I learnt to read as a young boy sitting on my Grandpa’s lap as he read the Daily Telegraph’s sports pages out loud to me. My parents took The Guardian perhaps as a balance to both sets of grandparents reading The Daily Telegraph and the end result of having newspapers in every family home that I lived in or visited was that I could read by the time I started school and my passion for books and reading has never really left me.
The first things I can remember reading were I guess the usual things for a child of the seventies – Ant and Bee, Topsy and Tim and a wide selection of Ladybird books covering subjects such as Captain Cook right through to a 50 page explanation of how a computer works which apparently is a very valuable book these days.
Early on in my childhood I discovered Roald Dahl and he became a large part of my reading life but it wasn’t the usual Dahl books that I really loved, not for me Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, or Fantastic Mr Fox. No, the one that hooked me and intrigues me to this day is Danny the Champion of the World.
For me it’s unlike any other Dahl children’s book, it doesn’t have the signature comedic darkness that he is known and loved for, this one is dark in a realistic style and there are there are proper consequences to foolish or bad actions. There is a sense of sadness throughout the book that doesn’t really happen in his other works with the possible exception of my other favourite Dahl work, The Witches. From recollection the book doesn’t even really have a overly happy ending, just a resolution and the feeling that things will be okay but they won’t really get any better than this – there’s no chocolate factory to be had by Danny or his father.
These days I read a lot, I need to read and my day doesn’t feel right if I haven’t read, even if it’s just one chapter of my book on the go. I like literary fiction, a bit of modern history and books about music but what I really love is a good crime thriller. I’ll be frank, sometimes there are times when I’ll read a rubbish one too just to get my fix of sadistic murders in various locations around the world – America, England, lots of Scottish crime writers seem to be on my Kindle and then of course there is the monster that is Scandinavian crime fiction but last week something really big happened to me and my reading.
I was reading the first book by Icelandic writer Yrsa Sigurdardottir called Last Rituals and it had been on my ‘to read’ list for a while and I thought that the time had come to make a start on it. I’d read good reviews online about the book and the Goodreads feedback was okay and for goodness sake it was a Scandinavian writer so obviously it was going to be great, she is “the next Stieg Larrson”, “as good as Jo Nesbo” and it had a great arty cover promising sacrificial murder, mysterious Icelandic magic and sex – it couldn’t fail!!!
Well to be honest I hated it. I struggled to care about anything in the book, the storyline, the characters the relationships between the characters were all generic, boring, interchangeable and frankly dull. There was no humour, I basically came to dread picking the thing up and carrying on so I did the thing that I very rarely do with a book – I gave up reading the thing.
I didn’t take this decision lightly, I weighed up on the options, did I need to know “whodunit”? Would my life always have that nagging doubt in it without knowing? What if the book got picked up as a TV series by Icelandic state television and then got shown on BBC 4 on a Saturday night and became the next big thing and I felt obliged to go along with the praise even letting friends and colleagues know that “Well of course I read her stuff a couple of years ago”? Could I cope with this? I even discussed the potential dumping of the book and the ramifications of doing this with my wife:
Her: “You’re not enjoying it?”
Her: “Well read something else, it doesn’t matter.”
So I did, I stopped reading it and picked up a book by Adrian McKinty called Dead I May Well Be which had me laughing and caring about the characters straight away. I’m thinking about that book right now as I type this. Last night I was up late reading to the end of a chapter and then had to carry on until the end of the next one too as I literally could not sleep until I knew what was going to happen to the narrator of the story in that particular section of the story. How he was going to get out of the situation that he was in? What was he going to do if what he was planning came off? When things happened to him and his friends I got so excited, I read too quickly and had to go back and re-read sections just to make sure that I’d got all the information on the page into my head and when I reached the end of that extra chapter I still wanted to carry on reading but I needed sleep and so fell asleep thinking about what I’d just read and how the book was going to develop when I carried on reading it during my lunch hour the next day.
That’s what a good book does for me, it consumes me, enters my waking hours, makes me sit on a chair or lie in bed for hours until I’ve finished it and makes me forget everything else that’s going on in the my life.
That’s why I love reading.