Caught by the River

This Summer, I Will Mostly Be Reading

24th July 2010

Jon Berry.

This summer I won’t be reading very much, which is unusual for me. I have a book of my own to finish, and another which is complete but requires a little redrafting before I let the publisher loose on it. And, when I am writing, I can’t read. I’m too much of a pilferer, too influenced by the words of others. I lose my voice, and start imitating.
It’s a weakness found in far better sorts than I. Remember when the Stones first heard Sergeant Pepper? They promptly reinvented themselves in satin and wizardly hats, and turned out Their Satanic Majesties Request. Third-rate derivative bollocks from start to finish. That’s what I’m afraid of.

And so, I won’t read much, but will pick at the books that are lying around the house, buffet style. Peter Ackroyd’s Shakespeare – the biography is sitting by the bath, and I’ll dip in to both when the mood takes. The Poems of Norman MacCaig is by the bed, and I’ll enter his exquisitely haunting world once in a while – he’s just too good to ignore. Two other books about the Scottish Highlands sit, unread but much anticipated, on the kitchen table. Hutton’s Arse by Malcolm Rider is an account of three billion years of Scottish geology, while John Lister-Kaye’s Songs of the Rolling Earth will take me to the same place, but differently. They will both just have to wait.

I’ve bought Luke Jennings’ Blood Knots, too, but am saving it for when my own fishing stories are done. I’ve heard it’s very good, and that could cause me a great deal of bother. I’ve glanced at the back cover, and run a finger down the chapters page, but if I go any deeper I’ll be sporting the piscatorial equivalent of a wizardly hat before the summer is out. And if Mick Jagger can’t carry it off, there’s little hope for me.

Nick Small
Having finally exhausted the ‘Wallander’ books, I moved onto the ‘Millennium’ trilogy not long ago. I’m afraid my holiday reading then, is probably as common as muck. This summer, I’ll be taking the third Larsson book, ‘The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest,’ up to Swedish Lapland.

Although very different from Henning Mankell’s writing, I still enjoyed the first Steig Larsson book immensely. I very much understood the Sweden he described when Blomkvist de-camped to Hedestad: lakes, forest and little coffee shops. However, I was astonished when the plot moved further north to Nörsjö. Blomkvist travels to this remote forest town in search of the tourists who took a key photograph. He describes this sleepy backwater, noting that its key features were a wooden stave church, and a hardware store. What he failed to mention was the excellent fishing tackle shop, which is where I pick up permits, flies, lures and tips when I make my annual pilgrimage to Lapland. Nörsjö is the nearest small town to our house. It’s where I get diesel, nails and assorted hardware, and it also (crucially) the location of my nearest Systembolaget…the Swedish state controlled off-license. It’s 45 kilometers from our place, but it plays a key part in our lives in the boreal wilderness. How freaky that it also features in the most celebrated of contemporary novels? Look it up on Google Earth/Maps, and you’ll understand exactly what I mean.

So that was me, hooked on the adventures of Kalle Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander. I’ve just finished reading the second book, with Salander managing to evade capture by the mighty apparatus of the state, steal billions of pounds, hack into whichever laptop deemed necessary for plot advancement, solve a centuries old mathematical equation and survive being both shot in the head and buried alive. All of this though seems quite plausible next to the ridiculous notion that a 48 year old writer gets to be jiggy in the sack with a feisty, kinky, beautiful, intelligent, diffident, man-hating, kinky young lesbian sexpot. Good job I know how to suspend my disbelief.

Still, we live in hope. I’m 48 in September.