As ex-bookshop owners you would expect us to say that, but of course reading does matter and we are really glad to see our predictions come true and e-readers take a tumble in favour of real books. Our ex-shops Warwick Books and Kenilworth Books are thriving we are glad to say. I have had quite a variety of reading material recently. From my shelves, previously unread, the Folio edition of ‘Sir Harry Hotspur’ by Trollope. Well, Trollope is always a slow-burn, and all the better for that, but this was a long drawn-out tale. It encompassed some of the themes Trollope does so well – class, ne’er-do-wells, Victorian morals, fate, love stories, pride before a fall, and once I got into it (which was a bit difficult) was very enjoyable indeed. It is in fact regarded as one of Trollope’s finest short novels and describes the vacillations of a land-owning father, torn between the desire to marry his daughter off to a cousin destined to inherit the family title, and his fear that the cousin, reportedly a gambler, liar and much else, is unworthy of her. The tale has an unhappy ending – top marks for that
A recent buy at half-price from the very much improved Waterstones was the new hardback Strike novel ‘Lethal White’. Here’s the blurb…’When Billy, a troubled young man, comes to private eye Cormoran Strike’s office to ask for his help investigating a crime he thinks he witnessed as a child, Strike is left deeply unsettled. While Billy is obviously mentally distressed, and cannot remember many concrete details, there is something sincere about him and his story. But before Strike can question him further, Billy bolts from his office in a panic. Trying to get to the bottom of Billy’s story, Strike and Robin Ellacott – once his assistant, now a partner in the agency – set off on a twisting trail that leads them through the backstreets of London, into a secretive inner sanctum within Parliament, and to a beautiful but sinister manor house deep in the countryside. And during this labyrinthine investigation, Strike’s own life is far from straightforward: his newfound fame as a private eye means he can no longer operate behind the scenes as he once did. Plus, his relationship with his former assistant is more fraught than it ever has been – Robin is now invaluable to Strike in the business, but their personal relationship is much, much more tricky than that . . .’ The key points about this very long story, more than 600 pages, are that the plot is convoluted (therefore difficult bed-time reading, at least in my eyes), rather far-fetched and at the same time rather boring, but the on-going relationship between Strike and Robin is by far the strongest theme running through it (and a good one). I can imagine Andrew Davies making hay with this! A little disappointing, certainly not a riveting thriller, but worth a half-price hardback purchase!
A book on railways? Surely for anoraks only, but no, this history of the railways covers an amazing array of aspects of social and industrial history and the profound influence that the railways had on them, and tells us a lot about the Victorian period and onwards which I for one, historian though I am, didn’t know. Indeed the book was The Sunday Times History Book of the Year in 2015. Also, the publisher is Profile Books who publish the most interesting books around. And, the author is not any old railway nerd, (although he is a railway nerd ), but the joint editor of the Pevsner architectural guides so he has a wonderful pedigree. So what does Simon Bradley tell us? Or what doesn’t he tell us……I was interested for instance to learn that Anthony Trollope, who worked for the Post Office tells, in his Autobiography, how he found “after a few days exercise I could write as quietly in a railway carriage as I could at my desk. In this way was composed the greater part of Barchester Towers.” In other words, railways changed lives. They changed the landscape. They changed the way Industry and Agriculture operated. They reinforced the class system. They were the basis for much technological change. And their building was one of the greatest physical achievements in our history. But all at a cost. The social reformer Edwin Chadwick for instance compared the chances of death or serious injury among the workforce building the infrastructureÂ with those of one of Wellington’s battles, concluding that a private soldier had a better chance of coming away unscathed from Waterloo or Salamanca than a navvy from Woodhead. This is what is great about Bradley’s book – as well as painting the big picture he supplies all kinds of memorable details that make this a book that anyone, not just enthusiasts for railways, would want to read. I heartily recommend it – to anyone.