The Sea, The Sea – Irish Murdoch

A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole

The Unnamable – Samuel Beckett

Twenty Thousand Streets Under The Sky – Patrick Hamilton.

I would point out at this stage that Andy Miller is both an editor and had also written two books before this one, so he has form.  However, his knowledge of culture, music and literature, make this book worth reading for that alone.  After he finished the initial list of thirteen books, he expanded the list to fifty.  He doesn’t discuss all fifty books in detail, he selects a few from the list that have had an impact on him, either positively or negatively.

He also discusses what makes a good book (highly subjective) and why we feel the need to lie about classic books that we have never read (pretending to be intelligent?!)

I couldn’t put this book down, I screamed with laughter, I felt stupid at my lack of reading, (what the hell have I been doing all these years? – watching too much of The Gilmore Girls and The West Wing I fear.) I googled lots of authors and learnt more about books I liked the sound of, and I also decided not to waste a minute of my life reading Moby-Dick, which sounds like a book I could definitely live without having read.

All in all, if you love reading, I highly recommend this book.  There are references you may not understand or have heard in your wildest dreams (a couple of chapters were completely foreign to me) but hey, this is where google comes into its own.   It was an education, and might come in handy at parties if I feel like being pretentious!

The book has also inspired me to start my own ‘List of Betterment.’ Andy Miller read 50 books and I have neither the time nor the inclination to set myself such a daunting task.  Instead, in 2017 I am going to set myself a list called ‘My Book Gym.’  It will be a list of 10 books I have always meant to read, but have never got around to.  These are considered ‘classics’ or at least books that should advance the human spirit in some way. I plan to read and blog about said books. I will be sharing the list and writing more about this in my next blog post, so you can comment/and or read along.  I plan to read one book per month and give myself two months off (in case of burn out/frustration and/or to read the odd book for pure pleasure.)

If you want to find out more about Andy Miller and this book, his website is


Would love to hear your comments.  How many of the thirteen have you read?  Any you loved?  Hated?  Any that changed your life?  Do share!