By Abi Saffrey
At the end of each financial year, I reflect on the projects I’ve worked on, the clients I’ve worked with, the money I’ve earned and the money I’ve spent. It struck me at some point in 2019 that perhaps I could do a similar review of what I’ve read over the same span of time. So I set up a spreadsheet and logged the books I read for pleasure and those I edited and proofread. Time and sanity limitations meant I did not log everything I edited, or anything I read that wasn’t a book (but The Phoenix Comic is pretty darn good).
Reading was my greatest pleasure for many years, but going freelance and then having children limited my time and energy for it. I missed reading, but not enough to carve out the time for it. For whatever reason, 2019 was the year that I decided to JUST READ MORE.
I copyedited two social science books for a regular client. And I managed a grand total of THREE books for pleasure, all short and very different from each other.
- Feminism, by Deborah Cameron (who I idolised during my Linguistics degree in the late 1990s)
- Grief is the Thing With Feathers, by Max Porter (my mum died early in 2019 and I felt a compulsion to read about others’ grief)
- Reasons to Stay Alive, by Matt Haig
I didn’t edit any books this month – I finished writing a guide to Editorial Project Management for the (then) SfEP, and worked on a fair few journal articles. I didn’t read much outside work either.
- The Long Goodbye: A memoir, by Meghan O’Rourke
- Walking, by Erling Kagge (a choice prompted by an article in The Guardian)
I copyedited two books on subjects that I’m passionate about: climate change and gender inequality. This was the month when I set myself a reading challenge: to read my way through the alphabet (using authors’ surnames), selecting books available in my local library and by ‘new to me’ authors. I managed A–D over the month.
- How to Fall in Love with a Man who Lives in a Bush, by Emmy Abrahamson (the first of three translated novels over the year)
- Pulp, by Charles Bukowski
- Multitudes, by Lucy Caldwell (the only short story collection in my year)
- This is the Ritual, by Rob Doyle
Workwise, my focus in July was on student and teacher materials. And I didn’t read ANY books for pleasure. Sorry.
A reduced workload because of the school holidays – journal articles only. I might not have read much this month, but I did get to spend two weeks in and around beautiful Tenby. August is my birthday month and, for the first time I can remember, I got NO books for my birthday. I did get some book tokens though, which I stashed away …
Back to work with a bang and three books on my desk: political scandal to proofread; sociology and education theory to copyedit. A disappointing one letter crossed off my alphabet.
- Reef, by Romesh Gunesekera (I have a vivid memory of reading this while sat in the playground at Audley End House)
One book to copyedit (social science), two books for fun (and NO letters crossed off my alphabet, tsk tsk).
- The Bone Clocks, by David Mitchell (I started this in September, and read some in my downtime at the SfEP conference … but it’s long and complicated)
- After Me Comes the Flood, by Sarah Perry (finished this one while on holiday in Tromsø – happy days)
I copyedited three books in November, all related to welfare, social policy and politics – with those and being involved in a general election campaign, it was an exhausting month. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there was no time for self-indulgent escapism.
I started work on a contributed volume about South Sudanese objects (I’m still working on it now – May 2020); it is so different to my normal social sciences fare. A welcome distraction after an election that didn’t go the way I’d hoped. I managed to read three books on my own time – the joys of taking some time off over the festive period (alphabet challenge stowed away for another time at this point).
- The Pebbles on the Beach, by Clarence Ellis (I bought this for my mum for Christmas 2018 – she loved pebbles and I would collect one for her from every beach I visited)
- The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well, by Meik Wiking (a Christmas present from the Danish branch of my family)
- Kind of Cruel, by Sophie Hannah (which had been on my e-reader for years)
I proofread one book – politics – in January, and it prompted me to buy (and read) another book in the series. I also set myself a new reading challenge (after some discussion with my accountability group): to read for 30 minutes a day on five days in each week. I nearly always ended up reading for longer than that, and it meant I ploughed through the pages. There is a slot in my day between collecting/taxiing children and preparing dinner – it tends to be filled with social media and internet browsing in a comfy chair, so I would leave my book on that chair and my phone in my coat pocket.
- Ten Arguments for Deleting your Social Media Accounts Right Now, by Jaron Lanier (I left Twitter quite soon after reading this, and I have a Facebook exit plan for later in the year)
- Jog On: How running saved my life, by Bella Mackie
- Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley (this had been on my shelf since I’d set myself a classics reading challenge in the summer of 2018 …)
- Melmoth, by Sarah Perry
- The Responsibilities of Democracy, by John Major and Nick Clegg
- Grief Works, by Julia Samuel
I went to Amsterdam for a weekend – so a Lonely Planet pocket guide snuck in here too.
One copyedit this month – colonialisation, not a cheery read. I counteracted that by carrying on with my 30-min reading challenge, and I even managed to tick FOUR more letters off my alphabet.
- Transcription, by Kate Atkinson (I did NOT see that ending coming)
- This Should be Written in the Present Tense, Helle Helle
- No, Thanks! I’m Quite Happy Standing, by Virginia Ironside (made it to page 20 before giving up – but decided to knock ‘I’ off my list anyway)
- On Writing: A memoir of the craft, by Stephen King (recommended by Denise Cowle in series 1 of The Editing Podcast)
- The Dig, by Cynan Jones
- How to Fight Islamist Terror from the Missionary Position, by Tabish Khair
March’s one book copyedit was on support and health workers across the globe. I finally spent my birthday book tokens – on the paperback editions of Gretchen McCulloch’s Because Internet, and Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez, both of which I’d been lusting after since their hardback release. I also treated myself to The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy, which was the last book I read before the COVID-19 pandemic. I haven’t been able to focus on books in my free time since.
That year in numbers
So I read 31 books for pleasure:
- I bought five secondhand, one was a gift, one was nicked off my mum’s bookshelves.
- I bought ten new (one hardback, eight paperbacks and one ebook), and one had been on my e-reader for at least five years.
- I borrowed 13 from my local library.
- There were 19 fiction books and 12 non-fiction books.
I’d hoped that I’d find some revelation about my reading habits and trends, or even find that my ‘to be read’ pile would be smaller. Or that I learned something profound and life-changing. But I didn’t, and it isn’t, and … I will leave social media soon(ish). I will definitely keep noting down what I read – reviewing my list and writing this post have brought back so many memories of where I was when I was reading each book.
I’d like to say I’ll go back and read some of these again, but I won’t. There are so many other books out there that need me to read them and I don’t want to set another challenge that I’ll give up on when I get distracted by the next one. Anyway, these are the ones I loved the most in my financial year 2019/20:
- The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell – so beautifully crafted, and it presents an all too real future for us.
- On Writing by Stephen King – I’m never going to read his novels and I’m never going to write a book but I loved the essential message that ran throughout: reading is the best way to learn to write.
- Melmoth by Sarah Perry – it’s pretty close between this and Here Comes the Flood. Her writing sucks me in every time (The Essex Serpent is also compulsive reading, but I read that in 2018).
Abi Saffrey is an Advanced Professional Member of the CIEP. She reads books to earn a living and to keep her imagination alive. She’s wondering when the library will open again so she can look at the ‘L’ section of the fiction shelves. She boycotts Amazon.
If you’re wondering which book to read next, peruse the CIEP’s book reviews.
Proofread by Alice McBrearty, Entry-Level Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.
The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.