Books Read in September:
The Poisoned Crown by Maurice Druon
The Royal Succession by Maurice Druon
The She-Wolf by Maurice Druon
Film Freak by Christopher Fowler
Blue-Eyed Devil by Robert B. Parker
Bull Mountain by Brian Panowich
Hunting Evil by Guy Walters
Books Read in October:
Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon
How Star Wars Conquered the Universe by Chris Taylor
Hitler’s Furies by Wendy Lower
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Going Off Alarming by Danny Baker
Revival by Stephen King
Only When I Laugh by Paul Merton
Horror Stories: Classic Tales from Hoffman to Hodgson edited by Darryl Jones
One of the things I’ve discovered by writing down the names of the books I’ve read this year is that I’m reading more books than I might otherwise have done. I think it may be the opposite of keeping track of one’s calorie intake, which usually results in the ingestion of less food. (A doughnut can contain more than 350 calories, incidentally, and you know that they never taste as good as they look . . .) With books, though, I keep pushing myself to read more and more. Ideally I’d like to have read 100 books by the end of this year, but I don’t think I’m going to reach that. Still, I won’t be too far off, although I have noticed that the shadow of my desire to read more books is a reluctance to tackle books that are very long, as they might bring down my average.
Thus, although I have a very nice copy of The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas on my shelf, and it’s a novel that I’ve meant to read for many years, I keep putting it off as it’s about 900 pages long, and might well represent a couple of weeks of reading. I wonder, too, if I’m secretly concerned about my own mortality, and figure that, even if my plane starts to go down during this current publicity tour, I might still have just enough time to sprint through another Maurice Druon book or, you know, reread The Great Gatsby. Then again, I might be too busy screaming, although it’s hard to conceive of any situation in which I wouldn’t try to get a few more pages of a book read. That, my friends, is the mark of an obsessive.
Speaking of Maurice Druon, I’m now on the sixth of his seven-novel sequence, The Accursed Kings, so I’m quite the expert on the French monarchy in the 13th and 14th centuries, and have just learned that Clémence of Hungary was the first person in history to own a fork, which is always useful to know. Druon requires a little commitment, as it can be difficult initially to keep track of various factions, princes, knights, and, indeed, dead kings, of which there are quite a number. Not surprisingly, he was a huge influence on George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, but it also strikes me that historical fiction, like fantasy literature, is much more conducive to, and welcoming of, sequences of novels than my own mystery genre, which generally distrusts books — even as part of character-driven series — that require readers to have some knowledge of preceding novels. My Parker books form a sequence, but I’d suggest that they’re the exception in the mystery field, not the rule. They’re not the sole exception, though: Preston and Child do something similar with their Pendergast books, and the work of Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, progenitors of the Scandinavian crime genre, is best read in sequence. Still, mystery fiction prefers its series protagonists not to have too much of a memory, I think.
October, meanwhile, contained a significant gothic element, thanks to Mary Shelley, Stephen King, and Darryl Jones, and a timely visit to the gothic exhibition at the British Library in London, which I can heartily recommend should you find yourself at a loose end in that city and fancy seeing Shelley’s manuscript of Frankenstein, or a letter from Jack the Ripper promising to mutilate the ears of his next victim, which he duly did. If nothing else, I suppose he was a man of his word . . .