Written by Books

February Books

My reading volume dropped a little in February, as will be noted below.

The Good Liar by Nicholas Searle is a lovely tale about a con-man and his latest – perhaps final – mark. The book alternates perspectives, but mostly this is about Roy – who when we meet him is on a date with Betty. We quickly realise that he is not a nice character. He seems scheming and we’re not sure what his goal is. Betty on the other hand seems very sensible – yet somehow she is nonetheless drawn to Roy.

Quickly we’re told that not all is as it seems. Betty is being helped by some friends, while with Roy, we get flashbacks further and further into his past. He’s clearly a chancer, and indeed a conman. Where is it all going to end?

The Good Liar is a fun page-turner always trying to twist and turn. I’d basically worked out where it was going before it got there, but it was a good read nonetheless.

The Night Manager by John Le Carré was a book I of course wanted to read ahead of the current BBC/AMC adaptation. I have read some, but by no means all of Le Carré’s work, and I remember my father getting this book as a gift one birthday or Christmas sometime after it came out. It tells the story of Jonathan Pine, the night manager of a Swiss hotel. When arms dealer Richard Roper arrives at his hotel, he recalls a time previously in Egypt where the same man had caused the death of Sophie, a woman he’d fallen in love with. Then he’d tried to report the arms deal to the British authorities, but this had led to the woman’s death. Now “The Worst Man in the World” was back in his life. What follows is an exemplary thriller as Pine is recruited by Leonard Burr, and an operation is launched against Roper – living a lavish lifestyle on a private island with his private yacht.

It’s interesting to see what has been maintained from book to screen, and what has been changed, updated (the novel was published in 1993) or expunged. Because even six hours of drama struggles with nearly 500 pages of story.

I loved the book, and need to catch up with Le Carré even though I fear he’s no longer writing novels. (He did publish a long piece about the transition of this book and his other work from page to screen.)

Wildwood by Roger Deakin is a book I’d long known about but never read. I actually came to it via an evening listening to extracts of radio and music at an In the Dark event with Ian Chambers. One of the excerpts was from The House, a Radio 4 documentary on his home, Walnut Tree Farm, in Suffolk. In an email conversation with Chambers afterwards, I ended up picking up this book to read, and it’s wonderful.

Wildwood: A Journey Through Trees (to give it its full title) is an exploration of trees and woods. There are reminscinces from Deakin’s childhood where he’d taken an especially keen interest in the wildlife surrounding his school with some superb teachers. He talks about trees, woods, forests, those who work in them, and those who work with the wood itself. The first part of the book sees him travelling around the UK visiting various woods and forests – often sleeping out in them. The later part tells of his travels to sometimes quite remote parts of the world, for example exploring wild apple and walnut trees in Kazakhstan and Kurdistan.

Although this wonderful book is now nearly ten years’ old – it was published posthumously in 2007, Deakin having died in 2006 – it still seems very popular. Indeed there does seem to be a renaissance in nature and wildlife writing right now. So perhaps it wasn’t surprising when a fellow-commuter and I both found ourselves, one morning sitting facing one another and reading the same book!

Holloway by Dan Richards, Robert Macfarlane and illustrator Stanley Donwood is really paean to Roger Deakin. Some years earlier, Macfarlane had visited the south-west to find an ancient holloway – an enclosed usually wooded path, where years of use have carved out the ground – following in the footsteps of the protagonist in Geoffrey Household’s Rogue Male. Although that book was fiction, the hidden holloway described was seemingly true, and is not marked on maps.

Following Deakins’ death, Mcafarlane and friends take another trip to the same area, and this very brief booklet is the outcome. It’s a lovely book to read following on from Wildwood.

InDesign Type by Nigel French is obviously a bit of a specialist title. Basically I needed something to help me with typography as I tried to lay out a photobook in InDesign – a program I’m not especially familiar with. While I wouldn’t pretend that this title is the best introduction ever to InDesign, it is fantastic at explaining the nuances of typography, fonts and text layout. On a handful of occasions now I’ve lain out type for photobooks, and it has always been that aspect of them that has disappointed me.