Reading in Cambridgeshire

Sometime last year I managed to lose track of my reading list. I started to keep better track in January of this year, but I never managed to keep the list updated. So after 14 years of tracking every book I’ve read – I managed to lose track hopelessly. Ah well. I’m happier this way. Something about enforced routines made reading a chore instead of an escape. And every year the list of books I’d finished was depressingly shorter – less free time, more household repair obligations, a sense that what I was reading was on the lighter side and less worthy of examination and recording. All that plays into it, really.

I took two books with me to England:

1) The Night Climbers of Cambridge seemed appropriate, since I knew I’d be visiting the city. It was written pseudonymously by students of Cambridge University in the 1930s, about their adventures scaling the building walls of the various colleges in Cambridge.

The book is a cult classic and inspires the exploits of a band of modern-day dare-devils who have cheekily placed Santa hats on the spires of various chapels over the last several years. I picked up the book after hearing about their exploits in 2008, and this past year’s simultaneous placement of 4 hats on each spire of King’s College was a particularly noteworthy feat. I’ll have my photos edited soon of Kings College chapel, which will help explain why. I had hoped to get photos of some of the key drain pipes and chimneys involved, but alas, I only have photos of the buildings themselves. Too much to do in Cambridge in too little time.

2) Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks: Fifty Years of Mysteries in the Making — Curran was able to study 70+ notebooks that Christie wrote in over the years as she plotted out her mystery stories, and he details key discoveries about how she crafted some of the major stories. This books is a revelation – so fascinating to see behind the finished product and see how she worked. She would have an idea pop into her head and she would just noodle on it; sometimes a plot would spring directly to life, and sometimes she would continue to play with the idea for years before the completed story came about.

Because it was so interesting, I picked up a couple of Christie’s books from Toppings & Co. Books in Ely: The Thirteen Problems and Dead Man’s Folly. The added advantage of that was that I got book covers that aren’t available in the US – much nicer designs, frankly. I read nearly all of Christie’s mysteries as a teenager and still have copies of some of my favorites on my shelf at home. I particularly favored Tommy & Tuppence stories and so have all of them, and I loved Marple. Poirot? I liked him, but he wasn’t my favorite. Curran clearly loves him, though. Most of the novels he covers in the Secret Notebooks featured the mustachioed detective. After I returned home, I picked up seven more of the top ten Christie novels according to Curran – I already owned the other three. So I’ve been reading through those as well, and then flipping back and forth between the book an the novels.

Another great England acquisition was the third Stieg Larsson book – The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. I managed to get it and read it there in England before it was available in the US, which wasn’t much of an advantage (it was released here on May 24) except that I could taunt friends on Facebook. It was very good – he’s pretty great at keeping you riveted through lots of exposition between action scenes. Long, but I read through it without difficulty. I’d recommend highly the whole series.

And a couple other books I’ve read recently back here in the US, but set in Ely and surrounding villages, where we were staying. The first is The Nine Tailorsa Dorothy L. Sayers mystery set in a village church similar to the one in the village my sister lives in. It was the inspiration for several mystery novels by author Jim Kelly about Ely and environs: The Water Clock and The Fire Baby are the first two I’ve read. Not bad reading, although his prose could use some polish, he has a rather bleak view of the area, and his books on the gritty side. But fun because I can picture streets he references and places he sets his scenes.

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