I didn’t travel very much, even before lockdown, and I’m a bit uncomfortable about that, especially since there is an international airport just up the road. But I like to think that I still travel extensively in my mind, in thinking and in the reflections which reading enables. But do I fool myself? Well, as always now there is CCTV evidence; the movements of my reading can be tracked. For the past eight years, I have posted reviews of books onto this blog - not all the books I read, maybe a third of them. So do those books provide evidence of extensive mental travelling or not?
As of this morning, there are about 280 posts on the blog of which some are essays or comment. I classify 240 posts as book reviews. Four are reviews of books read in another language (French - Duras, Houellebecq, Kundera, Geblesco) which hardly counts as serious surveillance of what they are up to on the other side of the leylandii. Still, I can also point to twenty four books translated into English but it seems only one of those from a non-European language, Japanese: Sayaka Murata’s Convenience Store Woman, which I enjoyed. Everything else - almost ninety percent - was written in English, though many by American writers and some by European academics writing in English. True, English is a world language - but so is Spanish.
Of the 240 books reviewed, 170 were written by men and 70 by women. Take out the extensive non-fiction and consider only the novels and autobiographies, then the balance changes to 50 men and 40 women. The only mitigation I can find is that the one review of Elena Ferrante deals with all four Neapolitan novels and a scurrilous review of Jane Austen tackles five with the agreeable result that if separately counted the ratio for novels would improve to 50:47 which ain’t bad as things go. You can always do things with statistics.
But overall first impressions do not strike me as the kind of wide-awake travelling I had fondly imagined. But perhaps I do myself an injustice? The reviews are never plot summaries; I only review a book if I find that I have something to say about it. Often enough, I draw on a back catalogue. I looked at my review of Murata and found that I pulled out Charlie Chaplin and Gregor Samsa to make sense of her first person narrator, Keiko. But that also shows that I didn’t have any Japanese points of comparison and I still don’t.
I don’t currently read books about Brexit or Donald Trump or the Royal Family. I have reduced my Bloomsbury biography footprint to zero The authors don’t need my encouragement..