Book (series) I have known and loved

Manda challenged me on facebook…

“Book Challenge thingy. List your 10 favourite books, that have stayed with you. Don’t be shy, share truly and don’t try too hard, reading is entertainment not a credibility challenge.”

Before I knew it I had churned out 1500 words, so it seemed wise to put the words on here too for posterity.

I seem to be less able than others I know to remember things that have happened more than five years ago, and with that goes a lot of detail of what I have read. I quite often find myself in the situation of reading a book and being able to predict where it’s going – but only a few pages before it has happened. I put this down to having read it before and forgotten rather than any power of prediction.

The main thing I read is detective fiction and I almost always look out for a series by the same author that I can get my teeth into and gallop through. So lots of what I list below will be series rather than individual books. I read so fast I must miss some of the detail.
That said, lately reading for pleasure has not been much of a part of my life. It’s a holiday activity rather than work day one, and somehow this year I have managed to pass almost all of my six week holiday without finishing a single book.

Anyway, the list.

Enid Blyton – The Famous Five. Gosh, what a ghastly start. But this was my introduction to crime novels and independent reading when I took a book off my mother, who was unable to read it aloud without sniggering, and started to read it by myself. We had loads and loads at home and so I read them.

Arthur Ransome – Swallows and Amazons and the subsequent series. This also took up many many summer holidays of my childhood, and built up a relationship with my local libraries as I put in cards to request the subsequent books in the series. Somehow the awesome books never led to me visiting the Lake District or getting interested in sailing but I was happy to read about others doing same. IF NOT DUFFERS, WON’T DROWN.

Agatha Christie – Poirot books. After a while – by about 11 – I had read pretty much everything in the young adult section of the library (even the Judy Blume, here’s looking at you, ‘Ralph’) and we began to talk to the staff about me borrowing adult books. The staff agreed with my parents to keep an eye out and steer me away from anything desperately inappropriate, but it was Agatha Christie I read the most, starting with garishly illustrated ones on my parents’ shelves, branching out through the library and eventually getting a bit organised in a quest to request and read all of them in my teenage years.

Paul Magrs – Marked for Life. I got a job during my sixth form years as an assistant at Ludlow Library where I did Saturday shelving. As part of that I was once allowed to help choose the new books they bought. There were a stack of cards from publishers, each one with title, author and a short description of the book. Staff got to go through the cards and leave a tick on the ones they thought library should buy. I made them get this one because it’s a story with a gay affair at the heart of it, and as a staff member I could check it out to myself without anyone else having to see. The literary equivalent of sneaking downstairs in the middle of the night to watch “Beautiful Laundrette.” Magrs was a graduate of an MA Creative Writing course so it’s pretty weird book, heavily influenced by magical realism (one of the characters becomes invisible at one point). This was his first novel, and he’s written plenty since, and is also a very influential author in the Dr Who world. Looking back on my late teens, I don’t now understood how I found time to read as much as I did. I borrowed at least 6 books from the library every fortnight and read through them very quickly. At the same time somehow I managed to get 4 amazing A-Level results too. I don’t really remember doing much studying. It was more than five years ago, I suppose.

Reginald Hill – Dalziel and Pascoe. A massive skip forward – in 2005 I allowed myself a long long holiday, taking leave from being a councillor. I spent it driving around France and camping for six weeks. Preparing for that, I bought a crate of Dalziel and Pascoe novels for next to nothing and read most of them under canvass by torchlight. NB I’ve never actually even seen the TV adaptions of these. I eventually swapped them with CH for a crate of French language Maigret novels which I regret to say I have never got very far with. On that holiday I thought the complete Reginald Hill would last me six weeks but in fact I was running out by half way. As it happened I took a holiday from my holiday halfway through to return for a good friend’s stag do, so while I was staying with AC in Geneva I borrowed her computer and bought a whole bunch more books to be posted to me in England to pick up before returning to France. Which leads me to…

Sue Grafton – Alphabet novels. I had always been a bit sniffy about these but AC had some on her shelves, so they can’t have been all bad. I flicked through, they seemed eminently readable, so I bought about 10 of them and read them then and got hooked. I’ve stayed with them as she brings out more and she is so close to completing the alphabet now. The original books were tightly plotted and very slim. Now they are getting longer and sometimes she even moves away from the first-person detective narrator, which I am not a fan of. Her detective Kinsey Millhone is brilliant.

Mary Roach – Stiff – I can’t remember who first put me onto the books of Mary Roach, but she is amazing. She is a pop science writer who takes something unpleasant and writes a book about it in gory detail with hilarious footnotes. The stories she tells are about how she learned what she writes about, and the people who are often unsung heroes. Stiff is the story of dead bodies, with a chapter on “the body farm” which Patricia Cornwell readers will know about as a research facility into decay; a chapter on crash test dummies – they use cadavers in that field too; a chapter on how dead bodies used to be powdered and turned into medicine. It doesn’t sound at all promising, but it is fascinating and very funny and all of her books (Bonk, Stiff, Gulp, Spook and Packing for Mars) are the best thing ever.

Edmund de Waal – Hare with Amber Eyes. While we are on non-fiction this is a memoir of de Waal’s family heirlooms. It’s a book divided into three – first the story of how his Jewish banker family acquired this collection of Japanese carvings, and how Jewish people got very wealthy in a bunch of different European countries in the 1800s onwards. Then there’s the story of what happened during the Anschluss in Austria and how fast and how hard they fell from grace when the Nazis sacked Jewish homes and murdered people. Finally there’s the story of how the heirlooms were recovered and how they spent their time 1945-1990 in Japan, in a story that’s just as interesting. It’s very readable – the wartime section is horrifying – but the stories before and after are just as interesting. The carvings are the thread that holds the book together but the real stories are the people who owned them.

Janet Evanovich – Stephanie Plum novels “One for the money” etc. Grafton started on a finite series A is for… Evanovich went with a rather more open ended plan, started on a novel called “One…” and carried on from there. I heard about these from a book discussion Radio 4 programme, ordered the first one, read it overnight, ordered a ton more, lent them to my friends and parents and now, as with Grafton, I read the new ones as they come out. Light and fluffy crime novels told from POV of an incompetent female bounty hunter with somewhat loose morals. Very funny, untaxing, readable in about 5 hours, excellent for airports, loads of them to get through.

So what to choose for #10? I think Terry Pratchett as another prolific writer of very funny novels. Surreal and weird, sometimes it seems whole universes are spun around a single bad pun or a deliberate misunderstanding of something. You can’t really describe Pratchett, but the beautiful covers the books all have are a fab partner for the chaotic and hilarious plots and characters.

You might also like this thing I wrote the last time I got tagged in a book meme in 2006.

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