Judging by my articles on the best travel book and how much luggage to take you might think that I travel light and only take one slim book to read. If only it were so. I am reminded of the old Romanian expression which goes something like this: Do as the priest does, not what he says!
Whenever I go abroad I am cursed by too much luggage. Currently I am in a hotel room in Milan wondering how I’m going to get all my paperwork, books and clothes into my rucksack. Then I have to lug it across town to the station, onto the airport bus, into the check-in and so on. Why can’t I just make do with a small bag? What’s wrong with me? Why do I have so many books?
In order to make the best of a bad situation I have decided to describe the books I’m carrying:
1. Eastern Approaches by Fitzroy Maclean. This is one of those books that should have read years ago. Somehow the time was right and, last week, I picked up this old copy of the WW2 classic and loved every part of it. Fitzroy starts out as a diplomat in Paris, asks if he can move to Moscow (it was 1937 and no other diplomats wanted to go there); he then explores Russia (illegally) and sees a Communist show trial. Then WW2 breaks out, he joins the army, goes into the desert with the SAS and organizes a raid on German-held Benghazi. Then he’s sent into Bosnia where he organizes supplies for Tito, who organized the most effective resistance movement against the Nazis. It’s witty, fascinating and somehow humbling.
2. The Story of My Boyhood and Youth by John Muir. This is another book that I should read, and am reading, but progress is slow and when there’s something more exciting to read I drop it. It’s an autobiography by America’s great environmentalist and the man behind their great national parks. His boyhood was spent in Dunbar, Scotland, where he ran wild and would get beaten by his father every night (about which he doesn’t complain once); his youth was spent in the Midwest hacking out a farm in the wilderness.
3. Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz. I picked this book up from my nephew Jude, asking if I could take it for my daughter Lara. Horowitz is an addictive writer and once you read the first page of any of his books you can’t stop. This one follows the usual formula: Alex Rider, a 16 year old super-spy, takes on a brilliant James Bond master criminal and, in keeping with spy thrillers, doesn’t call for backup as he takes down Mr. Bad Guys private army.
4. The Last Cowboys by Harry Horse. This is another kids book and the only one on the list that I actually paid for, at Sainsbury’s supermarket, in Peebles. It cost a quid from a charity stall. It’s a very slim book, just 85 pages, with loads of funny sketches, by an author I used to know (before he killed himself, and his wife, on the Shetland Isles). I got this for my son Luca but I’m quite happy to keep it for myself if he gets at sniffy about it (Luca’s almost 12 , far too old for bedtime stories).
5. Marabou Stork Nightmares by Irvine Welsh. I’m trying to work my way through the works of my favourite Scottish writer and I always seem to come across his books without having to buy them. I got this one from my friend Gardner Molloy, a brilliant stone sculptor, who reads avidly. I recently spent an evening with Garder at his home in Cockenzie, asked him about this book, which was lying in his scullery, and he said “it’s good – but horrible. Really horrible. Take it.”
6. What is Eugenics by Major Leonard Darwin. This is the strangest one in my rucksack and one that I found in the office of a former colleague at Castle Craig Hospital. It has a stamp of Oxford University Library on it and another stamp to say it was chucked out of the library. It was published in 1928 and is about a pseudo-science that described how to “breed” people better, eliminating handicaps and creating more powerful humans. There’s a chapter on sterilization. Hitler was all for it but his defeat in WW2 gave Eugenics a bad name. I’ve never seen a book on this subject and am interested to see how the son of the great Charles Darwin presents his arguments.
7. The Silver Linings by Neil Gunn. This is an old volume and was a birthday present from my Mum just last week. I have no idea what it’s about but Mr Gunn is one of the great Scottish writers, another one that I “should” read, and my Mum said it’s great. It has taken me about 30 years to learn that my Mum is invariably right when it comes to book recommendations.
8. Living Sober – Some Methods AA Members Have Used for not Drinking. This was given to me as part of my “treatment” at Castle Craig rehab. I can’t say I’m too desperate to read it but it is rather slim and I may get round to it one of these days.
9. Style – the Basics of Clarity and Grace (Pearsons). My boss got me this book and I should definitely read it. On the back cover it says it’s “the guidebook for everyone who wants to write well.”
And then there’s my Kindle which has scores of books on it I should have read by now. I wish I could read as fast as my daughter Lara who gets through volumes of books, like Game of Thrones, in no time at all.
By Rupert Wolfe Murray