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  • Writer's pictureMatt Davies

What I’m reading and how I choose

Updated: Sep 12, 2020

I have a running list of books that I want to read. Problem is, it keeps getting longer and I wonder if I’ll ever get through it. But I guess that’s not the idea.

How I choose

I listen to a lot of podcasts – when I’m exercising, in the car or just out for a walk. The ones I like tend to be about some aspect of creativity (podcasts about writing especially) or about life (TED Radio Hour, Russell Brand’s podcast, Tim Ferriss, Oprah), and hosts and guests often mention books. If I like the sound of one, I’ll add it to my list.

Whenever a friend recommends a book, I add it to the list. I subscribe to the Readings newsletter and to e-newsletters from a number of writing and publishing organisations – more recommendations!

Buy or borrow?

I like to try before I buy, which I imagine is opposite to the way that most people do it. If I can, I borrow from the library or download a digital copy first. If I like it, then I buy a hard copy for the shelf. That way, I can read it again whenever I like and I can lend it to people. I don’t think there’s much point in having books cluttering up your bookshelf that you’re never going to open again and would not recommend to anyone else.

I do bend this rule when it comes to Aussie authors. If I’m confident I’m going to like it, I’ll buy before I’ve sampled it. And I try to buy from independent booksellers like Readings as much as possible, although it’s hard to justify the extra cost sometimes (I don’t live near a Readings bookstore and rarely travel close to one, and then there’s the postage charge if I don’t buy in-store.)

What I’m reading at the moment

I like to mix it up between classics and modern books. I read the occasional nonfiction book (I read The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion in January and it was fantastic), but it’s 90 per cent fiction. I’m not stuck on any one genre either, but I tend to read classics, YA, crime and what you might call ‘domestic fiction’ like Liane Moriarty (who is reliably brilliant). I don’t read a lot of spec fic or fantasy. I like historical fiction too if the story and writing are compelling.

I’m currently reading Toni Jordan’s Nine Days for the first time. It’s been sitting on my bookshelf for a year and I’m only just getting to it (I bought it for my grandmother; when she passed away last year, it made its way back to me). I’ve just borrowed The Picture of Dorian Gray (Oscar Wilde – never read any of his work before) from the library and I’m working my way through A Separate Peace (John Knowles) again – a book that I originally borrowed from the library then bought because I liked it so much.

I’ve just stopped reading Catch 22 (Joseph Heller). Stephen King rates it as one of the best novels ever written, but I couldn’t get into it. I enjoyed the writing but it was a bit slow for me. Maybe I’ll try it again in a few years’ time.

Earlier this week I listened to a podcast that talked about the history of James Joyce’s Ulysses. So interesting. It was published in small numbers (and at great expense) in Paris in the 1920s and was smuggled into the US for ten years by hand before Random House founder Bennett Cerf initiated a court case to gets its banning in the US overturned. The publisher won the case and it went on to sell a gazillion copies. It was banned because its content was considered filthy (mostly sexual content and swearing from what I can gather). It pioneered the ‘stream of consciousness’ genre. I’m keen to read it.

Some recent good reads

I read Sophie’s Choice (William Styron) for the first time this year (long, but so powerful), and on the YA front I’ve read Turtles All the Way Down (disappointing after The Fault in Our Stars, which is one of the best YA novels I’ve read), Beautiful Mess (simple, but good), Genuine Fraud (very clever), Highly Illogical Behaviour (great, ended up buying it) and It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini (first half was really good, but then it dropped off in the second half). Mark Smith’s Wilder Country (which I’ll buy) is on my list, as is Shivaun Plozza’s Tin Heart. So much to read!

I’m not a very speedy reader and tend to only spend about half an hour before bed reading each night. Sometimes I’ll read during the day. YA novels are usually about 60,000 words, so most can be read easily in an afternoon. Sometimes I’ll do that, but there’s always so much to do (like writing, occasionally!)

Whenever I open a new book, I’m hoping it will dazzle me. I’m so happy when it does.

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