The worrying growth of the To Be Read pile

6 July 2011

What do I read? It’s a question that keeps coming up and I hardly ever know what to say. There’s not really a lot of time to read anything other than stuff that’s connected to the day job. Not that the day job stuff is dull – au contraire – it was a source of pride to have sneak a Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy reference into a review of a worthy tome about fisheries management that I did actually read all the way through.
Just in case you were wondering, it’s not unusual for reviewers to knock together a review based on the blurb on the flysheet, the first and last chapter, plus a quote or two from the press release that came with it. But I digress.
But, fiction. Crime fiction, in particular, is a headache. If I’m writing, as I am now with the third Gunna story that is gradually taking shape, then the Scandinavians have to be put to one side. Not so much plot or character, but the environment and atmosphere are too close to what I’m writing myself. It’s difficult to read someone else’s take on dour Nordic habits without unconsciously importing that voice. But once the first draft of Gunna 3 is finished and it becomes a process of tweaking, checking and editing, then that’s a different matter.
Like most of Iceland, I look forward to Arnaldur’s latest turning up on the shelves at the beginning of November. It’s become a regular date in the calendar and in the first week of November there’s a flurry of discussion around water coolers and at coffee breaks about the ‘new Arnaldur.’ This time I’ve been left out. The latest, Furðu Strandir, is still in the bulging ‘to be read’ pile, and it’ll have to wait until the bones of Gunna 3 are fully formed.
So it’s been back to old favourites, which means the magnificent Maigret, and some delving into new territory, such as Colin Cottterill’s delightfully odd Dr Siri series, set in Laos. Then there’s the Mediterranean stuff; Total Chaos, the first of Jean-Claude Izzo’s Marseilles trilogy, Leonardo Sciascia’s bleak Sicilian To Each His Own, and some of Yasmina Khadra’s brutally dark tales of Algeria.
This Mediterranean crime fiction is something of a fascinating new world for me, with a brash touch of machismo that’s absent from the understated reserve of Nordic crime. The rules aren’t the same. The fact that loose ends aren’t all neatly tied up is deeply appealing and to my mind pays the reader the huge compliment of asking him or her to use some imagination when something could have gone either way. Not everything needs to be explained and set out along clearly defined tramlines, and the good guys in the white hats don’t always have to be the ones who ride off into the sunset.
But in a month or two it’ll be back to Nordic crime fiction again, and the rest of the growing ‘to be read’ pile can get some long-overdue attention.

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