Tuesday, October 10, 2017

So many books in my life

By R.J. Harlick

What books would you read again a) from your childhood, b) from your young adult life and c) from the last five years

My parents were both avid readers, so I grew up surrounded by books. Though I have little memory of them, I know the first books my mother read to me were the Burgess books, ones my mother and her two siblings read as children. I still have two of them, The Adventures of Prickly Porky and The Adventures of Buster Bear by Thornton W. Burgess, one dating from 1924 and the other from 1926. Though they are a bit worse for wear having gone through the three kids in my mother’s family and then me and my two sisters, they still have all their pages. Time, I say, to read them to the next generation.

The two books I do have vivid memories of reading in my early years had all to do with horses. I was horse mad and was an avid rider in my teen years and on into my 20s. While on a diplomatic posting in Moscow, I rode at the famous Hippodrome, which dates from czarist times. But it has been too many years than I care to count, since I felt the rush of the wind while cantering along a forest trail.

I imagine it was the first horse book that hooked me. Black Beauty by Anne Sewell, a British classic. I can recall weeping copious tears as I read it and reread it I don’t know how many times. This book belonged to my father.  Filled with illustrated coloured plates, it was old enough to have come from his own childhood. Unfortunately, I thought these plates were perfect to hang on my wall, so I cut them out. Needless to say, Dad was not amused.

The second horse book that captured my interest was Black Stallion by Walter Farley. I loved this book and used to dream of having such a horse. Though I read The Black Stallion Returns, I didn’t like it as much, so never bothered with the others in the series.

While touring Europe in my late teens I developed a thirst for 19th century writers, in part I suspect, because they were usually the only English-language books (Penguin paperbacks) available at the various bookstores I would visit during my year long travels. I devoured books by Thomas Hardy, George Elliott, the Bronte sisters, Jane Austen, Leo Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Gustave Flaubert and other ‘Greats’ well into my early 40s. But interestingly enough I haven’t cracked a cover of one since. Correction, except for one, Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace.  I have re-read it numerous times, each time learning a bit more about 19th century Russia and the lives of the many characters struggling to survive the invasion of Napoleon’s massive army. While living in Moscow I was frequently reminded of this disastrous invasion, whenever I drove by the Triumphal Arch built to commemorate Russia’s triumph over the French upstart. But it wasn’t Russia’s prowess as a military might that vanquished them. Rather it was the Russian winter, much like a Canadian one, eh?

I also developed a love for early 20th century American novelists, such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway. Two that come most to mind, are The Great Gatsby by Fitzgerald and The Sun Also Rises by Hemingway. Maybe it is time to give them another read.

And now I come to the most difficult part of this question, recent reads that resonated enough to make me want to read them again. The six voluminous volumes in Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles immediately jump to mind. I think I have re-read them three times. But I have written about them in earlier blogs. Besides I haven’t re-read them within the last 5 years.

Over the past number of years, I have tended to concentrate on mostly crime fiction and while I have enjoyed many of them, I can’t think of any that sparked my interest enough for a re-read. But there is a recent book, a so called literary novel, which I am still thinking about. It is The Break by Canadian author, Katherena Vermette. Published in 2016 it has been nominated for a number of awards. Set in Winnipeg, the story revolves around a sexual assault, so I suppose it is in a way a crime novel. The story unfolds through the telling by ten different narrators, mostly indigenous women, many of them related. I found it a very thought provoking book. To learn more about this intriguing book click on this link.

Bouchercon time is almost upon us. I hope I will see many of you in Toronto, my home town. Just in time for the conference is the release of my latest and 8th Meg Harris mystery, Purple Palette for Murder. You will be able to pick up a copy at the Sleuth of Baker Street table in the dealers room. Keep in mind, it won’t be officially released in the US until Nov. 7. I’d be happy to sign it at the following appearances.

Thursday, October 12,
        8:00-10:00 - Author Speed Dating
        4:30-5:30 – Crime Writers of Canada table in the Book Room

Friday, October 13
         2:00–3:00 - Cultural Immersion panel: Mysteries steeped in different cultures
         3:00-3:30 – signings in the Book Room
         6:00-7:30 – International Reception – presentation of former CWC presidents
         9:30-11:00 – CWC Pub Quiz in the hospitality room

Saturday, October 14
         7:30-9:00 – SINC breakfast
         10:30-11:30 – Meet CWC authors in the hospitality room – table 11

         2:30-3:30 – Meet CWC authors – table 9


Paul D. Marks said...

Robin, it's funny how some books from our youth affect us. I particularly enjoyed hearing about the hand-me-down books from your mother. I have some like that and some poetry books that she would read me from as a kid. I used to love her to read me Richard Cory and then, of course, years later Simon & Garfunkel based a song on it.

Also, since you like War and Peace, have you ever seen the Woody Allen movie Love and Death? It spoofs some of the great Russian novels, but if I remember correctly and it's been a long time, mostly War and Peace. Very funny.

And have a great time at Bouchercon! I wish I could be there to meet you all.

RJ Harlick said...

Sorry you can't join us at Bouchercon, Paul. Next time.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, Robin. I wish I could, too.