In his fanciful, endearing account of his experiences tackling classic works of fiction, Miller (Tilting at Windmills: How I Tried to Stop Worrying and Love Sport) conveys his love of reading, though the book is light on literary criticism. At age 40, Miller is married, with a young child, a boring job as an editor, and a deeply stultifying daily routine; he takes his cue for this project from another Miller’s work, written 50 years ago—Henry Miller’s The Books in My Life, in which the author explores his life through an account of the books that influenced him. Here, Miller sets for himself an ambitious reading regimen—50 pages per day—and begins with Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita, which he found inscrutable but enchanting. He plows through works such as George Eliot’s Middlemarch and Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage, which he had previously began reading but didn’t finish (he doesn’t find them much easier to get through the second time around). Both of these made their way onto his “List of Betterment,” along with Robert Tressell’s The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, Colin MacInnes’s Absolute Beginners (“It spoke to me when I was 16”), musician Julian Cope’s Krautrocksampler, and others. There is plenty of hilarity in Miller’s intimate literary memoir, including an idiosyncratic comparison between Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code and Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick. (Dec.)
Absorbing….I found myself turning pages in the addictive way some folks eat barbecue potato chips (crisps to one from Miller’s culture)…. This is one…book that you can dare (dangerously!) to get for your favorite people instead of the ubiquitous gift card. Trust me on that.
wonderfully elevating and entertaining…. A delightful read in its totality.
A delightfully irreverent account of reading 50 classic books…. Often very funny….His thesis is universal…we can all be enriched by losing ourselves among the bookshelves.
an affecting tale of the rediscovery of great books...[by] a friendly, funny Brit.
Amiable, circumstantial, amusing, charming…. [Miller’s] style owes something…in its love of footnotes, literary paraphernalia and ephemera to Joe Brainard and David Foster Wallace.
[A] readable, often funny account.... It’s not so much the content of the books that brings rewards, but the process of reading them and the thought this inspires.
Andy Miller is a very funny writer. And this hymn to reading is a delight. The chapter on Herman Melville and Dan Brown had me howling with pleasure. PS. It will also make you feel a bit well-read.
For some, facing a midlife crisis means buying a motorcycle or contemplating Botox. But for Miller (Tilting at Windmills), who is nearing his 40th birthday, it means reading—specifically books that he has always meant to read or, in some cases, has already claimed to have read. Over a year, Miller clears his conscience by trudging through each title on his "List of Betterment," which includes literary Everests such Herman Melville's Moby Dick and George Eliot's Middlemarch. In the same spirit as Nina Sankovitch's Tolstoy and the Purple Chair, Miller meditates on how books have sustained him through life's more painful experiences—the premature death of his father, heartache, a soul-crushing job, and, now, aging. But Miller differs and stands apart by focusing almost entirely on literary works, and with a wry, offbeat sense of humor he reveals the pleasures of such slow, disciplined reading—how it encourages quiet contemplation and stimulates insight. VERDICT This is a book about books, a memoir, and also an argument for the irreplaceableness of literature in our lives—not in spite of this hurried age of digital distraction but because of it. It is also the perfect way to begin a new year of reading.—Meagan Lacy, Guttman Community Coll., CUNY
Is there life after Dan Brown? That was the question worrying Miller (Tilting at Windmills: How I Tried to Stop Worrying and Love Sport, 2003), who had a midlife crisis of confidence after realizing it had been years since he had picked up anything heavier than The Da Vinci Code. Bent on getting back into reading shape, he devised a "List of Betterment," comprised of 50 books he "had succeeded in dodging during an otherwise fairly literate thirty-seven years on Earth." Middlemarch, The Master and Margarita, and Moby-Dick tested his resolve but were worth the struggle; Anna Karenina, The Diary of a Nobody and The Code of the Woosters involved no struggle at all. (Neither did War and Peace, which proved as good as it is long.) Miller stuck with his 50-pages-per-day reading plan through thick and thin, suffering through Of Human Bondage, Pride and Prejudice and One Hundred Years of Solitude even if he had to drag himself to the finish line. He discovered that Patrick Hamilton is best read on a train. The author doesn't just stay in the past; he loved Hilary Mantel and Toni Morrison and fell so hard for Michel Houellebecq that he wrote him a fan letter. Along the way, Miller remembers his bookish youth, his (kinda boring) love for rocker Julian Cope's obscure Krautrocksampler and his unashamed lifelong affection for the late Douglas Adams. Miller also joined an insufferably egalitarian book club, which reminded him that books really are best enjoyed alone ("…[I]f all opinions carry equal weight and everyone is entitled to a wrong opinion, what is the use of being right? The best that one can hope for is a happy medium"). Funny and engaging throughout and, for all the author's self-deprecation, perfectly erudite.