On Not Judging Books By There Cover and Other January Tales…

Now I will be the first to admit, when it comes to books, as with most other things in my life, I am a bit of a backwards snob. I like classics, well some classics, and keep meaning to read more of them (especially the Russian greats of which I have shamefully read none- sorry Russia), but, when it comes down to it, I just love trash!

When I was a teenager I had a complete fetish for books by Emma Blair. There was a shop on the seafront that sold three-for-a-fiver, far too tempting! My favourite was called ‘A Most Determined Woman’. Our plucky heroine is beautiful, feisty and confident with fire behind her eyes that hid passions and a nature as fiery as her long tendrils of red, sorry, flame coloured, hair, of course. Fire seems to feature a lot in these things. Personally I’ve never met a woman who could be described as inflammatory, but then I don’t live in 19th century Glasgow so who am I to comment?

Last year I found out that Ms Blair, whose books I still occasionally turn to in moments of crises (you can buy them in any good market for about 50p and I recommend you do, if only to see how the other half live, Moonlit Eyes is probably the best written and most inventive), is actually a man called Ian. I wasn’t entirely sure how to take this, I mean, I’d loved Emma, seen her as a bit of a sister-under-the-skin. But then my equalist principles got the better of me and now I love Ian just as much, even more so for having the balls to write such girly books. When I find out than Chris Ryan is actually Christine, I will be a happy BookElf.

In recent years, though, my trash consumption appears to have lowered. I now read ‘proper’ books, bestsellers, modern thinking women authors, Booker winners, books that get reviewed in actual newspapers. I do treat myself to the occasional chick-lit, but I try to limit this to once every three books.

What I don’t read, however, is what I would consider ‘proper’ trash. You may have realised by now my distain for modern gothic fiction, for example. I also could never see myself picking up a Patricia Cornwell, or her ilk, for pleasure. Oh how things change. This January, I decided to break some boundaries, explore new horizons, and embarked on a proper trash fest.

This was facilitated somewhat with N finally deciding that she needed more room on her bookcase (why not just buy more bookcases? Works for me…) and generously donated a expansive collection of novels by a certain Laurill K Hamilton, the Anita Blake vampire series. The front cover of the first book (of 16! Cheers N! That’s my spring gone!) was illustrated by a baaaaad late-90s semi-porn picture of a lady vampire, black corset and all, fangs bared, head thrust back, long black tresses spilling onto alabaster shoulders, the works. Its title- Guilty Pleasures…not exactly the sort of book you can get out on the bus!

At first, I was weary. I’m sure you can understand why. I’ve always liked the mantra ‘read impressive books-it makes you look good if you die in the middle of them’. What would people think if they saw me reading what was basically half an inch of printed adolescent fantasy? Then I started to get into the book. I really really didn’t like Anita at first, far too cocky, far too arrogant, too smart for her own good. Then I warmed to her. She is an animator, ie she possesses the power to raise the dead, and she also kills errant vampires, which for some reason are massive and live legally all across America. Think an older, slightly wiser Buffy with cops. The books were sold to me as porn (I’ll freely admit the main reason I took them on) so I was very disappointed to find no explicit sexy scenes in the first book. Then I flicked through the next 15. Good lord. Never mind Team Edward, try Team Richard/Jean-Claude/Nathanial/Asher/Dan/Zebulon/Gad (at some point along the way she just nails the entire cast of Joseph and his Technical Dreamcoat, or at least it feels like it). It’s not even that sexy, just weird, and not having read them (only just finished Book 2 The Laughing Corpse, which was very very enjoyable. I’m trying not to read all of them at once as that would be geeky) I can’t say how it all fits in the plot, but it certainly brings an edge to an otherwise bloodstained pallet.

By the end I was even proud to take it out on the bus. I sat next to a rather nice looking young man wearing a cravat of all things reading from an old complete-works on the 49 a couple of weeks ago who looked at me with absolute disdain when I pulled Guilty Pleasures out (even more so when you consider at the time I was carrying a handbag saying ‘when I have a little money I books, and if there is any left over I buy food’ from Borders (RIP), and had a carrier bag of paperbacks from my latest RSPCA 99p binge under my arm) but I thought, you know what mate, I’ve already read Hamlet, so think what you like about me, but at least I don’t LOOK like an unapproachable freak to the masses, even though you and I know different.

One issue I do have with the books, and as I’ve said, I’ve only read the first two, are that her descriptions of environments are stilted, as if she hasn’t entirely imagined then in her head. There are a lot of weird long corridors and stairwells the characters suddenly find themselves in, and I couldn’t imagine the action taking place in any specific space, more as if it were occurring in a film studio, or in a black mist of fog. Apart from this, highly entertaining and enjoyable reads.

However, Anita Blake DOESN’T win my book discovery of the month- which would be shocking were it not for me reading the book of the month on the back of my try-new-things ethos. For some ridiculous reason involving a pernickety library assistant who doesn’t understand the concept of genre, I spent four hours of my life sticking little pictures of robbers on all the crime and thriller books the other day (not that I mind as sticking on stickers and peeling them off is just about my most favouritist thing to do in the world and if you want to get in my good books quickly take me to Waterston’s and let me loose on the three-for-twos, because those are the best ones to peel). I obviously started reading the blurbs and came across one by Neil Cross called Burial. Seriously recommended. I started it at about 9.30 at night, put it down at 2, scared stupid. Had me on edge the entire way through, you totally cringe at some of the protagonist’s decisions and the ending is one of the most powerful and haunting I have ever read. Made me get out of bed and go round my entire house (which has three floors and five other people living in it) making sure the windows and doors were locked. Read this book!

End Note- also just finished a really nice little read, Beyond the Great Indoors by Ingvar Ambjornsen. Very well written and what I’m guessing is an excellent translations, not speaking much Norwegan myself! Elling and his housemate are two middle aged men who have graduated from a half-way house to the ‘real’ world, this is there story of the first year on their own. I hate the phrase ‘heart-warming’, even more so ‘life-affirming’, but this is just that, as well as funny as anything. Fans of Curious Incident, or anyone with a heart and a sense of humour would enjoy.

Happy Reading!


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