Over the course of 2015 - and in all likelihood 2016 - I'm going to write about the 50 books that have been the most influential in my life. Books from all genres, fiction and non-fiction, childrens and adults. I'm really excited about this and I've had great fun starting to build a list which contains books read to me as a child, books I've read to my children, school texts as well as some of the crime fiction I've written about here. They'll be produced in no particular order - and to no particular schedule.
#7 The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende
Sometimes you just come across the right book at the right moment for it to grip your imagination. So it was with The House of the Spirits, Isabel Allende's masterpiece detailing one family's journey through the trauma of an unnamed South American country in the 20th Century.
The House of the Spirits was on a reading list for a course in Latin American politics I was taking as part of my under graduate degree at the University of London in 1992. At a time when the UK electorate had just returned a Conservative administration for the fourth consecutive election, what really appealed to me was that in the young Latin American democracies, everything seemed to be in play. The very future of nations was still at stake, whereas we were voting largely on which group of centrist politicians would better manage the economy.
#6 The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf
If I crane my neck at the window of my Madrid office, I can just see the Plaza de Toros in Ventas a few hundred yards away. Looking out at it, or driving past it is as close as I've got in my three years here. There's a part of me that thinks I should attend a bull fight, to immerse myself in an important Spanish cultural experience. There's a part of me that has no interest in the death of a beast for sport.
It's entirely possible that this second part of me was strongly influenced by The Story of Ferdinand, the pacifist bull who also ended up in Madrid, getting a much closer look at the interior of the bull ring than I have so far.
#5 - The Stand by Stephen King
He's a habit I've carried into adulthood and remains one of my favourite writers whether with the horror he's best known for (Duma Key is one of my most memorable reads of the last five years, and in my King top 3) or the new Bill Hodges detective fiction. As this review of Mercedes Man sets out, King had absolutely no difficulty moving into new genre territory. And I still have all six copies of the editions he published of the Green Mile in series.
I've not everything King's written - there would hardly be enough days in the year to follow his prolific output - but I've read a fair bit, and one has had an impact above all others: The Stand.
This is the only one of King's novels I've read twice, despite its huge length (1,300 pages!) on top of which I've listened to the audio version so brilliantly read by Grover Gardner - all 47 hours of it.
#4 - Where, oh Where, is Kipper's Bear? by Mick Inkpen
My first experience of this was with my daughter Tilly aged two or three with this brilliant and engaging pop-up book. I have no idea how my times I read it - definitely dozens, possibly hundreds. Enough that a decade ago I knew the whole thing off by heart and that even now I can recite full lines. "Where oh where can that little bear be? And why, oh why, has he gone?"
Tilly could recite it too, and she pulled the various pop-up bits until they broke. Which, I suspect, is why the book failed to enchant either of the other children in quite the same way.
#3 - Dixie City Jam by James Lee Burke
Dixie City Jam is not my favourite James Lee Burke novel - that is In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead - but there's a reason why it's the book that's open on this site's masthead: it was the book that ignited my passion for crime fiction, indeed for reading period.
I bought the book at London's Gatwick airport in June 1997 on my way to a week's holiday in Mallorca. At the time there was no particular pattern to my reading, which was not as prolific as it is has been in recent years, having fallen away after my schooldays as television, video and other forms of entertainment took over.
#2 - The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole by Sue Townsend
I have one vivid memory of reading Adrian Mole, who was older than me by perhaps a couple of years. When I was at school in Reading in the early 1980s we had no sports pitches of our own and had to walk about a mile to nearby Prospect Park. On one of those trips, another boy and I walked along reading passages of the first Adrian Mole diary to one another, each laughing hysterically at Mole's hapless misadventures.
Books could be funny!! Who knew? Not my 12-year-old self. And they could be subversive! I was in love with Pandora, in admiration of Nigel, terrified of Barry Kent and pitying of poor Adrian - always hoping he was about to succeed and achieve (get his hand inside Pandora's bra). I was smitten from the very first page, and each subsequent volume was received gleefully.
#1 - Emily The Goat By Jane Pilgrim
The story of a talking goat living in an idyllic 1950s farmyard might seem an unlikely book to feature on a blog specialising in crime fiction. But the route to James Lee Burke, George Pelecanos, Ian Rankin and countless others started with Emily and her friends, with a pacifist bull and with a rhyming, anarchic feline in a hat.
Emily the Goat - the first in Jane Pilgrim's Blackberrry Farm series - started my reading life and so she will also start this new series of posts "50 Books", a sort of retrospective of my reading life, which will give some commentary on my 50 most influential, important or favourite books.