The Books of my Years: The barren 30’s… and why it’s James Oswald (@SirBenfro)’s fault you’re reading this.

Well. If I wrote this post about the first seven years of my thirties it would be short. Very. Very. Short. I was in career mode in my thirties. From the age of twenty-eight to thirty three I was a Regional Distribution Manager, juggling early morning starts and hundreds of miles of travel while looking after the ‘Midlands’ regional depots of Telford, Bristol, Bridgend, Leicester, Norwich and Exeter… (Don’t say a word. I know…) From the age of thirty-three to thirty-six I was managing a 500,000 sq ft warehousing and picking operation. Again long hours but this time closer to home. Less travel but no less tiring. And then when I turned thirty-nine… Well, if you read my New Year post you probably already know what happened then.

The fact is, in my thirties I was too tired and too uninterested in reading. If I wasn’t working I was travelling for fun (despite my job and the miles I cover driving me crazy, I still love to travel and always will) and if I wasn’t doing either of those things I was going to the theatre. Or sleeping. Less of the sleeping. So up until I reached my late thirties I didn’t really read at all. I picked at books. Only picked one up if I was a) really bored or b) it sounded really interesting. Friends at work read – I generally took the piss out of them. Oh how the tables have turned…

So, just what did I read? What books took my fancy in those barren reading years? Well – here you go…

5690777Wicked by Gregory Maguire

Yes. It will probably come as no surprise to anyone who knows me that one of the few books I read had close ties to one of my favourite musicals, Wicked. I went to see this show in the first six months of if being on in London and I loved it. The soundtrack is amazing; The Wizard and I, Defying Gravity, Because I Knew You… All absolutely superb. And the book? Well, needless to say it’s not exactly the same as the show, but it does pose some interesting questions about perception. What if the Wicked Witch wasn’t quite as evil as people believed her to be? What if people mistook being different for being no-good? What if she was really a defender of the meek, an animal activist in a green skin? A fascinating book, even if I had to make up half of the pronunciations for myself as I really didn’t have a scooby. And as for G(a)linda – what a cow… 😉

soawSon of a Witch by Gregory Maguire

Yes – I read the first, I figured I may as well read the second. Not earth shattering, not necessarily a book I have long lasting fond memories of, but as one of the only two books I read that weren’t business related in seven years, I figured I should put it in the list. Or it would be a really short list. Like… microscopic. I did buy the third, A Lion Among Men, I… just haven’t actually read it yet.

htwfaipHow To Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

What does someone who is completely (?) focused on their career read? Random books which their then MD insists are really interesting and very good reads for people in business. This was an interesting read, perhaps not one of my life long recommendations but interesting none the less. And mostly in here to show you how thoroughly ‘interesting’ and wonderful a life without literature can be.

Or something like that…

If you aren’t aware that flattering people, mimicry, making them think ideas are theirs etc is the best way to win people over, then this may be the handy hints book for you.

ghGung Ho: Turn on the people in any organization by Ken Blanchard

When this book talks of ‘turning on people in an organization’ do not let your mind go there. It really doesn’t mean that. It’s all about employee engagement, from the Middle Manager to the shop floor worker. Although you’d be forgiven for getting confused when you start reading about geese, squirrels and beavers…

Yes – it’s another management book, linking in with the principal of Situational Leadership etc, and to be fair, although seriously cheesy, it was a short and entertaining read. I read it on a plane on my way to Vietnam. It filled an hour or so and we had much amusement deciding who was going to be goose etc. I soon became Secret Squirrel and my friend and colleague was alarmingly eager to be beaver. Least said soonest mended…

So. Yes. Well. That was my early to mid-late thirties. God help me. And god help me with this next confession. Around this time there was a much talked about series of books – sometimes acclaimed, often maligned and dubiously dubbed ‘mommy porn’. Yes. You got it. And yes, the movies are now being released. That series. The one which launched a rush of previously vanilla couples upon unsuspecting DIY stores, and the sell out of staple repair aids like duct tape and cable ties… (ewww). I started to read it out of curiosity. I mean, despite everything that had been written, just how bad could it possibly be? I stopped reading fairly quickly as I discovered that this was probably the most likely cause of my urgent need to break my kindle (mostly full of business related tomes) into a thousand pieces. Nope. Sorry. Not a fan. Anyway… moving on.

On a friend’s recommendation (or rather a so-and-so-likes post on FB) I discovered Book Bub. So I signed up. Figured I’d give reading a go again. Something to do over the weekends and long Christmas breaks (I invariably forget to take any leave during the year so nearly always end up with most of December at home). It was while I was flicking through a few Book Bub deals on Amazon and associated suggestions that I discovered the book that would change everything. I found this:

ncNatural Causes by James Oswald

Oh. My. Life. This book. I absolutely loved it. I mean LOVED it.

Now I’m not going to lie. I read this in its earliest guise, back when it had its original opening chapter and after reading that passage I was kind of wondering just what I was letting myself in for. Could I really keep reading?

I stuck with it. I loved Edinburgh as a kid. Some of the few fond memories of childhood were of that cold and wet campsite in Mortonhall, and this book was taking me back there. Back to my youth. And I quickly fell in love with the writing, the story, the slightly other-worldliness of the plot and, essentially, with the character of Tony McLean. From that one single book I was well and truly hooked. This is the book – the one which drew me back into reading. The one responsible for my bookish obsession.

So yes. In a roundabout way, James Oswald is responsible for you being inundated with my mad ramblings on a daily or weekly basis. He runs a farm up in Fife if you want to write to him and tell him off, but please don’t. He seems like a nice chap and he really didn’t know what he was set to unleash upon the world. He just wrote a really good book. And lets face it, it took a good four years for the idea/torture to gestate and develop. (I probably shouldn’t mention that it was actually James Oswald who tweeted about CrimeFest, which in turn led to me going along last year, planting the seed of an idea about starting a blog in the first place…)

asftdA Song For The Dying by Stuart MacBride

It is also because of James Oswald that I started to read Stuart MacBride books. After reading all of the Inspector McLean books as they were released, there was a recurring character within named, not surprisingly, Stuart MacBride. Most unlike me, I actually read one of the dedication pages one day and it mentioned the character being named after the author so I figured I’d take a look. This book was the latest release at the time, and although the second in the series (I have form for that), I thoroughly enjoyed it. There was just this darkness to the character of Ash Henderson which was so very appealing to me (this lady loves the darkness) and I whizzed through the book in no time at all. It left me intrigued, one to read the first book, which in truth took me months to get around to, but also to see what else the author had released. Boy was I in for a treat.

cgCold Granite by Stuart MacBride

So. From a standing start of having read no books in the series at all, I went on to purchase every single Logan McRae book and raced through them all. Every. Last. One. It helped that I sort of knew the landscape, I visit Aberdeen with work, but I more than loved the story and the character. I can’t believe I was ever hesitant about starting the series, wondering if I would like the style and if I could ever catch up with what I had missed. The answer was a resounding yes. In the space of around two weeks I had read the lot – 9 full length novels as it was then, and all the shorts that went with them. Absolutely loved it but can’t help feeling a little sorry for our hapless hero Logan. If anyone deserves a break, it’s him. Of course it wouldn’t be as much fun if he ever got it. 🙂

893965Every Dead Thing by John Connolly

Another Book Bub discovery, I really wasn’t sure when I started reading this. Much like Natural Causes, it felt kind of violent, kind of extreme, but unlike Tony McLean, Charlie Parker didn’t really evoke any sympathy, in spite of his situation, and I didn’t warm to him as quickly. Never one to walk away from a challenge though, I carried on reading, pedalling away on my exercise bike as I followed his post police career (this was back in the height of my dieting days). Hard to believe I ever questioned why I was reading it, because now I have read every book in the series and have also collected every single one as a signed first edition. I am hooked. Well and truly addicted. I love this series and I love the way in which John Connolly has created such a colourful cast of characters (Louis and Angel – superb) and such a varied array of foes to pit Parker against. Again, this is one of those series which goes beyond all that the eye can see. That gives the sense of a higher power directing everything in Parker’s life and that combines my love of the occult/horror and my love of crime fiction. One thing that is certain is that John Connolly is a master at his craft. Writers are my rock stars for sure – Mr Connolly? The Boss.

sscreamSilent Scream by Angela Marsons

No round up of my reading would be complete without mentioning one of my favourite and greatest discoveries of the past couple of years. I was on one of my daily lunchtime walks when I saw an article on Twitter about an author who had just sold over a million books (now 2 million) after securing a deal with publisher, Bookouture. I was aware of the publisher because by this time I was on NetGalley, and because of this I had kind of heard of the author too. And she was relatively local to me, the books being set in and around my old University town. So I figured I’d take a look. Maybe read it, see what all the fuss was about.

It seems so strange to say that now – ‘kind of heard of the author’. I have devoured all that Miss Marsons has offered and am ready to consume more. I think I will always be hungry to read about Kim Stone and the wonderful characters who inhabit her world. This is such a perfect series, the protagonist so flawed, so broken and yet so fierce that she is one of my all time favourites. And I’m so very proud to also now be able to call Angela Marsons a friend. Even if she was the first writer to ever make me cry. Properly cry. At a motorway service station.

If you haven’t read the Kim Stone series yet, then I don’t know what you are waiting for. A written invitation? Consider yourself offered a VIP invitation to the party as this is one set of books you don’t want to miss out on. Mystery, peril and a bostin’ Black Country accent. What more could you ask for?

Now I could go on and on about the fabulous books and wonderful authors I have read since that fateful day I picked up Natural Causes way back in 2012. I mean on, and on, and on… From two books in seven years, I had a slow and steady build up of my reading to a point of total bookish domination of my life. I read a few titles in 2013 and 2014, mostly James Oswald and a few Jonas Saul books, but in late 2014, everything changed. I had my life back in a strange, often depressing kind of way, but it also meant a lot of time alone. And boy did I make up for lost time. 150+ books in 2015 and 160+ in 2016. Lord knows where this year will lead me but I’m loving it.

So there you have it. My life in books. If you really want to know the full ins and outs, then check out my GoodReads profile (it’s all there, good, bad and ugly) or, dare I say it, my blog, which has a good selection of the books I have read in the past year. And if you need a reminder of what came before, then here you go.

The Early Learning Years

The Troublesome Teens

The roaring (boring) twenties.

My tastes may have varied a little across the years but one thing has remained constant. When I find a book which engages me, one which takes me away from the everyday and into a wonderful world of pure magic (figurative and sometimes actual magic), then I am one very, very happy reader.

Have a fab week of reading goodness all.

JL

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