Happy New Year everyone! I’m going to look back at my reading year in this post and see how I did with my reading goals and plans. The main event of the year is my ‘Reading Oxford’ project. It’s basically a reading plan that lasts over two to three years. I mentioned it a couple of times in my previous posts. So here’s a recap of what it is and then we’ll go on to the review part.
Why I started the project and what it is
At some point towards the end of August 2020, reading books became frustrating, because, one, there are so many new releases every month, even if I had all the money in the world to buy them, I don’t have the time to read them all; secondly, when I do read them, I can’t quite tell if they’re good or not.
For example, dare I say this, I didn’t like the winner of Women’s Prize 2020, ‘Hamnet’. Lots of people loved it. But to be honest I didn’t like it. But why? It could be that it was actually not that good, but more likely, it was because I had a bad taste. But either way, the point is, I can’t tell – is it good? I’ve no idea how to judge. Another example would be ‘Gone with the Wind’. Is Scarlett O’Hara a feminist heroine? I know nothing about the history of the feminist movement to be able to place the story in a bigger timeframe.
I became very aware of the patchiness of my knowledge of English literature, and so decided to correct the problem by finding myself a reading list from an English Literature degree. I found a few, and settled on one of the Oxford University ones, hence the name of my project. I had a specific list that I downloaded from a college website.
My hope is that at the end of my DIY education (2022 or 2023), I’ll have touched on Old English, Middle English, Renaissance, Restoration, Romanticism, Victorian, Modern Literature and some theories, and have a clearer ‘big picture’ of the subject and a better foundation.
So the goal was in the first year, from October 2020 to July 2021, I was to read roughly 36 titles including fiction and non-fiction from the Victorian era and the Modern era, Shakespeare’s plays and on literary theory. And I aimed to write a review for each book.
Straightaway I can tell you that I didn’t manage 36. I only did 28 from the list. I also didn’t manage to cover all the authors on the list, for example, I had to miss out George Gissing, W. H. Auden, Robert Browning etc. I ran out of time. And I didn’t write a blog post for each title. I gave up on this fairly earlier on and was glad I was not REALLY doing an English degree.
The second year, from September 2021 to July 2022, I plan to read anything from before the Victorian era, carry on with Shakespeare and more theories. I couldn’t find a specific reading list to download, so I’m following the Norton Anthology.
How has it been going?
I have thoroughly enjoyed it, for two main reasons.
Firstly I enjoyed the planning and the structure it gives. My reading has been more purposeful and I found out this year that this is key to read more satisfying books. I used to just read random books if I heard people talking about it. Some of them were great, some not so great. When it was not, I immediately thought it was a waste of time.
But this year I had ‘Reading Oxford’ project going on all year and also had four themed reading months – in May I joined in the 1900to1950 Readathon hosted by Books and Things, in August I planned a translated literature reading month, in November a month of fantasy and in December a month of Christmas reading.
Themed reading gives me a challenge and an excuse to do research and order new books, but at the same time helps me to stay focused, if that makes sense. For example, 1900to1950 Readathon is all about reading novels in the month of May, from anywhere in the world, published between 1900 and 1950. So after a lot of googling, I read ‘Peter Pan and Wendy’ by J. M. Barrie, ‘The Nine Tailors’ by Dorothy L Sayers, ‘The Enchanted April’ by Elizabeth von Arnim, ‘Cold Comfort Farm’ by Stella Gibbons, ‘Some Tame Gazelle’ by Barbara Pym, ‘The Diary of a Young Girl’ by Anne Frank.
At the same time, the first year of my Reading Oxford curriculum includes many titles from the Modern period as well (which is roughly from 1910 onwards), so in May I also read ‘The Rainbow’ by D. H. Lawrence, ‘Selected Stories’ by Katherine Mansfield, and ‘Where Angels Fear to Tread’ by E. M. Forster. And You get a really good sense of what the world and life were like during those decades.
Say for example, if you want to do a ‘Jane Austen’ themed reading month. You can read her novels obviously, you can read a biography of Jane Austen, you can read one of her unpublished novels, you can read her letters, you can read one of the many retellings of Jane Austen novel characters, you can read books that appear in Jane Austen novels. Another example, I’m quite tempted to do a ‘plague’ themed reading month. There’s Daniel Defoe’s classic ‘A Journal of the Plague Year’, published in 1722, which will fit well with my Reading Oxford year two curriculum. There’s ‘Station Eleven’, a 2014 sci-fi with some kind of a plague. ‘The Painted Veil’ is a 1925 historic fiction about a couple who went to China during a cholera epidemic.
BookTuber Leena picked out four keywords for her 2022 reading themes in a recent video, they are ‘forest’, ‘midland’ and something something I forgot. I really look forward to seeing her choices on those topics. I really recommend you to give it a go. It’s super fun and satisfying.
That’s just the first reason why I love my ‘Reading Oxford’ project. The second reason is that it forces me to get reading! There are many well-known but never-read titles, titles that are forever been made into films and TV series, or characters that are so iconic that they have entered the English dictionary, those titles forced themselves onto my priority list and got read one by one. Without it, I’ve no idea how many years would have passed before I would get to them, or if I would touch them at all.
There is no more ‘What is Middlemarch anyway’, or ‘I wish I had read The Picture of Dorian Grey’, or ‘I promise I’ll get to Far From the Madding Crowd one day’. I can proudly say, I’ve read them all. Don’t ask me to do an in-depth analysis for any of them, but at least I can tell you what they are about – that’s an improvement from even just a year ago!
On top of that, the project gets me out of my comfort zone and read intimating books. OK, out of my own feeble will, I might have got to ‘The Picture of Dorian Grey’ one day, because it’s about a handsome young man and most importantly, it’s short. But when would I ever ever touch ‘Ulysses’? Never! But I did it! Did it put me to sleep? Of course it did! But it also made me laugh out loud. I can honestly say I enjoyed it and it was not a waste of time. I wrote a blog post all about how I managed to finish Ulysses, check here if you’re interested.
That’s all good, but in one area I’m failing completely – poetry! I hate poetry! I don’t get it! I tried T. S. Eliot which is Modern and gave up halfway. I tried Tennyson which is Victorian and gave up a quarter of the way. I’m now in the middle of this tiny book by William Blake, which is Romantic, I’m in the middle of it for months!
The only one that I did enjoy was ‘Sir Gawain and the Green Knight’ translated by Simon Armitage. That one was excellent! I think it helped tremendously that I listened to the audiobook and Simon Armitage read it himself. If I ever learn to love poetry, Armitage reading ‘Sir Gawain and the Green Knight’ would be my first love.
I don’t rate books 5-star unless I really love them. This year I have forty-three 4-star books and only five 5-star books. I’ll share about those in a separate post.
Cover photo by Museums Victoria on Unsplash.