Review: So Many Books, So Little Time: A Year of Passionate Reading by Sara Nelson

Do you ever wonder if maybe you’ve been reading a completely different book to everybody else? Like, maybe somehow in the publishing house, somebody messed up and the wrong pages were inserted into the cover and so the book you’re reading isn’t actually the amazing book that everybody’s raving about. I’m pretty sure that happened here – I’ve heard such wonderful reviews about So Many Books, So Little Time: A Year of Passionate Reading, but when it came to read it, I didn’t feel disappointed so much as an over-whelming urge to throttle the author. I usually try not to completely slate a book – but this one actually managed to offend me.
Sometimes subtle, sometimes striking, the interplay between our lives and our books is the subject of this unique memoir by well-known publishing correspondent and self-described “readaholic” Sara Nelson. The project began as an experiment with a simple plan – fifty-two weeks, fifty-two books – that fell apart in the first week. It was then that Sara realised the books chose her as much as she chose them, and the rewards and frustrations they brought were nothing she could plan for.
Subtle? No. Striking? Yes, but only because I wanted to strike her with a mallet. I’m going to try and be as unbiased as I can, as it was Sara Nelson and her opinions I disliked more than the book. If you actually enjoyed this book, feel free to cover your ears and run.
My main point is that it takes the woman right up to page 33 to say that she actually likes reading. You might say that it’s implied because she has, after all, cobbled together a book on the subject. But she seems to be one of those people who reads because ‘it’s the thing to do’ and feels to make a massive issue of it and wants everybody to know that “HEY LOOK PEOPLE! I’M READING!”
‘People notice what you read and judge you by it. Which is why if I were going to read Danielle Steel, Iwouldn’t do it at the office. But Nine Parts of Desire speaks to anyone who might be listening: I’m smart, it says. I’m concerned with current events, it announces. I am a serious person. 
Umm… what? This woman has to be the snobbiest reader I’ve ever seen. She always has two books on the go so that she can read one she actually enjoys at home, and a smarter, more serious book on the train or at work. Why on earth would you do that? For God’s sake, read what you want to, not to show off. She constantly mentions that what you read says a lot about the person you are. I can see her point, sometimes it can, but she’s definitely overly concerned with it.
I think the point when I really wanted to throw the book across the room was when she discussed the lending out of books to people who don’t go on to enjoy themas much as she did. The solution? Get some new friends – they’re obviously just not as clever as you. This irritated me so much that I had to read it aloud to my mother (who, by the way, was reading the same book she’d been reading on the train – even though she was at home!)
An occasional disagreement over a book’s merit should not be a big deal to normal people, but the people I love – and the person I am – are not normal: we’re book people. To us disagreeing about something we’ve read is as shocking and disruptive as, say, deciding that we hate each other’s husbands. I should let it go, or reconsider my feelings about the book in question.But I end up reconsidering my friendship instead.
The Boy informs me all the time that I’m a book snob, and yes, I can be sometimes. But I do subscribe to the concept that whatever you’re reading is good for you – Twilight, Mills and Boon, Katie Price’s autobiography… it doesn’t matter. And I’m certainly not going to cut of all ties with somebody who doesn’t enjoy a book I lent them. What’s wrong with this woman!?
But yeah, all that’s annoying, but not life-changing. The one part that actually managed to offend me (and it’s not easy – I work in retail) was this –
It seems to me that rereading – or claiming to reread – is just another way for some people to trumpet their intellectual superiority. To wit: have you ever known someone to say they’re ‘rereading’ the oeuvre of, say, Jackie Collins?
Uhh, yes, actually. And Twilight. Terry Pratchett’s books, and Agatha Christie’s. Harry Potter. The Secret Dreamworld of a Shopaholic. I’ve read all of those numerous times and shockingly, I’m not trying to make a statement about my ‘intellectual superiority.’ Crazy idea and all, but some people aren’t using books to try and seem clever. Not only does it imply that everybody who rereads has an ulterior motive, it slates books like Jackie Collins’ as not worth reading – or rereading, at the very least. Get off your high horse, lady.
It’s not really all that about books, not that that’s always a bad thing. I mean, I understand that it’s about Ms. Nelson’s reading in relation to her life, but it bored me a little. I mean, two chapters about how she’s scared of baseball bats and her husband doesn’t want to play baseball with their son? Be quiet please. It’s also padded out with letters to authors (two chapters to the same one) I’ve never heard of and Oscar nominations – maybe she didn’t read enough books that made her seem intellectual enough to actually mention.
I’m living out your fantasy: I’m getting paid to read, I have (or have access to) all the books in the world and I have the time to read them.
To be fair to her, the type of books she reads just aren’t very similar to my own. She likes contemporary fiction, memoirs of cross-cultural marriages, etc. and that’s not really my thing. So it’s possible that lessened my interest in the book itself. I did enjoy the appendixes at the back, where she lists the books she meant to read, the books she actually managed to finish and then the books she still means to read.
Believe it or not, I’ve edited this twice and toned down the bite a little, but I know it’s still a little snide. I’ve tried not to be, but Ms Nelson really irritated me. I’d recommend Ann Fadiman’s Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader instead. It’s a similar collection of essay’s, but you can tell Ms Fadiman genuinely enjoys books for their own value.

LATER: I’ve just popped back to add a redeeming feature for Ms. Nelson. I was reading other reviews and one blogger mentions that she e-mailed the author to tell her how much she enjoyed her book and received a prompt and friendly response in return. I love it when authors try and appreciate their readers.


  1. Bex says:

    Wow this sounds like it was an annoying book 😛 I really don't understand people who have different books for work and home. Admittedly I am currently reading two books,one of which I only read at home, but that's because I borrowed it from someone and don't want to scuff up someone else's book shoving it in my bag. Why why why would you think about what you read in any other way except whether it's what you want to read or not?? Yes, I do like books that make me feel like i've used my brain when I finish them, but equally I love Twilight, Harry Potter, and books such as the Shopaholic series. They're not intellectual, but they're really fun and what's wrong with that? Also, if everyone only liked the books you like, there'd be no debate and nobody to argue about books with, and that would epically suck!
    I now want to read this, just to see if it annoys me as much as it annoyed you! 😛

    Oh and by the way, Good Omens is brilliant so far!

  2. Hanna says:

    Yeah, I was going to send you it anyway actually. I thought you'd read it, I don't know why. But I've had nine requests for it on ReaditSwapit, all by people who seem to read the same type of books she does (apart from you! 🙂 ) and I CANNOT be bothered wading through any more, so I can send you it on Wednesday if you want? I'm dying to know what you think of it…

    There's nothing wrong at all with reading books that make you feel intelligent – it's reading books that make you LOOK intelligent that's silly. It kind of defeats the purpose of reading for me.

    The other thing is, more people have read Harry Potter/Twilight/Whatever than A Highly Intellectual Account of Things That Are Much Cleverer Than You. I love it when someone on the train comments on what I'm reading because they've read it too – and the more common the book is, the more likely it is to happen.

  3. I can't believe what she said about rereading. How can she *not* understand that if a particular book gives you pleasure, you'd want to go back into it again and again! I reread the Harry Potter books, childhood favourites like Anne of Green Gables and the Chronicles of Narnia about every couple of years, and am more likely to reread light novels like Discworld, funnily enough, because I *enjoy* them. Seems the lady hasn't quite got the point after all…

  4. Bex says:

    Ah yay thanks! That would be great 🙂 I also love it when people comment on stuff. One of the things I love most about reading is how you can have mad conversations with people you don't know about books 🙂 it's great.

  5. Hanna says:

    @Bex – I'm notorious for starting conversations with random people in Waterstones/ It makes Lewis cringe and he sidles off, but I can't help it! Last week this girl couldn't decide whether to get the Hunger Games or not, so naturally I HAD to butt in…

    @Katie – That's just it – she DOESN'T understand! It's why I wanted to beat her with the damn book until she did! She just doesn't seem to read books for pleasure, so doesn't get why you'd want to reread.

    I reread the Discworld books all the time. They're what I read when I can't be bothered reading, if that makes any sense…

  6. Hannah says:

    Haha. You really, really tried hard to find something nice to say here, didn't you? :p

  7. Bex says:

    Of course you had to! I had a big rant with a woman (also in Waterstones) about what on earth publishers think they're doing changing the covers of the Series of Unfortunate Events books the other day 😛 and the Discworld are brilliant for when you don't feel like reading… I actually actively collect them,despite having read them all. There's something about Pratchett – I MUST OWN ALL HIS BOOKS! Lol they're good for when you're ill, too. I always read them when i'm recovering from a bug..

  8. Hanna says:

    @Hannah – and I like to believe that the fact that I managed to do so is testament to my charm, eloquence and general good nature :p

  9. Hanna says:

    @Bex – They've changed the covers? Oh for God's sake… I had enough of a rant when I saw the new Harry Potter ones. I like the old SoUE covers, the multi-coloured hardback ones.

    I'm the same! My Mum has had all of them ever since I can remember, but I'm in the process of collecting them myself even though I can practically recite them by now.

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