In 2017 I set myself a project. I am one of those people who view the buying of books, the owning and collecting of books, and the reading of books to be separate albeit connected pleasures. And there were books that had been on my shelves, asking for my attention for too long, and it had come time to pick them up and engage with them.
So I read Sir Richard Burton’s translation of the Tales of 1001 Arabian Nights. it was not what I expected but it’s also easy to see why; it is a vast and sprawling collection of interlinked stories and it has been a source for many people.
And this is one of the reasons I like to read. I have come to realize the extent to which reading a story is a more interesting, a more engaging and pleasurable experience, if I have an understanding of the literature and the context underlying the story. Reading your stories is more fun if I’ve read the stories you know, because those are the stories you’ve going to reference in your writing.
And we are story telling people and we are only now beginning to come to understand just how much of a story telling people we have always been. As I wrote elsewhere recently, I would love to know the stories the Neanderthal and the Denisovans and all of our other cousins told each other, sitting around the fires that created the bubbles against the dangers of the world.
This year, my reading project is the collected works of Kurt Vonnegut. I’m behind but I’ll make my way through. Why Vonnegut? The best answer I can give is, why not? He’s a good story teller and it’s interesting reading everything by a single author over a relatively short period of time, because it gives you the reader, me the reader, the opportunity to get a bit under their skin and examine how they tell their stories.
As we come to the end of 2018, the question then becomes, what is the reading project for 2019? And I know what it will be. I have always enjoyed Gilgamesh, the oldest written story we have as humans. Preserved by fortuitous accident, it is a story of epic proportions and the source of stories we all know, in a way we didn’t suspect.
And so why not, the oldest stories we’ve told each other. The Iliad and the Odyssey will be there. The Old Testament will be there, and stories from the countries we currently know as India and China and the rest of this vast globe of ours.
We all have projects. The things we want to do, short term and long term. So why not a reading project, taking some of those collected volumes calling to us from our shelves and working our way through them.
Jim Anderson (available on-line at http://www.multijimbo.com) is a Professor of Mathematics at the University of Southampton, and is also the Associate Dean (Education and Student Experience) for the Faculty of Social, Human and Mathematical Sciences. Beyond mathematics, he practices the traditional Japanese martial art of aikido and writes science fiction and fantasy.