Whether it's Graham Greene or Shakespeare there's pleasure in re-reading books - Ian McMillan

One of my New Year’s resolutions is that I’m going to return to writers I read years ago and reread them, maybe reading their books in order, maybe coming across works of theirs I’d not encountered before.
Graham Greene, seen here in 1984, was one of the great novelists of the 20th century. (PA).Graham Greene, seen here in 1984, was one of the great novelists of the 20th century. (PA).
Graham Greene, seen here in 1984, was one of the great novelists of the 20th century. (PA).

I’m going to read Graham Greene from G to N and I’m going to read John Steinbeck from J to K. Every year I say I’m going to read and reread Charles Dickens but this year I’m going to read and reread Charles Dickens.

I’m going to reread Moby Dick because it was one of my favourite books when I studied it at Polytechnic in the mid-1970s and I heard an adaptation of it on Radio 4 that reminded me how Shakespearian the language is; mind you, it’s a slab of book but I’m not going to let that put me off.

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I’m going to try to fathom Jane Austen; maybe I was too young and daft when I read Pride and Prejudice because I didn’t get it, I didn’t see what all the fuss was about; now that I’m in my mid-60s, I should go back to that book and to all her others. I’ll do the same with Elizabeth Gaskell. I’ll do the same with George Eliot.

Sometimes, on my Radio 3 show The Verb, we’ll do an in-depth interview with one writer and that means that I have to try to read everything they’ve written and to immerse yourself in their work is a wonderful experience.

We’ve explored the work of Hilary Mantel, Julian Barnes, Ian McEwan, Paul Auster and Margaret Atwood, to name a few, and each time I reckon I’ve come out at the end of all this reading with a better understanding of how the world works. In fact, I might reread the above writers or rereread them.

Usually I like new writers; I like the promise in someone’s first poetry collection or novel and I love the idea of discovering new writers in magazines. In fact, the table I’m writing this on has hardly got room for my laptop because it’s groaning with magazines and pamphlets and books by new poets and prose writers. And I want to read them all, as well as going back to the writers I’ve read before.

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And, yes, you’ve heard all this before. Saying that I’m going to read all these writers is like joining a gym or starting a diet. You’ll be doing the sit-ups and cutting out the bread in January but then you’ll be a couch potato eating crisps in February.

I reckon that with my reading marathon the main thing is not to bite off more than I can chew. Graham Greene, for example: he’s written a heck of a lot of books and I can read only one at once so I’ll just take it one book at a time.

It’s no good looking at the Greene yardage on the shelves because that would put me off so I’ll just start on page one of Brighton Rock and carry on from there. If I see the size of the task that’ll put me off the task.

I’ll let you know in December how I get on; I’ll keep a list of the books I’ve read. So, Mr Greene: we meet again…