Monday, 23 January 2012

Bookshelf Snooping - Mike Shevdon


1. Your childhood favourite
I know this isn't very politically correct, but for me the Enid Blyton Mysteries were a big part of my childhood reading. I had no connection with the characters - they were from another age - but that didn't matter. The freedoms they enjoyed and the adventures they experienced were everything. Nowadays they seem dated and culturally challenged, but at the time I devoured them. An early lesson - you can forgive much for a good story.

2. Your current favourite
Joe Abercrombie: The Blade Itself. 

I chose this book for a specific reason. I fell out of love with Fantasy. It had been a long affair and we had been through a lot together, but the relationship had become stale and repetitive and had nothing new to offer. It culminated with Robert Jordan's: Wheel of Time. Here was a Fantasy epic which had no perceivable end or even a plot. It had characters I cared about which I ceased to care about. It was the end.

Then I was on holiday in Greece and I'd read all the books I'd taken with me. I went to the hotel book exchange and swapped one of my books for one of the ones that had been left. It was The Blade Itself. I had no expectation that I would finish it, but most of the other books were in German. Two days later I had finished it and immediately got my son to read it. My love of Fantasy was alive and well, thanks to Joe.

3. Your top five authors
Neil Gaiman - Anything, but the Sandman series is an all-time favourite

Barbara Hambly - The Time of the Dark, the Rainbow Abyss, and many others

Alan Moore - Watchmen, V for Vendetta, etc.

Robert Crais - Start with The Monkey's Raincoat

Janet Evanovich - Any Stephanie Plum, beginning with One for the Money

4. Book(s) you’re reading now
Idries Shah: Darkest England - A re-read of the classic analysis of English Culture

Windows Server 2008, Administrator's Pocket Guide - Work related

Sizzling Sixteen, Janet Evanovich - Light read

Houses of Parliament, Pitkin Guide - Research

5. Book(s) you’ve pretended to read
Dickens. Seen and heard the play, watched the TV, never read the books.

6. Book(s) you’ve bought for the cover 
Keepers of the Kingdom, The Ancient Offices of Britain - for Mark Cator's cover photograph of the Queen's Remembrancer.

7. Book you’re a champion for
The Master and Margarita: Mikhail Bulgakov. The devil comes to Moscow during the Communist era, but no-one believes in him. What ensues is a multi-layered tapestry threaded through an urban fantasy, a critique of the soviet system, a potentially blasphemous account of the meeting between Pontius Pilate and Christ, vampires, witches and a host of other things. Every time I read it I discover something new.

8. Book that changed your life
Aikido and the Dynamic Sphere,  Adele Westbrook and Oscar Ratti

I began studying Aikido in 1982, and bought a number of books to try and enhance and explain what was being taught. This book, with Oscar Ratti's black ink illustrations of Aikido movements, brought alive for me what the techniques meant, and continued to enlighten me right through to black belt. It's a book worth reading even if you have no knowledge of martial arts. Its philosophy and depth of understanding set it apart from any other.

9. Book you most want to read again for the first time
Ursula le Guin, A Wizard of Earthsea

When I'd read The Hobbit and all of C S Lewis' Narnia books, I looked around for something to follow them. I bought and read everything I could find that was fantasy.  I went through Anne McCaffrey, Stephen Donaldson, and a host of other authors. I enjoyed them all, but they didn't satisfy, they only fed the hunger. I branched out into SF, finding much to like but still not finding anything to satisfy. 

Then I found A Wizard of Earthsea. Ursula le Guin wrote with such a simple transparent style, lucid and open, but with a wealth of meaning. It's still one of my all time favorite books. I bought Changing Planes recently and found myself wanting to read this book all over again.

10. Book you turn to for comfort 
Barbara Hambly is an American author and medieval historian. She has written many books, all of them good, but my favourite is a trilogy called The Time of the Dark. It's a classic fantasy tale of a couple of young Americans who get accidentally transported to another world where the society is under threat from an invasion of strange creatures from below ground. The creatures are one of the best and most convincing depictions of a non-human creature in genre fiction, and utterly convincing. You should read them for that alone.

The reason I read and re-read this book is because the story is totally immersive. I can almost feel numbing cold on the road with the refugees, almost taste the woodsmoke on the air. I can hear the chittering of the Dark as they slide silently between the trees. Wonderful writing, fabulous characters and a plot that delivers even when you know the twists and turns are coming.

11. Favourite line from a book
There are so many, but this is a particular favourite:

“She gave me a smile I could feel in my hip pocket.” ― Raymond Chandler, Farewell, My Lovely


  1. Great post Mike, I'm glad you made peace with fantasy. I like The Blade Itself too, but Best Served Cold is my favourite from Abercrombie (haven't read The Heroes yet). Oh, I have Bleak House on dvd, should you ever need it... ;)

  2. Mike, thank you so much for participating.

    I tried reading Dickens, but continuous use of dialect just annoyed me, so I have also learnt most of the dickens by watching BBC dramas/movies. However, I am thinking about giving a Dickens' book another try, just to see if I can enjoy it now.

    Love the line from Farewell, My Lovely :-)

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