Books At The Back Of The Shelf
Hopefully you’ll find ‘The Book of Forgotten Authors’ a new twist on the unearth-an-old-book idea, but I’m not the first to dig into the shelves and find gems. In ‘Books To Die For’, John Connolly and Declan Burke worked their way through some marvellous novels that have been overlooked.
The murder mystery has an enduring appeal because we desire to understand human nature, and the best don’t provide perfectly neat solutions. Burke and Connolly’s hefty volume is no mere kill list but something subtler; a way of seeing some great crime novels from the past through the eyes of modern masters. 121 writers picked their favourite reads, and while their selection is more quirky than definitive they act as excellent guides through the complex Venn diagram of criminality, espionage, femmes fatales, serial killers, gumshoes, academics, private dicks, police procedurals and every other type of crime novel imaginable.
Many of the choices don’t occupy space in bookshops and need hunting down, but it’s a strong and surprising selection, from the eerie and utterly English ‘Tiger In The Smoke’ to the shamefully underrated ‘A Stranger In My Grave’. There’ll be anguish about who’s missing (no Gladys Mitchell, no R Austin Freeman) and a few choices are arguable (Douglas Adams) but there’s enough here to keep addicts intrigued for a year at least.
Andy Miller’s ‘The Year of Reading Dangerously’ is a delightfully funny trawl through the shelves, with Andy taking on the task of reading all the books he had on his shelves that he’d never got around to tackling (we’re all guilty of that). There are books I know I’ll never read. Life is simply too short for them.
But there are many I should have read, or read at the wrong age (like ‘War and Peace’, which I was too young to appreciate), so I graduated toward popular fiction, leaving my knowledge of classic literature with gaping holes. I never managed to finish ‘Jane Eyre’, which failed to speak to me, or the nigh-unreadable ‘Moby Dick’, which suffers the worst excesses of entangled American phrasing, but my 20th century English and European knowledge is good and I’ll settle for not going back to the 19th century unless to reread my beloved Dickens.
One trick recommended to make prose stick is to read it aloud. Skimming flattens the intention and can spoil prose completely. Hopefully I’ve struck a balance with ‘The Book of Forgotten Authors’, where readability is one of the key factors I looked for. Most unreadable book?