Dickens In The Other Room

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No less a person than Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has called 2015 ‘The Year Of Books’. And who are mere mortals and non-billionaires to argue with that? We are honoured to have him on board. Welcome, Mark. Who knows what all those other years were for? Who cares? Anyway, in the next 12 months the masterplan from the secret mountain lair of Dickens In The Other Room is simple: to read books and write about them in 365 words. It is much the same as ever, in fact. Last year’s gimmick was to buy only from independent bookshops, and this was broadly successful. It lasted until November when the Oxfam bookshop in Muswell Hill beckoned. Is this bad? In an age of moral relativism, it is hard to know. But my grand projet will continue, and the beaming gratitude of these doughty retailers, struggling against rent rises and Amazon, is reward enough. Plus it’s quite nice spending time in their stores, even the rude ones, whose sniffy attitude to customers qualifies as almost heroic in difficult economic times. This year I will focus on reading longer books, partly to lengthen the time between reviews and partly because I have a number of them which have been shelved for too long. So: Ben Okri’s The Famished Road, Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch and Hari Kunzru’s The Impressionist will be opened. It is about time. And there will also be classics, including The Old Curiosity Shop and Moby Dick, just…because. The year begins with a very long novel indeed, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. The decision to plunge in – after several years happily looking at the bulky, reddish spine on the shelf and thinking ‘hmmm…it does look a bit lengthy’ – is not entirely unconnected to the fact that the BBC is to broadcast its dramatization of the novel soon. It is clearly shameless to inveigle one’s way into the zeitgeist in this fashion, but I have never set myself up as a paragon of virtue. That is for others to proclaim. And I do want to be able to say: ‘Well, of course, it’s not a patch on the book’, when dinner party conversation turns that way. As it surely must…



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