My Life in Books is an occasional feature on Random Things Through My Letterbox
I've asked authors and people in publishing to share with us a list of the books that are important to them and have made a lasting impression on their life
I'm delighted to welcome Ayo Onatade to Random Things today. Ayo is a blogger, freelance crime fiction critic and commentator. She's talking today about My Life In Books
Ayo Onatade commentates on all things crime fiction. She writes articles and gives papers on all aspects of the crime and mystery genre. She blogs at Shotsmag Confidential, writes articles for Shotsmag and Crimespree Magazine and is the Chair for the CWA Short Story Dagger
She also currently judges the Nagio Marsh Award, the HWA Debut Novel and is co-editor with Len Tyler of the anthology Bodies in the Bookshop. She is also a visiting lecturer at Kingston University. She Tweets @shotsblog.
My Life In Books ~ Ayo Onatade
I totally blame my mother for my love of books. She is the person that introduced me to crime fiction but most importantly she is the person that gave me an enduring love of libraries. My abiding memory is of my mother leaving my sisters and I along with my brother in the local library when she went shopping. It was the best thing she could have done. Like most young children I grew up reading all sorts of books like Enid Blyton, The Hardy Boys, What Katy Did, Alice in Wonderland, Nancy Drew etc. My family have never shied away from reading.
The first book is more a series of books and it is the Dr Seuss books. Specifically One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish and Green Eggs and Ham. I defy anyone to say that they would not like any one of his books. They work on so many different levels. They cheer you up, make you laugh and certainly remind me of my childhood and libraries.
The next book is The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie. Agatha Christie fans will recognise this as being not only the first Agatha Christie novel written but also the first novel to feature that dapper detective Monsieur Hercule Poiriot. This was the very first mystery novel that I read and unknowingly introduced me to my love of crime, mystery and detective fiction. Whilst my tastes have moved on Agatha Christie will always be my starting point for my interest in crime fiction. I read it when I was 9 going on 10 and on a flight to Nigeria from London.
Then there is Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. I read this whilst I was at secondary school and it was the first African novel that looked at the social and political aspects of Igbo society and the effects of European colonisation on Africa. It is the first book in a trilogy and is considered to be a classic. It is the most widely read book in African literature. The title is taken from a line in the poem The Second Coming by W B Yates.
My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell. The first in the “Corfu Trilogy” about Gerald Durrell and his family and their life in Corfu. This was the first ever autobiography that I read that did not seem to be an autobiography. It was funny, full of interesting information about collecting animals and what fun it was to live in Corfu with a rather eccentric family full of love. It is one of those books that can be read on a number of levels. As an autobiography, a holiday journal or an introduction to animal conservation. It says a lot that I laugh every time I re-read it.
The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett and Farewell my Lovely by Raymond Chandler go hand in hand and changed my crime fiction reading tastes forever. Prior to reading these two books I of course read the complete works of Sherlock Holmes, Golden Age authors such as Dorothy L Sayers, Ngaio Marsh and Margery Allingham (to name a few). But I then read Raymond Chandler’s now definitive essay The Simple Art of Murder and my love of Noir books and films began and has continued to this day.
Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale, which is the first of the Bond books. As a spy thriller Casino Royale was a further introduction to the different types of novels that encompasses the whole genre. Stark, brutal and at times incredibly sexy it also made me realise that there are books that can be made into films. Reading it after I had started to watch the Bond films also certainly confirmed for me the saying “Never judge a book by its movie” by J W Eagan.
Val McDermid’s The Mermaid Singing. Another milestone in my book reading life. I know that people find this a difficult book to read. I did on first reading it and there were times I had to put it down. There is a huge amount of brutality in this book and the author does not shy away from being explicit about it. That aside it is a well written novel that packs a punch. It was one of the first psychological thrillers that I read and in my opinion certainly turned the serial killer sub genre on its head. It also made me realise that at times one had to have a strong stomach to read books like this.
The Tin Roof Blowdown by James Lee Burke came out after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. It is in my opinion one of the best novels by Burke to feature his protagonist Dave Robicheaux. It is a stunning depiction of post-Katrina with New Orleans at its lowest ebb. It was also in its own way making a huge political statement about the then US President and what appears to be the lack of empathy, compassion and help metered out to New Orleans. It certainly re-enforced for me the power of writing.
Ayo Onatade ~ March 2017