Sunday at 2pm | Jersey Arts Centre
About 20 years ago, I picked up a copy of Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie on the back of its critical reputation. After about 50 pages, I was done – I couldn’t get to grips with its dense prose and ungracefully chickened out. Since then, it has squatted on my bookshelf, scowling at me.
But now, I have given my word. I have stood in front of an audience at the Arts Centre and vowed to read Midnight’s Children. They are my witnesses, so God help me if I fail. There’s nothing like the wrath of a bunch of middle class book lovers.
And read all of it, as one of the steps on Andy Miller’s 10-point plan to “Read Y’Self Fitter” is that once you start a book, you must finish it. This was not a point of view I’d previously subscribed to, being of the “life’s too short” school to suffer through a book I didn’t like. But as Andy pointed out, there are books that only reveal their genius at the very end, such as Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch which takes 700+ so-so pages to build to 30 pages of brilliance. (He’s right, do read it.). So if you don’t read a whole book, you forfeit your right to have an opinion on it.
Andy Miller is the author of The Year of Reading Dangerously, an account of how he finally tackled the giants of literature that he’d long lied about having read: Middlemarch, Pride and Prejudice, Anna Karenina, etc. Books are his passion, to the extent that he not only claimed, “I believe books are the best things human beings are capable of,” but that books are actually better than most human beings. Of course, giving a talk about how books are fantastic at a literary festival is hardly going to ruffle any feathers, so Andy deliberately tossed a number of polemical curveballs, such as repeatedly targeting Marques’ One Hundred Years of Solitude as one of the worst books ever written, or demonstrating how Moby Dick and The Da Vinci Code are effectively the same book.
Much of this was done with tongue firmly in cheek, and Andy’s talk was very funny. But sometimes his ire hit more important targets, such as the decline in libraries and bookshops in the UK, and how the internet’s reduction of literary criticism to “amazing” or “boring” proves that not all opinions are equally valid.
Back to Midnight’s Children. Andy made everyone choose a book they’ve always thought they should read but hadn’t, and my name was first out of the hat. And he’s vowed to join me, as it’s one of his blind spots too. So now I have to do it. Or he’ll set the Jersey bourgeois literati mafia on me…