Thursday, 5 March 2009

Eclectic Thoughts on World Book Day

When I set out at the start of the year to conscientiously track my reading in blog form I anticipated focusing completely on reviews. After all, so many MBA types will assure you that the key to success in any publishing venture is to concentrate on doing one thing well, and maintaining a coherent identity that will help build a brand. That said, and for reasons that will be clear below, a review is not as imminent as it might be, and a blog that isn't regularly posted to can give the impression that it's somewhat unloved.

Prompting this was Radio 4's "Today" programme, which carried a segment this morning on books that people claim falsely to have read, all connected with it being World Book Day. Perhaps predictably "1984", "War and Peace", and "Ulysses" came out as winners. Initially I thought, Eureka!, that's something I should do, then figured it wouldn't really be all that exciting, as since my undergraduate days, I haven't really been in the business of making up my reading history, and a confession that in the early 1990s I was slightly underhand in claiming to have read such deathless tomes as Trevor Salmon's "Unneutral Ireland" or Nigel Rodley's "To Loose the Bands of Wickedness" shouldn't really get anyone too agitated.

So, what should one muse on for World Book Day?

Recently my reading for pleasure has all been about crime fiction. While this has been a consistent companion for the last 10 years or so, and there's always going to be such a book in my general vicinity, I do seem to go through phases of over indulging on it as a genre, and then taking a break. I suspect I may be on the cusp of such a break now. For the past 10 days or so I've been keeping Donna Leon's "A Sea of Troubles" on the go, and to be honest, not really getting engaged by it. I don't think it's necessarily any fault of the book itself, which on the surface should tick all the necessary boxes, but rather just a case that I probably need to read something different in pace, style, and tone.

My struggles with Leon's Venice here made me think somewhat about the notion of location in books. Perhaps coincidentally the last time I felt quite so jaded by a particular work was again in an Italian setting, this time with Michael Dibdin's "A Long Finish" (purchased, a touch rashly from a very overpriced stand at a Hatfield House book fair). This is interesting, because as countries go, I am exceptionally fond of Italy. I've been lucky enough to spend quite a bit of time there, and get to know some of the idiosyncrasies of the country and its people, and in that vein Italian crime fiction should really work, however perhaps it's down to my familiarity that I'm a more critical eye. Scandinavia I haven't really been to since childhood, but fiction set there has no problem keeping my attention and allowing me to immerse myself in it. Stuart MacBride and Ian Rankin talk about East Coast Scotland in a way that is very familiar to me; and as I hinted at in a previous post, although I've never been to Texas (apologies for sounding like a country and western lyric) and I'm pretty sure I wouldn't enjoy it all that much, Mark Gimenez almost makes it appealing.

So - from this a question. Is it better to read about places that you are familiar with or the more alien? I know I get a particular thrill when a place where I've lived or worked gets culturally name checked, especially when it goes to the micro detail that almost allows you to pinpoint a particular location, but does this make the wider reading experience more or less enjoyable? Not something I have a ready answer for, but perhaps an apposite thought for National Book Day.

I suspect my next review posting will be on something other than a crime novel - although obviously, this doesn not constitute anything resembling a guarantee.


  1. I have to admit that I enjoy both familiar territory and places I've never visited. Recently, M R Hall's The Coroner took me into my own stomping grounds for the last few years and he covered them well. I am probably one the few Brits who has never been to Spain. Reading Robert Wilson's Falcon quartet makes me want to go there some time in the future. By the way, I'll forward The Ignorance of Blood on to you next week. I loved it.

    I know what you mean about taking a break from crime. I have my moments too. I am currently reading a comedy.

  2. Is it better to read about places that you are familiar with or the more alien?

    While I like reading about familiar places, but also foreign places, I sometimes experience that settings which are too remote or exotic put me off a book because I am unable to judge if the description of it is good. I hope that makes sense.