According to latest PLR (Public Lending Right) figures, crime fiction dominates lending in libraries. Great news, but what’s also intriguing is that US authors lead the market in the lending field, with James Patterson reigning supreme. It’s been suggested that his short (sometimes extremely short) chapters hold particular appeal for readers who, in our time-sensitive, pressurised 24/7 lives, prefer to read a book in double-quick tempo and then (speaking softly) chuck it away. Hmmm.
Musing on this put me in mind of something Kazuo Ishiguro, (The Remains of the Day) said some years ago in an interview. He questioned whether people read quite as many books as they claim. When I heard it I wanted to cheer because, although I read a lot of books, as you might expect, they are not confined to crime fiction. Are there gaps in my crime repertoire? You bet.
Let’s be clear, even if I weren’t a writer, I don’t consider reading a book a chore, degenerate activity or an excuse for not cleaning the kitchen. It rates as one of the most satisfying and pleasurable, occasionally challenging, activities on the planet. When I wrote book reviews for the Cheltenham Standard newspaper, I read a book a week (and I mean really read it, not skipped through) in addition to working as a freelance editor for Writers’ Workshop and writing my own novels. Despite this, for all the ‘must reads’ I’ve consumed, there are plenty I haven’t. Initially, this became apparent when I took part in my first crime quiz at a literary event almost a decade ago. Was I really this ignorant, I thought as I sloped off to the bar afterwards to bolster my wounded pride. To be fair, it didn’t help that the walking encyclopaedia of crime, author Martin Edwards, was on effervescent form that evening. Anyway, determined to smarten up, I set myself a target to plug any glaring literary gaps. My self-imposed crash course included an array of contemporary crime novelists and, somewhat oddly and in a rush of blood to the head, Dostoyevsky’s ‘Crime and Punishment’, not exactly your average ‘easy reading’. Am I better informed now? Hard to say because every year new and exciting novelists take the crime writing arena by storm and, of course, I have my favourite authors to whom I return again and again. In this regard, Mariella Frostrup in her book programme once made a comment that resonated with me. She said that of all the books one reads, it’s hard to remember every storyline. For me, of all the books one reads only the best stories remain forever.
And they certainly don’t get chucked away.