Reading Diets

I don’t know about you but when I go out for a meal, be it at an Italian, Indian, Chinese etc, I find that I invariably order the same thing. Odd because in my head I am really adventurous and like to try anything and everything, but that really only happens on holiday or if I am at a buffet or tasting evening or event for work. What has all this food got to do with books? Well, since you asked so nicely, let me tell you… I think I have started to do the same thing with the books I read.

Out of the twenty-six books that I have read this year I have worked out that only five of them aren’t middle class white writers, most of them female and that the stories on the whole apart from six or seven have a middle class setting even if they range from Victorian England to 1930’s America and the present day in both countries. Also, only three of them have been in translation. And I wonder why I have been getting into reading funks a lot this year.

I don’t think it is intentional though, I think somewhere along the line – like ordering the same favourite meals without realising it – it has simply become the case. Though I have now spotted it and I am thinking that it is time to address it as, dare I say it, I have been getting harder on the books I am reading and more likely to give up on them or see faults in them (though the next two book reviews you will see are of the vein I am talking and were absolute corkers). It is not that I am getting bored, I guess it is just that if you eat the same things all the time you forget why you liked them so much in the first place. They lose their special qualities and you lose your appetite. I have actually just remembered Kim of Reading Matters mentioned, when we recorded an episode of the Readers, that she used to be on a firm diet of American literature and suddenly the form she loved she was getting a bit let down by too often, so she mixed it up.

Mixing it up is very much what I am about to do. After all that is what I did as a kid, I would simply mooch around libraries and bookshops with my mum and take risks, sometimes admittedly based on the cover. Also the oh-so-slow (I have been doing it since January the 1st) clearing out of my TBR is going to get a rocket propelled wriggle on today and tomorrow, they are now overflowing the hardback shelves and paperback storage boxes and appearing in piles all over the floors/tables of varying rooms.  So I will be looking for as many non white middle class books, and books in translation, as I can find and popping them high up the TBR – this will nicely link in with the fact that I am off to a round the world buffet restaurant where I have now decided I will be as adventurous as possible (whilst still scoffing on an old ‘safe’ choice now and again).

Do you ever feel your reading diet has become a little structured, bland or routine? How did you break it once you know you’re in it? What books would you recommend to me that will send me away from what I know and off to distant places all around the world meeting all walks of life?


Filed under Random Savidgeness

20 responses to “Reading Diets

  1. Rosemary

    Simon, I think I tend to get stuck with very similar writers to you – I love 1950s novels by people lie Angela Thirkell, DE Stevenson & Barbara Pym, and I really struggle to pick up anything in translation or from a different type of author.

    Have you tried the website Trip Fiction:

    – it features books set in countries all over the world – of course that doesn’t mean they’re not by white middle-class authors, but at least the locations are different.

    And don’t be too hard on yourself – you did recently read The Library of Unrequited Love, I think, which is by a non-English writer translated into English!

    Best wishes, Rosemary

  2. I’m kinda the opposite. My reading is all over the place and definitely lacks any sort of focus. I’m often jealous of those readers who have honed their focus and specialities to the extent that they’ve become complete experts in one field or another. I worry what my flitting and jack-of-all-trades book collection says about me.

    On the subject of the recommendations you mentioned, however, I highly recommend ‘Reading Lolita in Tehran’ by Azar Nafisi – it’s a non-fiction true account of an Iranian women’s reading group that would meet to read and discuss Western literature. Really interesting stuff.

  3. I’m kind of picky concerning my eating habits, but I’m not necessarily picky when it comes to the types of books I read. I like to read a little of everything, with a few exceptions.

    However, I *do* find that my reading is done in spurts–I’ll read the same type of book for a while, then switch to something else for a while, etc.

  4. Kateg

    Read a Gavin selection as his taste seems to be so different from yours. I try to read different eras (am finally finishing The House of Mirth). Next up Philip Roth for a book club and then The Expats for my other book club. My book clubs help as they are very different and not middle aged lady clubs so the books chosen are not from the mainstream all the time. Even though I am a middle aged lady I tend to read some books marketed to me, but I get bored by them and make other choices.

  5. Seconding the recommendation on Reading Lolita in Tehran.

    For a familiar genre, new setting and angle, I might suggest the mystery/crime series by Zoë Ferraris that features Katya Hijazi, a female forensic scientist, and Nayir Sharqi, a Palestinian-Bedouin desert guide in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

    For something with one foot in the West, one in the East, most of Amy Tan’s books explore cultural differences between life in the US and in China. I would start with either The Joy Luck Club, which is more like 8 connected short stories than a novel, or The Hundred Secret Senses.

    For a completely different world written by a man, maybe Silence
    by Shūsaku Endō? I read this book about Jesuit missionaries sent to seventeenth century Japan back in college and never quite forgot it.

    • Rosemary

      Zoe Ferraris and Shusaku Endo sound great – and I’m amazed to find that my library has copies of both! Thanks for those recommendations.

    • gaskella

      I second the Zoe Ferraris – I would have suggested these books if not already mentioned.

  6. Try some Kurt Vonnegut! I scored a selection of eighteen of his books at a used book store! Humane, intelligent, strange, real, humourous…..

    I also had fun reading a random used book purchase…the Country Life by Rachel Rusk….now, she is different…read it from start to finish which is something as I rarely do that as books tend to bore me, even though I love them. I usually have five or six on the go at the same time…to pick up and put down for breaks….but not Rachel’s book…ha! I was also intrigued to search out more information about her today,

    Amy Tan is wonderful too but I read her a long time ago.

    Canadian writers are unique, sometimes grim , sometimes ‘nice”, sometimes funny, often metaphor driven.

    Enjoy your night out!

  7. Ed

    I have found that ever since I joined my local library a few years ago that I have become (mostly) more adventurous in my reading. I am much more inclined to experiment because I know it is not costing me money, and I can simply return a book which I do not like without feeling the need to finish it.

    I do occasionally get into a reading rut. This tends to be when I reading too many whodunnits because they are an easy option when I cannot decide what to borrow. I find that when you read a few too many whodunnits it feels like I am reading the same book multiple times. At the moment I am deliberately avoiding them.

    • Ed

      I forgot to add that a good way to get variety is to read some non fiction books. The very term non fiction disguises the fact that it covers such a wide variety of books. In the last year for example I have read 3 biographies (2 of them autobiographies), of Andre Agassi, Deborah Duchess of Devonshire (nee Mitford), and Napoleon Bonaparte. These alone gave a lot of variety. I also read a science book about magnetism, a history of the Great Wall of China, a book about the Korean War and a book about hoarders. Look in the non-fiction sections and you will find huge variety.

    • Rosemary

      I so agree – that is the beauty of libraries, and one of the reasons why we need to protect them. They lead us up so many paths that we would not otherwise have followed – partly because of the cost, but also because if we buy online (for example) we just don’t see all the other, potentially fascinating, things that we come across when we wander around the library shelves.

  8. gaskella

    I always try to mix my reading up and rarely read two similar themed/genre/decade books in a row. I make a deliberate effort to do that, so rarely get into that short of funk. Instead, I do find it hard to read the books that have languished on my shelves for *ahem* years as opposed to all my shiny new acquisitions – which is perhaps a different version of the same thing.

  9. Haha, I have just been saying that about why I get stuck on modern Australian lit. Okay I live here and also our book group picks a lot of it b/c it is run at the local indie shop. That is probably why I picked up a Chinese themed book at the op shop the other day. I am tired of modern white Australian books. Good luck mate.

  10. We must have been eating the same stuff over the past few days, as I too wrote a post about needing to vary my reading diet. Someone commented that we need to think of it perhaps as a reading buffet, rather than set meals.


    Tried “Names for the sea- Strangers in Iceland” after reading review in the Sunday Times- great account by Sarah Moss of recently spending a year in Iceland teaching English at a university; fantastic insight into the country and also of the experience of being dropped into a completely different culture. Friends have loved it too.

  12. mine is varied but always feel a few more female writers in translation be good ,all the best stu

  13. I’m a pretty eclectic reader, although last year I read fewer translated books than I’d have liked. This year I’m making it more or a priority. As for recommendations, I just picked up “Divorce Islamic Style” by Amara Lakhous. Male author, Algerian born, writing from Rome in Italian. I’m really liking it so far, and it might be just the thing to add a bit of variety to your diet.

  14. I don’t get into too many ruts fortunately because I have such a butterfly mind that I’m always flying off to the next tasty flower rather than staying on the same one all the time. I’ve also pushed myself this year to read more world lit.

  15. I like lots of variety in my reading, which is why I find translations of international literature so appealing. I was going to suggest Sofi Oksanen to you, but I see you’ve read her work already. If you’re in the mood for sexual transgressions done in a quiet, spare prose style, maybe The Detour by Dutch author Gerbrand Bakker? Also, there’s the Quebecois author Gaetan Soucy. His short, shocking novel The Little Girl Who Was Too Fond of Matches just might knock your socks off. (Snake Ropes is a little bit similar.)

  16. Pingback: Are Shelves the Solution? | Savidge Reads

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s