Twenty-five years ago I read…

Looking forward, twenty-five years is an eternity, impossible to imagine, too far away to be relevant. Looking back, twenty-five years sometimes feels like the day before yesterday and sometimes feels like a movie you saw once but can only remember a few scenes from.

One of the bridges that I have to my past self, the man who was not yet forty, had just started to use the new World Wide Web thing, and who still thought of the Twenty-first Century as a setting for Science Fiction novels, are my bookshelves.

Once, that bridge was as solid as the wood the shelves are made from. Now, looking at them and the books they hold, they seem more like a rope bridge, that sways from side to side when I step on it. The books are still there but my memory of them is not what it was.

Today, I consulted the list I kept at the time, (yes, I’ve always been that kind of reader) in the days before GoodReads or LibraryThing and found that I read thirty-five books in 1995 and that many of them are no more than titles to me now. Many others are still on my shelves, carried with me with almost the same affection as the photograph albums that I would be loathe to lose because they remind me of who I used to be.

To strengthen that bridge with my past, I’ve plucked seven of the books I read in 1995 from their shelves and tried to recall what they meant to me. Their details are lost to me now, for the most part. They haunt my shelves, ghosts of books that once lived, whole and entire, in my imagination. Perhaps it’s time to revive them by reading them once more.

I’d discovered Carl Hiaasen a year earlier when I read “Striptease”. It was a fairly obscure book in the UK at the time (the Demi Moore movie was still two years in the future) and I’d been blown away by Hiaasen’s muscular humour.

I took advantage of the fact that I was a decade late joining the Hiaasen party by buying a Picador Omnidbut edition with three novels in it: “Tourist Season”, “Double Whammy” and “Skin Tight”.

I don’t remember much about the plot of “Tourist Season” other than there was a crocodile eating tourists, a whacky terrorist cell attacking tourists and a journalist turned PI in the middle of it all, bobbing about like a plastic bottle on an ebbing tide.

What I do remember very clearly was the shock of Carl Hiaasen. I’d never read anything like him. He was telling a story that felt subversive, was often violent seemed to be embedded in a deep knowledge of the underbelly of Florida and which cackled at all of it like an anarchic god of mischief. It made me laugh out loud and won me as a fan. I followed him for eighteen years, all the way up to “Bad Monkey” which was the only book of his I couldn’t finish.

“Pigs In Heaven” was my second taste of Barbara Kingsolver and my first exposure to First Nation politics. I’d fallen for Turtle and the woman who ‘adopted’ her in “The Bean Trees”, a book I’d come across because it was featured on BBC Radio 4. “Pigs In Heaven” was the sequel and dealt with the reality that you can’t just sweep up a girl in need and take her home with you and beat it against the reality of two people who don’t want to be parted.

I remember it as a book that avoided easy answers and confirmed Barbara Kingsolver as a writer I wanted more of.

“Snow Falling On Cedars” and “Miss Smilla’s Feeling For Snow” are twinned in my memory.

I read them months apart. They’re written in different countries and set in different times but it seemed to me that they shared more than having the word “Snow” in their titles.

They both seemed to me to be beautiful, dolorous and willing to confront uncomfortable things in an unflinching but not unsympathetic way. Both books concern a murder but neither book is really a murder mystery.

“Snow Falling On Cedars” is focused on what it means to be a Japanese American in an isolated, predominantly white island community where the memory of the Japanese American families being rounded up and sent to internment camps as their neighbours stood by is still fresh.

“Miss Smilla’s Feeling For Snow” is focused on the legacy of racism and violence inherited from Denmark’s colonisation of Greenland.

Both books left a signature of beauty, sadness and guilt in my memory.

I’d fallen in love with Lindsey Davis’ work the year before, when I read “The Silver Pigs”, the first book in her series about by Didius Falco, set in Rome and Britain in 70 AD. By 1995 I was reading hard to catch up. I hadn’t read any Historical Fiction since I was a child when I’d been entranced by Rosemary’s Sutcliff’s “Warrior Scarlet”. Falco was a grown-up, much cooler version of historical fiction AND he solved crimes.

“Poseidon’s Gold” was the fifth book in the series and has long ago merged into my memory of reading all twenty of the books, mostly in the year they came out and almost always feeling the satisfaction of going back to a place and a set of people I liked and learning something new each time.

I have the audiobook version of “The Silver Pigs” in my TBR pile. I think I need to start that journey again.

Apart from Sarah Paretsky’s V. I Warshawski, Kinsey Millhone was the only woman Private Investigator I’d even met. I liked that she was tough, divorced (twice) and unconflicted about it. that she was grown up but lived above her aunt’s garage and that was funny as well as smart. and independent and funny.

“A Is For Alibi” was a light fun read but had that ‘Season One, Episode One’ not-quite-finished-yet feel. Still, I rapidly made my way up to “G Is For Gumshoe” and things got a lot better.

I got a bit distracted after that, so I still have H to Y in front of me.

It’s hard to remember when Discworld wasn’t a part of my life. I cope with knowing there won’t be any more of them by going back and re-reading them. Last year, I focused on the Guards books because Sam Vimes is who I want to be when I grow up but my next favourite character is Granny Weatherwax.

I think “Witches Abroad” might make a good starting point for re-reading the Witches sub-series. It has the three main witches in it. It moves far away from their stomping grounds and it sets them up to stop a ‘happy ever after’ wedding. It was fun twenty-five years ago. I suspect it would be even more fun now.

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