At the start of this year I decided my goal would be to read the books I already own and to rein back on new acquisitions. I’t’s not a book ban by any stretch of the imagination – I know that would be impossible for me since the minute I declared such a ban I’d be itching to get to the bookshop. It’s more of a restraint on buying/acquiring. And I’ve astonished myself by just how restrained I’ve been. Until this week that is. Four new books have mysteriously made their way into my home. I can’t imagine how they got there – perhaps the book fairies placed them there when I was asleep??
These are the four new acquisitions which are now in the pile I categorise as “waiting for a space in the shelves”.
Our nearest Tesco supermarket recently introduced a book donation shelf so of course I had to take a peek when I was in the store. Mostly the donated items were the usual crime fiction/romance/thriller titles but oh joy, there was a Virago Modern Classic in amongst them. I’d never heard of Maura Laverty but for the price of a donation to charity it was mine. I’ve since discovered she was an Irish author writing in in the early 1940s but whose first four novels (of which Never No More is the first) were banned in Ireland until the 1960s.
Flush with this success I called in at a second hand bookshop in Cardiff with a mind to buy some of the Virago Modern Classics I’d seen on my last visit. There wasn’t much of interest this time around though. But in browsing the shelves my eye was drawn to the familiar grey colour of one spine; sure enough this was a Persephone edition in excellent condition. I’ve never come across a Persephone in any second hand store before now so of course I had to have it, even more so because it was by Dorothy Whipple, an author who comes highly recommended by Ali at HeavenAli but whom I’ve never read. They Knew Mr Knight, Whipple’s second novel, is the story of a family who encounter and fall foul of a crooked financier.
After that moment of excitement I just had to celebrate with a visit to a coffee shop that just happens to be a bookcrossing zone.And they just happened to have Lewis Man by Peter May, an author I’ve heard about via Cleopatra at Cleopatralovesbooks. I took it home in the belief this was the first title in his crime fiction trilogy set on the remote Isle of Lewis in Scotland that features a former policeman who has returned to the island of his birth. Turns out I was wrong and The Lewis Man is book number 2. So now I have to hope the library can furnish me with book number 1 The Blackhouse.
And finally, a few years ago I read Alex by Pierre LeMaitre which was a fast-paced, superbly written novel about a girl’s abduction. The beginning was so horrifying that I didn’t think I could continue reading but I did and it turned out to be a riveting story about revenge. So taken was I with LeMaitre that I planned to read more from him so when his publishers ran a giveaway recently of course I could not resist. Which is how I come to be the new owner of his latest novel Three Days and Life which will be published in July. It begins in 1999, in a small provincial town of Beauval, France, where a twelve-year-old boy called Antoine Courtin accidentally kills a young neighbor girl in the woods near his home. He conceals the body and to his relief- is never suspected of any connection to her disappearance. More than a decade later Antoine, now a doctor, moves back to Beauval and discovers there was a witness to his crime, a person who has the power to destroy his life. Based on what I experienced with Alex, I’m sure this is going to be a dramatic psychological thriller.
And now I have to pull in those reins again otherwise all the progress I’ve made on reading through my personal library will be undone.
Some readers love them. Others don’t think they count as ‘real reading’. But it seems the British public are falling in love with the idea of listening to words rather than reading them. According to the Publishers Association, sales of audio books in the UK have doubled in the last five years. It’s a remarkable turnaround from 2010 when publishers were fearing the days of the audio recording were numbered. From sales of £4M then, last year saw the figure jump to £10M.
The boom has been attributed to two factors: one is the ease with which users can now get hold of a recording. Gone are the days when you had to find a shop selling cassettes and later CDs, and then carry a dedicated player around with you whose battery life was sure to fail just at the exciting point in the book. .Now, just like music, they are easily downloaded onto phones and tablets, and carried everywhere from trains to planes, from the park to the beach. Well just about anywhere really.
The second factor the publishers claimed to be responsible for the upswing is that famous names from stage and screen are now regularly turning their skills to narration. In recent years we’ve had Nicole Kidman reading To the Lighthouse, Kate Winslet narrating Therese Raquin and Colin Firth relating Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair. Then, just last month Reese Witherspoon was named as the voice for the audio version of Harper Lee’s new novel Go Set a Watchman.
I’ve been an audio book fan for decades. It started when a change of job meant I had a 45 minute commute to work and desperately wanted something as relief from political and world news. Fortunately during the times when Parliament wasn’t in session, the BBC would offer a book of the week. Otherwise my options were limited because it was expensive buying the cassette recordings myself and if I tried borrowing them from other people, the tape had a tendency to get snarled up in the machine. The advent of the CD was a great relief especially when public libraries began offering them for loan at a very low price. Even more joy came when I bought my first iPod and learned how to record from the CD so I could listen when pounding the treadmill in the gym.
I’ve learned a few things over the years.
One is that the choice of narrator is critical. I don’t care if they are famous – what matters most is whether by their voice they can hook me into the story and make me believe in the character they are inhabiting. Martin Jarvis is one of the best I’ve come across but I also love Juliet Stevenson’s voice. Some recordings I have abandoned simply because the narrator’s voice has grated on me so much I simply couldn’t bear to continue.
Secondly, It’s hard to define the perfect recipe but some books work better than others in certain circumstances. If I’m driving and listening then I need a book with a good story but one that is not too complicated because I need to also pay attention to the road. If it has too many characters or involves a lot of introspective thinking by the main character, then it will demand more attention that I can safely give.
Crime fiction works well which is a surprise because that’s not a genre I read widely in printed format. I’ve exhausted the library collections of Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine, Ian Rankin, Agatha Christie and the Crowner John series featuring a coroner in fourteenth century England written by a former Home Office pathologist Bernard Knight. I’m now working my way through Peter James.
Some classics also work well. I enjoyed Dombey and Son and The Old Curiosity Shop in audio version (i alternated reading the book with listening which seemed to work really well) but couldn’t get into Barnaby Rudge and failed, again with a Tale of Two Cities.
I’m going to run out of options soon so if you have some recommendations do let me know. The Daily Telegraph published a list of their top 20 audio books yesterday – I’ve not read any of these. Have you listened to any of them?