Even thought I enjoyed my recent excursions into genre of horror, so far I have not found anybody approaching the brilliance of Shirley Jackson and everybody else came just as an afterthought. Peter Straub, Richard Matheson and Jay Anson were entertaining to the point but there were no thunders and lightnings, burning bushes, bells ringing and overall excitement I felt after reading Jackson, where I would decidedly not immediately move on to another book but still mulled her novels in my mind for days, knowing that the writer like this is unique and probably never to be surpassed again. As noted above, I tried, with lukewarm results. Something in me resisted the idea of simply going back to my old favorites Anne Rice and Stephen King, since I already know them and it would not be a new discovery in a sense Jackson was.
So I decided to change the gears, so to speak and try completely different kind of literature. Just to take a break from horror. Maybe I will like it even more if I return to it later.
Being obsessive Virgo, I actually made my own reading life difficult now with all these books collected in my virtual library - I have far more that anybody could ever read in a lifetime, neatly arranged by genres, years of publishing, authors and what not. At the first look, it seems like cornucopia, true wealth of all sorts of books that centuries ago some lord would proudly display as a personal library adorning the walls, but now when I'm in the mood for reading it just takes forever to actually decide what is the next step, because obviously I can't read all of them - its impossible - and they are all tantalizing & inviting & suited to my particular tastes. There are classics that I am familiar just in a theory, novels, historical books, biographies, thrillers, westerns, books about religion, even a collection of children literature I promise myself to read. Books about art, cinema, essays, food & drink, historical fiction, music, mythology, non fiction, poetry, science and science fiction (something I am completely ignorant about), collections of short stories, books about slavery in America, self-help, spiritual books, books about theatre, travelogues and list goes on forever. In order to make my life easier, I have actually written down the list what to read but it felt unnecessary self-restricting, like I am confining myself to only a handful of titles out of hundreds, where the joy of reading partly is in the impulsive choice, spur of the moment.
Out of all this, my new choice happened to be British writer Peter Ackroyd - who might be very famous, celebrated and important in his native country but I wouldn't know him from a hole in the wall, except that the list of this work actually appeals to me a lot. It seems that he balances between serious history books and fictional novels inspired by history, which is something I always loved, being a history geek. Just before I made up my mind, I listened the episode of my beloved Desert Island Disc with Ackroyd as a guest, to decide what kind of person he might be (some of these famous guests actually ended up being highly unlikable in my opinion) - he passed my test with flying colors, being delightfully sweet, charming, slightly eccentric and obviously full of ideas, I kind of liked even the tone of his voice and off-the-wall music choices he selected for his desert island (amongst others, a 1908. recording that used to be sung to him by his grandmother and Fats Waller) and once I made up my mind that this is someone interesting, I dived into his first volume of history of England.
I actually might know bit and pieces about this subject relatively better than ordinary, proverbial man on the street since I always loved books about the history and wikipedia is obviously my best friend, but still, not being British my educational background was actually more focused on different geographical areas, closer to home. I did some research and found the large gap in my knowledge between Celtic druids and infamous Tudors, with literary hundreds of names unknown to me - since I am only vaguely familiar with Plantagenet royal dynasty, Ackroyd's first volume of history of England actually seemed like a perfect choice because this is exactly what it covers, the period from Stonehenge to Tudors, just what I need.
This is probably what traveling on a flying carpet must feel like, since Ackroyd takes his reader trough centuries - he is delightful storyteller who occasionally drops little anecdotes all over the place and you can tell he not only researched all of this very well but also probably edited it all, just to make sure its not too dry or confusing. It is actually extremely easy to read, nothing like dry history books we used to suffer in the school - but because the nature of such book is serious, its not something you can just read lightly and breezy, I actually focused extremely hard in order not to lose the plot about various predecessors and successors and could only read so much at once. For the first time I actually kind of get the chronological perspective of all this historical tapestry, which is fascinating. Maybe I would like just a little bit more about lives of ordinary people and less about royalty, but I understand that royalty was better documented.
"Of two men in close alliance it was written that singuli caccant uno ano or ‘they shit out of the same arse’."