5th May 2022 Wondering what to write about this week! I’ve told you about my favourite things in music and movies but I don’t think I’ve covered books, so far. Which is strange, considering I’m now a ‘published author’. You would think that books would be high on my list of blog topics, but I guess not. Maybe it’s that as an author I want just to talk about MY books – but that would be incredibly boring week after week!
Having said that, books are possibly my most favourite things in the world. I could imagine living without TV, maybe even music at a stretch and I’ve more or less given up wine already – but I could not imagine what life would be like with nothing to read. For me, it would be Hell on earth. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been able to read, and enjoyed wholeheartedly getting lost in the stories I’ve read. I wouldn’t say I’m very ‘well read’ if that term means being familiar with all of the classics. I’ve read quite a lot of Shakespeare, a few Dickens, and the Brontes, but have yet to immerse myself in ‘The Iliad’, or ‘The Mill on The Floss’. Shameful to admit, but I have yet to read ‘Catcher in the Rye’, or ‘Of Mice and Men’! I struggled with ‘Ulysses’, loved ‘Anna Karenina’ and got desperately depressed reading ‘Crime and Punishment’. I did read ‘War and Peace’ many years ago, but sad to say I don’t really remember a thing about it! But, when it comes to diverse subjects and authors, I think my reading habits stand me in pretty good stead. Sure, there are genres that I avoid; I don’t much like horror, supernatural, or chick-lit – Having said that, I’ve read several books by Dean Koontz, which I have found excellent, but I’m definitely not a Stephen King fan, even if he is supposed to be the best novelist in the world. I have been known to delve occasionally; if a book is recommended by someone I trust, I’ll give it a whirl. But I’m like that about pretty much everything. I try not to say I don’t like something until I’ve tried it, and that applies to all aspects of my life, not just reading.
I started out the same way most of us do – the ‘Janet and John’ books we used to get in primary school for example. Like many of my age-group – of course they’re terribly un-PC nowadays – but I loved Enid Blyton, starting with ‘Noddy‘ and attaining the heady heights of ‘Secret Seven’, ‘Famous Five‘, and of course the ‘Adventure’ series: ‘Island of Adventure’, ‘Castle of Adventure‘ etc. To my delight, I’ve just discovered ‘Enid Blyton for Grown Ups’, a series of books I’ve just downloaded to my Kindle. I assume these will be a humorous take on her writings, but with titles like ‘Five get Beach Body Ready’ and ‘Five on Brexit Island’ I just couldn’t resist. I’m assuming they’re going to be something along the lines of Gill Sims’ ‘Mummy’ books – ‘Why Mummy Swears’, Why Mummy Drinks’ and ‘Why Mummy Doesn’t Give A ****’ – you get the gist! I’ll let you know more about the Enid Blyton’s when I’ve read them. I do like humour in writing – I thoroughly enjoyed ‘Up the Wall!’ by Audrey McNaughton, one of my Write That Book colleagues; and in last week’s blog I mentioned Maureen Lipman and Clive James as favourites for a good uplifting dose of literary humour.
Growing up, I was always to be found with my nose buried in a book and that did not decrease with age. At 16 I discovered the historical sagas of Susan Howatch – ‘Penmarric’ and ‘Cashelmara’, and I was hooked. I’m still a fan today. My dad was a devotee of the Sport of Kings – horseracing. Our family holidays were always destinations that had a race track. We spent numerous holidays in York, Cheltenham and Doncaster. His reading tastes were quite light, I suppose; he liked Dick Francis novels which always involved something about horseracing. When I’d finished reading all of my books, I started on Dad’s Dick Francis collection – every one a rollicking good adventure. And they were educational too. The books were always very well researched; our heroes were not always jockeys, but were politicians, bankers, photographers, artists and even a glassblower! I remember going on holiday to Cyprus with my 2nd husband one year and I read one Dick Francis book every day for the whole fortnight! He remains a favourite too – I know I’m going to enjoy it and while it might not be intellectually challenging, they are well written in my opinion, if a little dated nowadays, so what’s not to like?
I suppose my main reading genre is historical fiction. This started with ‘The Daughter of Time’ by Josephine Tey, closely followed by ‘Legacy’ by Susan Kay, and I now have quite an extensive library of history novels by a number of writers including Sharon Kay Penman, Hilary Mantel, Philippa Gregory – and my very favourite – CJ Sansom! His ‘Matthew Shardlake’ novels are set in Tudor England and are murder mysteries. There are seven of them in total and I’ve read them all several times, they’re so good! He’s my hot tip if you like your murder medieval style!
Speaking of murder mysteries, I own the whole set of Patricia Cornwell’s ‘Scarpetta’ novels. Kay Scarpetta is a Chief Medical Examiner and I found her work very thrilling. Not that I’m very much into blood and gore, but her psychological mysteries are brilliant – at least I thought so, until she stopped writing them in the first person and switched to third person and seemed to lose something in the transition. I couldn’t seem to get quite so involved. I don’t know what changed in her life at that time; I kind of went off them a little bit then, but nonetheless a very enjoyable read!
My other main read is a good biography or autobiography. I love to read about the lives of the Hollywood movie stars – Garland, Monroe, Crawford, Davis, Sinatra, Elvis and Cary Grant et al. I find their lives fascinating – especially if there are several books by different authors who give different perspectives. I’d love to write the definitive biography – but all the people who interest me have all been covered so it’s not likely to happen.
And I really don’t mind whether they are physical books or downloaded to Kindle! Of course, I love the feel, smell and look of real books – there’s nothing quite like it, especially if it’s your own book! Michael Heppell, the Write That Book guru, says it’s an incredibly emotional feeling and he’s absolutely right! But Kindle (there are other e-readers available) is just so convenient! I have two Kindles – one is a fairly recent purchase, a 10” Kindle Fire tablet; great for streaming movies as well as books, etc. However, I still mostly use my first Kindle – the old type with a keyboard that does nothing but store books. It was a Christmas gift from Glyn about 100 years ago, but I love it not only for that. On this Kindle I can sort my books into a personal library, so I have collections in certain genres such as Historical Fiction, Classics, Modern Fiction, Poetry etc and also where necessary collections by each author – most of whom I’ve named above. So it’s easy trying to find something interesting to read, whereas on the new device it’s a case of scrolling through all the books to find what I’m looking for. Amazon – please take note! On future developments, please can you bring back the library facility!
I currently have an estimated 2000 physical books distributed on the many shelves and bookcases in my flat. These were mostly inherited from Glyn, who as a writer for 60 years, had an extensive collection. I also have around 1500 books on my Kindle so I have a lot of reading to do before I’m through!
I’d love to hear about your favourite books and authors – maybe you can suggest some that I haven’t yet come across! Do let me know your opinions in the box below!
Till next week