Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Reading Really Matters

I have almost finished reading The Cruel Sea by Nicholas Monsarrat. It is not just a novel about the battle for the Atlantic. It is the story of the men who served on board the corvette Compass Rose, their lives at home and at sea. It flows up and down like the waves on the sea, making you cry one minute and smile the next. It is not just a novel, it is an experience and it has already had a profound effect on me.

My father joined the RN as a boy. He was on a cruiser on the Russian (Arctic) convoys. He didn't talk much about them, except to say it was extremely cold - their drinks froze in their mugs before they could drink them.

But I can't talk about him and what his experiences did to him, not here, not now. I know that he saw things that haunted him to the day he died. Oddly enough, reading Wild Swans had already brought home to me some of what he had seen when he was in China. Perhaps that is in part why that particular book was so compelling for me.

It seems a long time to be really getting to know my father more than 30 years after his death, but in some ways I feel I know him better now than I ever did.

The Cruel Sea is is a book I should have read a long time ago and I am glad to have come to it at last. After reading a couple of modern, shallow and forgettable novels beforehand I feel as if I have come home. It may even change my life. Some books have that power.

Which brings me to life changing books, or maybe just books that have had a great influence on me. The first of those must be Black Beauty which I read when I was very young.

I have just ordered a batch of ten books from The Book People for £9.99. Adding those books to my order meant I saved £3.50 postage, so as I see it, I have bought 10 books for (hold on while I get my calculator) £6.49 so if I find two books among the ten that I enjoy reading, I shall feel that I've had my money's worth.


  1. That's a good deal. Our local bookshop recently had a sale - every book was marked down to £2. Needless to say, I staggered home with as many as I could carry. I love a bargain.

  2. I had a friend who served on the same ship as Nicholas Monserrat who used to wander around trying to get his shipmates to buy a copy of his book. My friend, Chas, didn't buy one and has regretted it ever since. Wherever he goes he looks for a first edition because he missed out. It's a scary thought because there are so many acquaintances whose books I have not bought. Am I going to live to regret it?

  3. He must be kicking himself! He'd have got it signed as well. I hope he finds one.