Between The Pages

Just to set the record straight: I’m biased. Totally and utterly. Show me your bookshelves and I might swear instantaneous allegiance to you. Simple as that.

Years ago, I convinced a friend that she had to put in an offer on a house we’d seen together, because in one bookcase were crammed two dozen of my favourite books. Two dozen! For some strange reason, my friend instead worried about the space for her three sons. Some people and their priorities. Although she’s still dear to me.

But enough of other people’s shortcomings. I herewith invite you to step into my parlour (and, no, I’m not a spider, nor even remotely inclined to lure you into a trap). It’s only fair that you get a chance to judge me by my books.

Since you live probably too far away to come over and crane your neck to decipher the titles on the spines, I’ll introduce you here to the books and writers that have delighted and possibly influenced me as a reader and a writer. A bit like Desert Island Discs, only bookish and thus better.

In primary school, I discovered Mark Twain and Charles Dickens. To go on a treasure hunt with Tom Sawyer, travel down the Mississippi on a raft with Huckleberry Finn, or try to escape Fagin’s evil clutches with Oliver Twist – what could compete with that when you’re eight or nine? And Kim, Rudyard Kipling’s young adventurer, living on his wits in an India that reeked of strange scents and excitement.

Nobody was happier that our local bookseller. Every single penny of pocket-money went straight into his till.

Then came Agatha Christie. This time it wasn’t the exotic locales that enchanted me, but the battle of wits, and the involvement in the hunt for the murderer. With lives (and sometimes love) at stake, who could resist becoming a sleuth themselves in the search for justice. Dorothy L Sayers introduced me to another, more openly high-brow, version, and alas was responsible for the first romantic disappointment of my life. Lord Peter Wimsey and I could have been incredibly happy together (Bunter included, in a purely platonic way), but he had to go and fall for someone else!

Let’s draw the curtain over this sad affair. To console myself, I turned to happier affairs. Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice captured my reader’s heart completely, as did Georgette Heyer’s regency novels. I still reread them, with their frivolous setting, battle of the sexes and dazzling heroines, who easily outshone the men.

The list goes on and on. Only rarely have I grown tired of a once-loved author, and even in those most extreme cases, I will always harbour a lingering fondness for them. It wasn’t their fault the relationship grew stale, and others turned my head.

According to an online test I recently took, I’m a polygamous, extrovert and something I forgot kind of reader. Which means, nobody will raise a brow if I mention just a few more of the many writers that have shared my life and bed over the years (also in a purely platonic sense, but I do read in bed).

I, pen name Caron Albright, solemnly promise to always love, honour and cherish Elizabeth Peters, Joan Hess, Janet Evanovich, Bill Bryson, Jean Webster, Tony Hillerman, Ken Follett, Ngaio Marsh, Catriona McPherson, Kerry Greenwood, Alistair McLean and Terry Pratchett.

They’ve taken me to places I could have never imagined, introduced me to characters I’ll never forget, shaped my dreams and my opinions, and most of all, they’ve always been there for me. If that isn’t a love story, I don’t know what is.

But enough about me. If you and I have anything in common, I hope we’ll meet again somewhere, online or in person. And don’t forget, if you view a house and find your favourite books displayed in a case, do put in an offer. Children will grow up and leave the nest. Books stay.

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Carmen Radtke, 2019