about writing and life and God

Books for the journey

on February 22, 2013

When I was about 13, I was let loose in the adult section of our local public library. I’d read everything in the junior section and had, frankly, outgrown it. Entry to ‘the other side’ was Open Sesame to an Aladdin’s cave of delights which I plundered with joy over the next 6 years.

The Reference Room at Wick library, compete with crocodile Sept 2012

The Reference Room at Wick library, compete with crocodile Sept 2012


At first I simply seized whatever appealed from the ‘New Books’ or newly returned shelves. Looking back, I know I read some thoroughly unsuitable books for my age but my innocence/ignorance protected me from harm. I did get very puzzled by Leslie Charteris’ Saint Books. I thought the ‘Bishop and actress’ repartee was an ongoing sub-plot which I could follow to the end of the book and then understand!

I did become more discriminating. In the days before photocopiers, I used to painstakingly copy out the long list on the back of the jacket of other titles by a newly discovered and loved author and then work my steadily through them. (I confess I still do this!)

Today, I decided I needed to do some further – and lighter – background reading for the Work-in-Progress. If I could identify a handful of books written in and about the First World War and up to c.1922, I decided I would feel more confident about vocabulary for dialogue, concepts and manners. And was taken aback to discover that I had first read a goodly number of them during that first exuberant foray into grown-up fiction.

I wonder how many of your early favourites are here?

Baroness Orczy: The Triumph of the Scarlet Pimpernel

Agatha Christie: The Mysterious Affair at Styles

Agatha Christie: The Secret Adversary (1922)

John Buchan: Mr Standfast (1919)

John Buchan: Huntingtower (1922)

Georgette Heyer: The Black Moth

Ernest Bramah: Kai Lung’s Golden Hours

and lots more other famous authors  that I discovered later or never did get round to reading: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Colette, Rafael Sabatini, Hermann Hesse, Sinclair Lewis, Virginia Woolf,  Willa Cather, G.K.Chesterton, Katherine Mansfield, P.G.Wodehouse, D.H.Lawrence, Boris Pasternak, Richmal Crompton, Beatrix Potter, Walter de la Mare, Somerset Maugham, Arthur Conan Doyle… and many more. It must have been an amazing period, a time when writing and publishing was flourishing.


Many of the names have faded from fame and popularity while others – like Western writer Zane Grey and Tarzan’s creator  Edgar Rice Burroughs – continue to thrive.

I wonder which of our books will be read in 90-odd years? And is it worth writing with an eye on posterity? What will university libraries do without collections of letters and work-in-progress manuscripts now that we e-communicate, delete and revise our work electronically?

I’m sure of one thing: people will still be reading and needing good books. So we need to keep on writing!




3 responses to “Books for the journey

  1. Kathryn Price says:

    When I was 13, our English teacher asked us to make a list of what we’d read and didn’t believe mine. She called me to the front to humiliate me, and I went through the plot and characters of every single book I’d listed; Graham Greene, George Orwell, W Somerset Maugham, half of Dickens, Hemingway, Hardy, Gaskell, Eliot… I loved our adult library, and the librarians lent me their steps because I was too short to reach the high shelves!

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