Every Saturday my wife volunteers at a charity bookshop assisting in a variety of tasks. I get to spend time there, often helping with the lifting and carrying of heavy boxes as well as researching the value of the more interesting books that come in. I also get the opportunity to buy my favourite books at very reasonable prices. These I return after reading, in some way contributing to recycling as well.
Over the last few months, I have put together my holiday reading list and I am waiting for the lull before Christmas to indulge in a few good books. I tend to mix fiction and non-fiction, often reading up to three books at a time. This allows me a good insight into the cultural processes of society over generations. Whilst I never studied history, I am fascinated by certain periods and my bookshelf will always contain a few history books. It has been a hard year which has taken its toll on us and reading allows us to disconnect from the daily stress and recharge and release tension. Reducing stress reduces cortisol (the stress hormone) which in turn allows us to avoid its negative effects on our health.
Reading a book is also the ideal way to relax at night and get a good nights’ sleep, whilst television can interfere with melatonin production making it difficult to get a good rest. Health practitioners advocate reading for at least half an hour at night to release tension and relax muscles which leads to a night of deep sleep.
I favour certain writers of crime fiction who sadly only publish a new book every 18 or so months, so it’s always a treat to find one that you have not read on the shelves. Thrillers are immersive experiences to me. I love the characters and plots, dialogue, and detail, especially as some of the characters feature in most of the books.
I also find that reading is a good mental exercise as you do need to concentrate. This, in turn, stimulates you and aids memory and cognitive processes. Reading is the ideal holiday companion, wonderful for relaxation and ideal to regenerate and stimulate you to return to work energised and ready for the challenges of 2021.
So, without further ado, let’s look at my list. They are already set out, but I will not touch them until the 16th of December. With regard to crime and thrillers I have a fondness for prose and a plot, as well as good dialogue and real characters. In this genre, I enjoy Michael Connelly, Robert Crais, John Connolly and James Lee Burke – all of whom have specific characters that they have immortalised over the years. What I love is how they all keep the characters alive from book to book, as well as the detail and the edgy way in which they keep scenes alive. Reading them is an experience that allows you to feel that you are part of the action.
For December I have picked up a copy of “Crusader’s Cross” by James Lee Burke – a fantastic American author. Most of the books follow the life of Dave Robicheaux, a Vietnam vet and ex LAPD Detective with a sad history of alcoholism, yet a decorated soldier and officer. Burke manages to write in a style that allows you to smell the sea and the deep south where his characters come to life. We find ourselves in Louisiana, where Dave moves between haunting memories of the past, in terms of hard memories of his youth. Add in a vague confession from a dying criminal and a murder and you have the ingredients for a great read. It is touted as a brilliant yet brooding thriller that I cannot wait to get into it. Sadly, I have set the 16th of December as the day that I can start – I will be patient.
Then I am betwixt and between my other reads. History is a firm favourite as is photography. Not sure where this will go and given the time, I may add in a second thriller. This could be a Michael Connelly I recently picked up. I enjoy his detective Harry Bosch; in “The Night Fire” he pairs Bosch with Renee Ballard – a detective who works the graveyard shift ( late night shift ).
A non-fiction read is one of the most famous true stories from the last war which details the escapades of a group of men in a German prisoner of war camp “Dulag Luft”. They worked together to stage a prison break-out. The book “The Great Escape” by Paul Brickhill was immortalised in the movie of the same name which set Steve McQueen on the road to stardom. Although the book is non-fiction it is written in an enjoyable adventure style.
Then we get to the two books that I simply read over and over. One is a publication done in conjunction with the Imperial War Museum and details the history of the First World War in 100 objects. The book takes you back to 1914 through to 1918 and tells the story of the war through items, developments and themes. It is a total picture of the war with numerous photographs and well-written text. It also exposes the visceral rawness of the bloody conflict. The 100 objects illustrate this well.
The next book is about the Boer War and was published in conjunction with the War Museum of the Boer Republics in Bloemfontein. The book is richly illustrated with good photographs and details the conflict from the beginning of the war through to the end. It maps key battles and shows the equipment and weapons used by both sides, as well as uniforms, clothing and personal items. It is an easy read, the type of book one can put down and leave for a few days.
On a lighter feel-good note, I have included “A Street Cat Named Bob” by James Bowen which promises to be an entertaining read. In it he details the relationship he had after rescuing an injured ginger street cat. The blurb describes a diverse and comic relationship which went on to transform both of their lives. To quote the London Evening Standard “Bob has entranced London like no other feline since Dick Whittington”.
I have a variety of photography books covering landscapes, wildlife and fine art photography. These allow you to focus (pun intended) on the style and composition of many of the world’s best photographers. My choice for the festive season is “20th Century Photography”, a Taschen publication. With over 750 pages, one can spend hours admiring the pictures. During the day I often read in the shade in my back garden. More often than not, lying on a blanket with the pillows from the garden furniture propped behind me against a rock ledge. My dog and cat generally join me, and we are at peace. Reading is a pleasure!