Reading What Makes a Mountain Beautiful?, reminded me that my expedition diary contained an annotated list of the books I had read. The list reveals that among the books outside the light fiction category, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s First Circle got a rave review – though I remember nothing of it. Also, rated “good in patches”, was Gog by Andrew Sinclair and Bram Stoker’s Dracula was enjoyed. Aldoux Huxley’s Brave New World didn’t fare so well getting a comment of “interesting rubbish”! Payment Deferred by C S Forrester was recorded as “disappointing”.
Memories have been stirred and questions raised that I cannot answer. Why on earth had I kept one of the numerous Mickey Spillane novels? How is it that I can remember the opening lines from the first Mickey Spillane novel that I read? Best read with an American accent, it went “There was this tomatoe. What was left of her was spread around the walls of the room”. After a few more sentences, I’d worked out that tomatoe = broad = woman and also deduced that I was not about to encounter a literary masterpiece. And perhaps most puzzling – Why had the original purchaser (name withheld to avoid embarrassment) chosen to write ‘J Shade April 1971’ inside the front cover, as though this was a valuable item to be treasured?
This all led me to reflect on my subsequent reading habits. For many years I read almost nothing outside the inexhaustible supply of work-related reading material needing to be consumed. Over recent years, I’ve become an avid consumer of Scottish and Scandinavian detective fiction. Without even checking, I can tell you that what I’m currently reading for light entertainment will be some mainstream detective/thriller. Also, depending on my mood, I’m reading Richard Hoggart’s Uses of Literacy. As described here and relevant today “This influential cultural study of postwar Britain offers pertinent truths on mass communication and the interaction between ordinary people and the elites”. Whilst already familiar with the book’s message, I felt the need to read it afresh, having started reading a more recent publication, Respectable, in which the author Lynsey Hanley points out that in some areas, little seems to have changed since Hoggart’s seminal work of 60 years ago.
Best thing I’ve read? Hard to say. I can’t shake off a desire for practical rather than literary content, so The Slate Roof Bible is among my picks! Joseph Jenkins combines interesting historic and technical detail on slating practices from different countries with useful practical information for maintaining slate roofs. An engaging insight into the political scene of the Thatcher era can be gleaned from Alan Clark – Diaries, which I found as addictive as a good novel. The book that I’m most pleased to own, is the delightful Early Scottish Gardeners and their Plants by Forbes Robertson. Covering the period 1650 to 1750, this well-researched and exquisitely illustrated volume is an interesting read, with information on matters such as gardeners’ fraternities, pay and working arrangements.