The Books That Made Me – Part Five

It’s been six months or so since I last added anything to my series of posts inspired by the excellent occasional series of interviews that The Guardian newspaper conducts under the title “Books That Made Me.” – So far I’ve talked about:

So let’s get back to it and answer the next couple of questions on the list.

The Book I’m Ahamed Not to Have Read

That’s an interesting question. As much as I read (usually around 100 books a year), I know I’ll never get around to reading everything I want to read, never mind something that others think I should have read. Actually, I never take any notice of those articles and lists outlining what you “should” read. Read what you want because you want to not because someone else says you should. So is there any book I’m ashamed not to have read? No.

But there are books in my to-read stack (currently numbering just a little under 500 volumes) that have been hanging around for several years and I get the occasional twinge of guilt that I haven’t picked them up yet. Let’s pick two; one fiction and one non-fiction.

First up is The Diamond Chariot by Boris Alunin

Several years ago I worked alongside a Russian colleague who knew of my interest in Sherlock Holmes and would tell me stories about the character he felt was the closest Russian equivalent, Erast Fandorin. One day he gifted me this volume suggesting that as it was set around the same time as one of my Holmes stories, 1905, I might enjoy it. – I was delighted and humbled, but I’m afraid that it has sat on my shelf for at least seven years now and I still haven’t got around to picking it up. – And Dimitri, if you’re reading this, one day I will read it. I promise.

On the non-fiction front, there’s 1000 Years of Annoying The French by Stephen Clarke.

This has been on the shelf for around the same amount of time as I purchased i on a trip back to the UK in 2015. I must admit I picked it up while browsing the history section in a Waterstones book store for one reason alone – the title. The book was shelved in the bookcase in our guest room, and I think it’s become a victim of out-of-sight, out-of-mind. But given the fact that I’ve spent a considerable amount of my professional career working alongside French colleagues, I really should give it a read at some point – just to see if it lives up to the, what I hope is, tongue-in-cheek, humor of the title.

The Book I Give as a Gift

My first reaction to this question was that I don’t have a specific book that I give as a gift. Each Christmas we gift books to each member of the family and try and make sure they are a good match for the individual. There isn’t anyone title that we’ve repeatedly gifted.

But then I thought about this question from a different angle and there is one book that I’ve bought for others on a regular basis, rather than loan them my copy (which is a rather fragile first edition), and that is Watchmen.

I read Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s now iconic series when it was first published as a twelve-issue monthly comic. I picked up the first UK trade paperback edition (the one that is now falling apart from being re-read so many times), and I also have a nice hardback edition that I was lucky enough to get Dave Gibbons to sign for me. So if talk ever talks to Watchmen, and it’s surprising how often conversations around comics and graphic novels do, and I’m asked if I have a copy that someone could take a look at, my answer is “Yes I have a copy,” and “I’ll happily buy you one to try.”

The Books That Made Me – Part Two

Back in August I took the first pass at starting a series of posts inspired by the excellent occasional series of interviews that The Guardian newspaper conducts under the title “Books That Made Me.”

In that post I talked about what I was currently reading, and a book that changed my life.

It was a fun exercise to go through, so let’s pick up the challenge again with the next set of questions.

The Book That I Wish I’d Written

I’ve given this one a lot of thought, and it may seem like a cop-out but there isn’t one.

Let me explain. Sure I’ve picked up many books and thought something along the lines of I could have written a pretty good book on that subject, or I had a story idea like that once, or even, Wow that was very cool, I wonder what inspired it; but nothing that provokes what could be called a feeling of regret because I didn’t do it. For one simple reason, they clearly weren’t my books to write.

I believe that writers write the books they are meant to write.

As an example, I recently became fascinated by the story of the lost World War 2 bomber Lady Be Good. I found a couple of books on the subject but the most recent dated back 25 years or more. I started thinking that maybe this was a subject I could write an updated book on. I had even started pulling together a pitch to send to the imprint of a publisher I’ve worked with before that specializes in aviation history. While I was working on the pitch that very same publisher announced a new book on the Lady Be Good. No problem – I guess it just wasn’t my book to write.

The Book That Had The Greatest Influence On My Writing.

I’m taking this one to mean books about the craft of writing. Over the years I’ve studied quite a few of them, and while many passed unremembered there are a definite handful that I would happily cite as having a positive impact.

Just looking at the shelf by my office desk I see well thumbed and bookmarked copies of

You may notice a pattern in that list. Most revolve around the visual story telling mediums of comics and film, and both heavily influence my prose style. I see all writing as being on a continuum of storytelling, and the lessons leaned for one medium can inform another.

And there is one book I refer to more, and cite more when I’m speaking about writing at conferences. It’s the quintessential examination of graphic storytelling that informs and influences all my writing. Scott McCloud’s masterpiece Understanding Comics.

It doesn’t matter if you have no intention of ever writing a comic, or even have never read a comic – if you are in the business of communicating ideas in any medium you owe it to yourself to read, study, and absorb this work.