Sunday 17 January 2021

How was it for you? by Tracy Darnton

This time last year I used my January blogpost to talk about my tottering TBR pile and how I wanted to make more time for reading for pleasure. I said I'd report back. 

I ruled out cutting out TV and setting reading targets to fail at. Instead I decided:

"I’m going to split my TBR pile into little piles so it’s not so overwhelming. (Simple but effective)

I’m not going to keep a list of books I read.

I’m not going to stop buying books. I love it.

I’m going to get a bigger bookshelf (or two)."

So far, so good but then...2020 happened.

Turns out global pandemic anxiety is even worse than all the general existential political despair that drained my mental energy in 2019 and that I've watched more TV than I've watched before working my way through Call my Agent (new series about to stream, everyone!), Hjem Til JulBridgerton, His Dark Materials and rewatching The Bridge. But aside from all that, did I read more, in common with the many people who turned to books for solace and distraction? How was my reading year?

During the first lockdown, my household piled up finished books as we read them, and chatted about them and swapped recommendations. Many of these books were on the TBR pile photo in the January blogpost. I did find stacking them up like this motivational to read more so I will try keeping a list this year. 

One of my books, The Truth About Lies, was selected for World Book Night 2020 which meant I had to talk about why reading mattered to me and my favourite books.


This got me reading lots of classics. I chose The Great Gatsby as my favourite novel - and obviously read it again. 

I had a week's holiday in May - in the garden. I sat in my Hay Festival deckchair in the sunshine, 'attended' Hay festival events online, read books and had coffee in the festival café my kids set up. So thumbs up to that as a way to read more. Here's hoping I can go to an actual festival this year...

My family ordered merch for my staycation festival

Another way I've increased my reading is in a book club. With my lovely SCBWI buddies, we started a monthly reading group. It has the added dimension of us all reading both for enjoyment and for a discussion of the craft of the writer. Why did we like the main character (or not)? How did the setting work so well? What would we change as an editor? We alternate between MG and YA and we're about to start reading our fourth book - Bearmouth by Liz Hyder. Can't wait to meet up in a coffee shop one day instead of zoom. 

Lastly, I joined fellow YA writers to form the Edge of the Seat thriller writers' group. This was an excellent excuse to read everyone's latest books and say what we liked about them on Twitter.  

I'd resolved to carry on buying lots of books and I did so, from high street bookshops, though I missed the whole browsing experience. As I'm moving house this week and will have to buy more bookcases, we have been ruthless about the books that are coming with us. But I like our books to have another life after us. We've donated loads to the primary school on our street which is building up its library. Many older reads have gone to our local reading charity which runs groups in care homes, night shelters and by GP-referral - which makes me think about my own reading habits and how I've realised this year that much of the enjoyment of reading for me is in chatting about and sharing thoughts on the books I've read, and getting friends' recommendations. I like talking about books as much as reading them.

So I'm going to continue chatting about books as the key to me finding time for reading. I'm so looking forward to getting back into bookshops, libraries, coffee shops and festivals to do just that in person. 

So how was it for you? How was your reading year?

Tracy Darnton is the author of YA thrillers The Rules and The Truth About Lies



Andrew Preston said...

Well, it's a quiet Monday evening  at the Andrew abode, so I thought I might as well do the starter comment. Due to current events, for quite long stretches I didn't feel much like reading. I did though post on the 'Friends of Cheddar Library' Facebook page, my suggestion to have an Open Day when we've all got vaccinated. ( Yes, Anne Rooney, I do believe in vaccinations, and no I'm not a Daily Mail reader ). I felt that a suitable theme might be... 'Plague Days and the Zombie Apocalypse'.  Dedicated to all the maskless morons. Unfortunately, this suggestion did not go down well, and was deleted shortly afterwards.

Early on, I intended to re-read 'Small Island' by Bill Bryson.   I eventually did. I'm not sure that it has dated very well.

What I did really enjoy, that really hit the spot for me, wasn't in fact a book. It was the TV series 'Normal People'.

Then there was a rather long gap, where I hardly read at all.  More recently...

'Financial Peace Revisited'  by Dave Ramsey.

'Made in Scotland' by Billy Connolly. 

The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri.  I bought this before Christmas with the intention to send to my sister as a present. However, when I came to pack it, I read the back page notes, and thought that perhaps she might not want a Christmas read of   '... in the midst of darkness and tragedy".  So, I bought a copy of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman, and sent her that instead for a bit of feel good. I then re-read my own copy of Eleanor Oliphant,  and reminded myself of how much I enjoyed it first time round. Beekeeper is still waiting to be read.

'Silent Spring' by Rachel Carson.  I've borrowed this from the library, and it's been sat on the 'quarantine table' for a couple of weeks waiting for me to get round to it. It's one of those books that is so famous, and referred back to, that I was fairly certain that I'd read it many years ago.  I opened it this evening at a random page, and thought..."Wow.... ".  The rigorous, and well researched certainty of the writer. I'm looking forward to this.
And no, I hadn't read it before.

Sue Purkiss said...

Interesting selection, Andrew. I liked Eleanor Oliphant too, and The Beekeeper - though I found it took a bit of getting into. I don't know what happened to your FOCL post. The whole page seems a bit odd these days - Facebook has changed things, and I'm never quite sure what's going where. Do feel free to post again, but bear in mind that it's not the official library page, and I'm not sure how often they look at it.

Andrew Preston said...

Aye, it must be magical realism, the ghostly hand that presses the delete button.

Tracy Darnton said...

Thanks Andrew and Sue. Eleanor Oliphant is one of the books on my TBR pile. It's been on two holidays with me but I haven't read it yet. I'll push it nearer the top...