SHEILA ON: ’Tis the Good Reader that Makes the Good Book’

Article published on October 6, 2016.

So said Ralph Waldo Emerson and Sheila A Grant has taken it to heart.

Forget costs and make a list of books you would put on a Christmas list. Great fun but where to start?

I confess – I am a bookaholic and no intention of taking the cure. I take notes of recommendations from friends and from review sections in the press and I buy and I devour. If I live to be a hundred I will never ‘have nothing to read’.

Browsing bookshops, attending book launches and festivals feeds my addiction. After hearing an author extol the excellence of his or her latest book I am first in the queue clutching my purchase and having it signed with a personal message and adding said author to my list of “Of course I have met him/her!” whenever they are mentioned.   The book may not even be a genre I particularly enjoy but sometimes I am inspired with an often misplaced notion of self improvement.

I have many addictions over and above purchasing books – the odd glass (or bottle) of wine, handbags, overeating chocolate – which contrast sharply with my constant good intention to get fit, get slim and attend the gym.   Willpower by Roy F. Baumester and John Tierney surely ought to be first on my list.

I visualise wandering around a bookshop with a shopping trolley, able to help myself to anything I fancied, Lord it feels good.

With my Diva hat on I have a choice of hundreds of novels of every type. It might be a good idea to go off piste and choose out of my comfort zone or should that be rut?

Having wakened to the dulcet tones of James Naughtie for years, (on the radio of course) it would be interesting to discover if his novel, Paris Spring is as enthralling as his voice. Sticking with thrillers I would never say no to any new releases from Peter May, Ian Rankin or Denise Mina. I have briefly flirted with Scandi crime and did enjoy the couple that I read so into the trolley go Peter Hoeg, Jo Nesbo and Karin Fossum.   A recent review of a book from an Icelandic author sounds like a gripping read, not her first, but Yrsa Sigurdadottir’s psychological thriller, Why Did You Lie? has received excellent reviews.

I must be one of the few not to have read the recent hits by Jojo Moyes so to keep me up to date with popular fiction I think I ought to add Me before You and After You. Not sure if they are my taste though. But as Gustave Flaubert said ‘Do not read as children do to amuse yourself, or the ambitious for the purpose of instruction. No, read in order to live’.

Not sure I totally agree with the sentiments regarding instruction when I rely so much on ‘Idiot’s Guides!

Thanks to nb for introducing me to the superb writer Jan-Philipp Sendker, only recently translated into English. The two I have not yet read, Well-tempered Heart and The Art of Hearing Heartbeats are must haves and I really fancy Jess Kidd and Himself. I am also seriously tempted by excellent reviews of Eleven Hours by Pamela Erens (definitely for women as it deals with childbirth) and The Outrun by Amy Liptrot, the latter probably because my first headmaster over 60 years ago bore the same unusual surname.   The Tidal Zone by Sarah Moss, also looks intriguing and it is always exciting to discover a hitherto unfamiliar author.   Sebastian Faulks has written a variety of books and his new one Where My Heart Used to Be is a tempting read as is The Lauras by Sarah Mylor. It sounds like a Thelma and Louise tale of a mother and daughter taking a long road trip across north America told from the teenage daughter’s point of view. Dave Eggers’ latest Heroes of the Frontier is another take on a family travelling in America so would be good to compare the two novels. Staying with the family theme I rather fancy reading The Museum of You by Carys Bray despite being originally put off by the title.

In support of local authors I cannot overlook Barbara Stevenson’s first foray into novel writing, The Organist, with the prospect of another due in 2017. Graeme Macrae Burnett is a local lad whose second novel, His Bloody Project is on this year’s short list for the Booker so it must go in and I have it signed by the author! Could be an investment – look at the first editions of the early Ian Rankins. The 2014 Booker list included Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North and I regret never having got around to that one.

Am I a frustrated traveller who considers a drive up the A9 to the Highlands the epitome of adventure? Perhaps that is the reason I get lost in true adventure tales.

Ben Stewart has written the story of the Greenpeace team known as the Arctic 30 who were imprisoned by the Russians, and accused of piracy. Don’t Trust, Don’t Fear, Don’t Beg is a thriller but in this case the characters are real.   Gavin Francis’s adventure across Arctic Europe, True North describes the landscape and the people of the region and how they have evolved as times have changed.

With a nod to Desert Island Discs I am going to request two luxuries, the first an all encompassing World Atlas with intricate details of mountains, rivers and geographic details. I hated geography at school but I would find it fascinating now.   My last choice is a nostalgic one. Colin Prior, who must surely rank among the best of landscape photographers has a book of his superb photographs of magnificent Scottish scenery. I believe he can wait for a whole day until he feels the light is perfect before he takes the photo. Scotland’s Finest Landscapes: Collector’s Edition is a coffee table book and when I am no longer able to physically visit the familiar scenery I can flick through the pages on a nostalgic trip full of wonderful memories.

Lord Byron said ‘a book’s a book’. But there are some more enticing than others.

Sheila A Grant
October 2016



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