Books, book, books

I’ve been doing a lot more recreational reading since the summer started. As someone who used to read as much as I did at school, it seems odd to me that I seem to have been reading less and less now that I have more determination over what I do with my time. I can count the number of novels I read in my first two years of university on the fingers of both hands. So I went grimly and determinedly back to my reading list this June.

The reading list should be explained. A long time ago, I determined that I would read all of the Virgin Doctor Who novels I could get my hands on in charity shops and in Cambridgeshire’s library system. There were over a hundred published and I read a good three-quarters or so of them. During this time, however, I acquired other books from relatives at Christmas and on birthdays and other books of interest appeared in my life. Furthermore, I was still buying a BBC Doctor Who novel every month I was in danger of reading Doctor Who novels to the exclusion of all else and maybe even forgetting to read some gems. So I wrote a list. On the list went ‘Virgin Doctor Who books’ as a job lot with everything else that caught my attention listed underneath as and when they came to my notice. So far, I have read about one hundred and fifty Doctor Who novels, ‘Gulliver’s Travels‘, ‘Nefer the Silent’, The Morte d’Arthur, The Historia Regnum Britanniae, all the ‘Sherlock Holmes’ stories written by Arthur Conan Doyle, most of C. S. Forester’s ‘Hornblower’ novels, and ‘The First King of Shannara’. In the meantime, the list has become ever longer. If I read at my old pace again, I can hope to be finished in about three years. Currently, I’m looking at five or so.

Mind you, the reading list isn’t my be-all and end-all. Three years ago, I bought ‘The Silver Pigs’ to read on the train between London and Swansea and back. The rest of Lindsey Davis’ ‘Falco’ books could easily have ended up on the reading list, but I just never got round to putting my pen to the paper at the time. I was in the middle of my ‘Complete Sherlock Holmes Omnibus’.

The kind of determination that has come with this reading list has had an unfortunate effect on the way I read. I used to mix and match more but nowadays I tend to complete whole series at a time. It’s easy to get sick of reading one type of book for months on end. I have taken time-outs before. Usually it’s been to read the latest ‘Harry Potter’ release or a small clutch of Doctor Who novels. I even read ‘Winnie-the-Pooh’ and ‘The House at Pooh Corner’ out of order with everything else. The breaks are nice but the reading list still looms.

Right now, I’m tied up in the middle of two series. My adventures with Horatio Hornblower were cut short by a missing volume in Birmingham’s library system. Heaven forfend that I should buy a final volume of something without having the earlier ones in the series. Given that I’m unlikely to re-read these books any time soon, I just went with getting an inter-library loan through Birmingham’s system. This left me with a little bit of a gap, so I moved on to the next item on my list: Terry Brooks’ ever-expanding ‘Shannara’ series. I once bought the prequel to the original trilogy (my reasons for this are lost in the mists of time) and so I read it ahead of the other books.

I’d forgotten how dry epic fantasy was. For some reason, two rules seem to hold true for alternative fiction. Firstly: in science fiction the central, often satirical, idea is more important than the story. Secondly: in fantasy the fantastical ideas outstrip any need for an engaging writing style or good storytelling. The most ham-fisted fantasy epic of all time is The Lord of the Rings. The ideas were great, but Tolkien was undoubtedly a writer of dry articles in English Literature journals first and foremost. His magnum opus reads like an academic text and is one of the most gruelling books I have ever read. Terry Brooks is almost as bad. His un-naturalistic dialogue jars and his sense of pacing is abominable. The stories are, however, incredible and worth putting up with his inadequacies for. That said, after reading C. S. Forester’s very early-twentieth-century prose for a month, Brooks was making me lose my taste for my reading list again. As luck would have it, I couldn’t find a decent copy of ‘The Sword of Shannara’ in the Waterstone’s on Birmingham University’s campus, leaving me to buy a new book long away from my list to read on my return journey from Cambridge last week. As I stood in the crummy W. H. Smith’s on the platform of Cambridge station, I almost bought Terry Pratchett’s ‘Going Postal’, not having read a Discworld novel in a while. Instead, something else caught my eye: ‘See Delphi and Die’, a recent book by Lindsey Davis. I love her style and the sense of fun she combines with the historical world that she makes feel very real (and she manages not to offend my sensibilities as a historian…) makes her books an eternal pleasure to read. This little enforced break has meant that I’m now looking forward to reading the final ‘Hornblower’ omnibus that’s finally turned up in Selly Oak library rather than dreading the copy of ‘The Sword of Shannara’ that I have yet to buy.

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~ by Scary Rob on 6 September, 2006.

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