So much for ‘easing off’ the recordings in 2016. I reckon I recorded more books last year (2016) than ever (around 40) and it’s been impossible to make a list of five favourites because they have mostly been so different. I always enjoy my regular trips to Portsmouth and environs with Pauline Rowson’s trouble policeman Andy Horton. I recorded the cleverly plotted UNDERCURRENT earlier in the year. And Kate Ellis’ HOUSE OF EYES was wonderfully creepy. I really enjoy reading books where I learn something, usually (but not always) from non-fiction titles. This year I learned about famous trains (BELLES AND WHISTLES by Andrew Martin), BREAKDWON by Taylor Downing told the shocking story of ‘shell shock’, the victims, the attitudes to it and the way of later dealing with it. I was persuaded by Prof. Terence Kealey’s controversial claim that BREAKFAST IS A DANGEROUS MEAL (I recorded the book without having breakfast to prove the point. No problems at all!) and fascinated by Edward Wilson-Lee’s surprising book on the influences on the Bard in East Africa SHAKESPEARE IN SWAHILILAND. (In this last book I spoke chunks of Swahili – a first!). Any of the above could have made it into my top five especially the latter two as they both changed the way I think of things. But one non-fiction book does make it into my top five because it told of a story that I new nothing about – A GOOD PLACE TO HIDE by Peter Grose tells of the villagers (mostly Huguenots) who sheltered thousands of Jews during the Second World War. It’s an almost unbelief story of courage. I haven’t included the massive SAIGON by Anthony Grey which is a shame. This is a huge novel but covers most of the history of modern Vietnam. It’s a massive read. The writer is an expert on the area and it shows. It’s very long but I defy anyone to put it down or to stop listening. This year I record more of the the Golden Age of Crimes series (republished by the British Library). They’re always fun to record and it’s great that writers who were in their day well known are being rediscovered now. I am particularly enjoying reading tales of Gil North’s dour Dalesman policeman Sgt Cluff. BROTHERS IN BLOOD by David Stuart Davies doesn’t come into this series but could easily have made my top five in any other year. It’s uncompromisingly violent. But so well-written and with such alive characters, it was a thrill (literally) reading it. This year I was lucky enough to read some great classic novels and of course they make up most of my final list. I simply could NOT have left them out. The exception is THE BOY AT THE TOP OF THE MOUNTAIN by John Boyne. A story of the relationship between Hitler and a little boy (he’s orphaned as comes to live with his aunt, Hitler’s housekeeper, at Hitler’s mountain retreat The Berghof. Moving, chilling, surprising. But there’s no room for GK Chesterton’s wonderful Father Brown stories. Nor for the stunning Island of Doctor Moreau by HG Wells. As I say, it’s been a wonderful year. Here’s my Top Five.
5. A GOOD PLACE TO HIDE by Peter Grose. An almost unknown story of heroism and courage during World War 2
4 THE BOY AT THE TOP OF THE MOUNTAIN by John Boyne. Moving and alarming story of Hitler’s relationship with a little orphan boy
3 AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS by Jules Verne. Laugh-aloud funny. Great fun.
2 ROBINSON CRUSOE by Daniel Defoe. I’d not read this before. It’s stunning writing, sometimes it feels so modern. A joyful surprise.
1 THE ODYSSEY by HOMER (the Alexander Pope version). A challenge to read Pope’s rhyming couplets. But one of the greatest books ever written. It was a privilege to record this tremendous and powerful work
Already I have some exciting and interesting books lines up for this year 2017. Bring them on…………..