Intermittent Book Blog 2

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Intermittent Book Blog 2

As I have mentioned in the past I seem to spend an inordinate amount of time driving to and fro across the fat belly of the British Isles – east coast to Wales. A14/M6, M42,M5,M25, M4 et al, and then up and down the A1 to Scotland.  I pick up paperbacks en route as a treat to devour by the fire or sitting in the garden under the trees, but far more often I buy audiobooks to listen to on the way. They make the journeys not just bearable but sometimes an actual pleasure I don’t want to end. Something that keeps me sitting in the car listening at the end of a five hour drive is something to be highly recommended.

I love radio 4. Often that keeps  me interested and amused for hours, but occasionally  there is some programming which doesn’t grab me. Ditto radio 3 and Classic FM. One is hostage to someone else’s choice. It is then that the audiobook comes into its own.

The choice is crucial and  has become increasingly difficult. Our local independent bookshop doesn’t stock them; the nearest Waterstones is 15 miles away, so I am reliant on motorway stops of which I have become a connoisseur. And they vary hugely. Not so long ago there was a wonderful system called the tape exchange which ensured a good and varied supply of stories, but since the coming of CDs that disappeared, at least on my routes. And every time I travel I find the choice becomes smaller.

 There is a certain pleasing randomness, though, in that lack of choice. I buy things  I might not normally glance at and then enjoy them.  I often  have to buy boys’ books because there are so many more of them. Perhaps women are more enthusiastic listeners and get there first. Or perhaps there are just so many more ‘boy’ drivers and it is to them that the powers-that- be who order the stock, cater. Lately I often find the stocks have not been replenished at all  from month to month and the same old boxes linger. That is presumably because once more technology has moved on. Now people download books and the number of  buyers who want CDs goes down accordingly. In one way the download is good – there will now be infinite choice, provided one plans ahead , but for the less well organised or the unplanned journey? Who knows. Back to radio, I suppose. Or even, silence!


I have scrabbled in the footwell and dug in the box in the boot for some of my favourite  novels of the last few months, books I hadn’t come across in the shops, books which I might not necessarily have selected, for whatever illogical reason and which were therefore to me new and exciting and  below are some of those which I really enjoyed.


The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, read by James Wilby. This is unfortunately abridged, but at 6 ½ hours on 6 CDs it doesn’t seem to matter too much, and it includes an interview with the author and some musical interludes composed by the author.  I love music on CDs. Even a few seconds can contribute so much to the atmosphere. This story, translated from the Spanish was a Richard and Judy selection. It is a complex, gripping and exciting tale, set in Barcelona, beginning in 1945, and it starts in a secret library, the story of a mysterious and illusive author, as unravelled by the narrator, who at the start of the tale is a ten year old boy.



Atonement by Ian McEwan, read by Isla Blair. I was astonished to realise that I hadn’t read this wonderful novel – I’m probably the only person in the world who hadn’t – nor seen the film – so it was with real anticipation that I picked it up  (on the M5, as you’re asking!)Abridged into 5 CDs (that’s nearly 6 hours listening) it is the story of Briony Tallis, starting when she is an embryonic writer of 13 years old and of her elder sister Cecilia. Briony’s over active imagination turned an idyllic summer’s day in 1935 into a nightmare for her sister and ultimately herself, their family and their friends which will last a life time. Utterly gripping. But you probably already know that …


The Highest Tide by James Lynch, read by Fisher Stevens. 7 hours listening, unabridged. This mesmeric, poetic book had me so captivated I have listened to it again and again. It is the story of  13 year old Miles (pure coincidence all these 13 year olds), and his relationship with the small coastal community in which he lives and above all with the sea. As he goes out in his small boat looking for shellfish he – and we – become more and more aware of impending threat to his idyll both from the incursion of the outside world  in the form of the press when he finds the body of a giant squid, and ultimately from the sea itself.


The Rose of Sebastopol by Katherine MacMahon;, read by Clare Wille, again abridged onto 5 CDs giving 6 hours running time.  This as a riveting tale of the Crimean War told through the eyes of Mariella, a prim young lady from London and her cousin Rosa. Mariella is captivated by the daring, headstrong and beautiful  Rosa, watching as Rosa trains to become a nurse. It is Mariella however who becomes engaged to a young surgeon, Henry, but Rose who heads off in Henry’s wake to help on the battlefield of the Crimea. When communications cease, Mariella finds herself compelled to follow them,  determined to find out what has become of them and what if anything their relationship to one another might be.


The Reavers, by  George MacDonald Fraser, read (brilliantly) by Bill Wallis, 8 CDs, unabridged.  This is the perfect spoof for the historical novelist. A rip roaring crazy yarn of the Scottish borders in the reign of Queen Elizabeth – about 300 miles worth! It had me chuckling out loud – nay, chortling even.  (You start to talk like that after a few minutes listening.) Completely dotty. I loved it.





Can I just say how much I loathe the older Perspex  boxes some CDs are packed in. These things disintegrate as you open them and spew their contents all over the car. Roll on the day when they  all come in simple plastic cases with the CDs stacked, neatly and easily, over a central spindle!


Which will, I suppose soon be a thing of the past as downloads become de rigueur. The trouble there is that one will have to make that active choice. No more random sighs over half empty shelves with the joy of discovering some hitherto unsuspected treasure. No more spontaneity. I shall have to plan ahead.







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