This year has been a strange reading year for me. It began with a neck injury that made sitting still painful and concentrating on anything more than a tweet almost impossible. It ended with two university courses to teach and books to read ‘for a purpose’. Looking back, apart from reading for teaching–twentieth century American novels and primary texts from the history of America–I’ve read very little this year that wasn’t written for children. Among the few adult books I’ve read just because I wanted to, the three volumes of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy were the most enjoyable, providing the immersive world you always hope for in a book or series but rarely experience.
Of the books for children, this has been a bumper year. My daughter, who is five, is a completist of the highest order, so we’ve read all of Tove Jansson’s Moomin novels, eleven Famous Five novels (in the right order), several Roald Dahl novels, including Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Fantastic Mr Fox, Kurt Schmeltzer’s The Long Arctic Night which I mentioned here and A Christmas Carol as well as stories snatched from Stanza on my iPod Touch and Just William, read by Martin Jarvis, in the car. We’re starting on the first Harry Potter now.
One thing I’ve noticed is that quality comes in different forms. Jansson’s books are extraordinary creations with a depth and darkness that is breathtaking at times. And yet they deliver it with a lightness that makes it all seem natural and bearable. The more I read of Jansson the more I admire her. The Famous Five books are almost the antithesis of the Moomin adventures. They are practical, utilitarian, dogmatic, lacking in whimsy, as well as repetitive, badly plotted and somewhat dated. And yet of all the books we’ve read together this year these are the ones we have raced through. Blyton’s books, for all their obvious faults, are the ones that make us late for school.
My pick of the year though is A Christmas Carol. We would have struggled with this if the younger partner in the endeavour hadn’t seen the recent film, but as it was we raced through it, leaving questions about vocabulary and quaint Victoriana hanging in the air. Many of those questions will be resolved by the time we read it again next year. There was disappointment (for her) that the graveside scene wasn’t extended in the book as it is in the film and surprise (for me rereading after a long gap) at just how unevenly paced the book is, with plot development frequently suspended in favour of lengthy, convoluted, and often unnecessary description and point making. But in the end this is one of the great stories and Dickens’s words are made to be read out loud. In fact it is the only book that broke out of our normal reading routine and appeared spontaneously with the question ‘Can we read …?’