Sunday Salon – Today’s Books

This morning I’ve been reading The Border Line by Eric Robson, of interest because we live near the border – the one between England and Scotland. This is the account of Robson’s walk following the border line from the Solway Firth to Berwick-upon-Tweed. It’s also interesting because Robson includes anecdotes, snippets of history and personal memories as well. For all the disputes over the border and the reivers’ raids there is a similarity between English and Scottish Borderers:

For more than four centuries the Borderlands were seen as the scrag end of their respective countries, the frayed edges of monarchy. English borderers and Scottish borderers at least had that much in common. The Border was a remote battleground where national ambitions could be fought over. Northumberland, Cumberland and Westmorland were excluded from the Domesday Book. They were regarded as a military buffer zone. They became a bearpit. (page 51)

The Reivers were romanticised by Sir Walter Scott,  who gave them ‘the spit-and -polish treatment’ and a ‘romantic bearing and heroic stature.’ Robson also sheds light on the derivation of words, such as ‘reiver’: a ‘reef” in Old English meant a line, a Shire Reeve was a man who protected boundaries, thus the reiver raided across the Border Line. ‘Blackmail’ has two possible derivations – greenmail was agricultural rent and blackmail was money taken at night, or protection money. Alternatively it could be that it came from the fact that the reivers blacked their armour to ride as shadows in the moonlight (page 49).  I prefer the alternative derivation.

Then I moved north of the Border Line into Scotland with my reading and finished Ian Rankin’s book The Falls, a book I first read a couple of years ago. I wrote about it at the time and I haven’t much to add to that post. The Falls combines so much of what I like to read – a puzzling mystery, convincing characters, well described locations, historical connections and a strong plot full of tension and pace. Rebus has morphed in my mind into a combination of the actors who’ve played him – John Hannah and Ken Stott – and his creator Ian Rankin. But there is no doubt that the books are far superior to the TV productions. The next Rebus book I’ll be reading is Resurrection Men.

Sunday Salon – Recent, Current and Future Reading

I keep a record of the books I read but it’s meaningless to think of them in terms of how many I read because that depends not only on their length but also on the nature and complexity of the books.  I’ve read three books so far this month:

But that is no indication at all of the amount of reading I’ve been doing. And this is mainly because one of the books I’m currently reading and have been reading for a while is the massive Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. I’m nearing the end now with just under 150 pages left to read. I read this morning that Henry has married Anne Boleyn, she has had her coronation and given birth to Elizabeth. Henry, of course, wanted a son and I wondered as I read this whether the words Mantel puts in his mouth were from a contemporary source or were her own in the light of her knowledge of future events. Henry is striding about the palace at Greenwich:

We are young enough, he says, and next time it will be a boy. One day we will make a great marriage for her. Believe me, God intends some peculiar blessing by this princess (my own emphasis). (page 485).

The other book I’m reading is The Very Thought of You by Rosie Alison. I’m torn between wanting to finish it and taking it slowly just because it’s so good. It’s very easy to read (it’s not written in the present tense, which helps enormously) and I could gallop through it at top speed, so different from Wolf Hall, where I sometimes have to flip back a few pages and re-read them to make sure I know what’s going on. The characters in The Very Thought of You are clearly delineated and I don’t have to wonder ‘now who is that?’  as I do in Wolf Hall – thank goodness that book has a Cast of Characters at the front and two family trees as well.

The Very Thought of You begins in 1939 and as I’m reading I’m becoming very aware that I know very little about that time or about the Second World War as a whole. I’ve been meaning to find out more and a while ago I bought Wartime Britain 1939-1945 by Juliet Gardiner, to fill in some of the gaps in my knowledge, so I keep dipping in to that as I read. It looks as though Alison has done her research well.

As for the books I have coming up next to read, I want to get back to reading more Agatha Christie – Death on the Nile for example and  also Set in Darkness, the next Rebus book in my reading of Ian Rankin’s series. But before that I have some review books to read. The vast majority of the books I read are my own or borrowed from the library or friends and family, but every now and then I receive books from publishers. At the moment I have three I haven’t read yet, although I have read the beginning of each one:

There is one more book that I’d love to read right now and that is The Border Line by Eric Robson (a library book). Robson is a broadcaster and he wrote this book about walking the modern border line between England and Scotland from the Solway Firth to Berwick-on-Tweed. It’s a mixture of history and anecdotes with descriptions of the landscape – the cairns, castles, battlefields and boundary stones along the way. This is the area we spent much time in last year when we were looking for a place to move to in the Borders and where we now live.