Book Shelf: Is it OK to read old books?

I am not talking about whether it’s OK to read Anna Karenina (pictured – the Greta Garbo version), Madame Bovary or even, if you must, the Bible. It’s always OK to read those books. Although the Bible is a choice you may have to defend.  (Not to me. I am a very broad church. And very broad generally.)

No. I am talking about whether it’s OK to read books published a year or two ago which you have never got round to reading and which have been sitting on your shelf looking unloved. Like, in my case, books by Nancy Huston.

If they are so great then why haven’t you already made time to read them? This sounds like a crazy question but it’s not. I devote a lot of time — the time it takes to read about 100+ books a year for review — to reading new books, just-published books or books not out for another six months. For an already-published book to get added to that schedule, it has to be good.

It takes a lot for me to return to something which has come out a couple of years ago and no-one is talking about anymore. I’m fastidious about throwing out (a) books I’ve already read and (b) books I would really like to read but know that I will never actually get round to reading. Most recently Claire Tomalin’s biography of Charles Dickens fell into this category. Yes, I really want to read it. Yes, I hung onto it for six months and didn’t read it. And, yes, it is in the window of my local charity shop. Life is short and you have to be realistic.

So what are the titles I did hang on to, knowing I would read them one day and two or three years later, that day has finally come? Kate Kerrigan’s The Miracle of Grace, a mother-daughter love story. Nancy Huston’s Fault Lines, a psychological thriller spanning four generations. Anne Fine’s Fly in the Ointment, a novel about a determined mother or something like that. (I’m not actually sure why I hung onto this one. Someone whose opinion I respect must have told me that Anne Fine is good.) And Jacquelyn Mitchard’s Cage of Stars which does not look like my kind of thing at all and has a Jodi Picoult recommendation on the front. But I am trying to be more open in my reading choices at the moment. I will report back. I left Jonathan Franzen’s new collection of non-fiction at home in favour of these four novels, so at least one of them had better be good.


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