Crime writer Val McDermid says Jubilee reading list should include more fiction books | Books | Entertainment
It is generally accepted that the Queen is not a reader of fiction, which is hardly surprising since her required daily review of red boxes of official material takes up to three hours. And we know that when it comes to duty, she doesn’t shy away. But the Duchess of Cornwall is another avid royal reader.
During the lockdown, she launched her online book club to encourage people to broaden their horizons. She enjoys a variety of tastes, from classics like Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol to literary fiction like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half A Yellow Sun, Peter James’ detective story and Philip Pullman’s rich fantasy.
The platinum jubilee reading list curated by the Duchess would, I am sure, have diverged somewhat from the BBC Arts and The Reading Agency list featuring authors from across the Commonwealth.
The 70 titles – 10 books from each decade of the Queen’s reign – are presumably intended to encourage us to broaden the scope of our reading.
I have been an avid reader since childhood. I consider myself reasonably well read and I probably manage to read a few hundred books in a year. Yet I have read less than 30.
It’s not that I’m a stick in the mud who only reads what I’m sure I like.
I started quite a few others and I put them aside. (I used to grimly stick to one book until the end, but I’ve reached the point where I’m going to have to rely on reincarnation to read every book I’m attracted to, so I’m feels less bad to close those I don’t like).
There has been a lot of research in recent years on the value of reading, especially as it relates to child development. Its clear reading promotes important bridges between generations and has wider social benefits.
But there are so many other time-consuming temptations for all of us. Avid readers often drift away from books when they hit their teens, and we’re all drawn to the less demanding attractions of boxed sets and console games.
Reading awakens the imagination. Films and television, and even theater, leave little room for our creativity. We are introduced to what the characters look like, how they move, their tone of voice and the space they occupy.
A book is a different beast. We each have our own film spinning in our heads based on our own experiences. Even when the author describes a character, we imagine something in our imagination from our personal knowledge.
When my Tony Hill and Carol Jordan novels were adapted for television as Wire In The Blood, I was thrilled that Robson Green’s portrayal of Tony Hill matched mine so well.
But I’ve lost count of the times readers have told me, “Robson Green is a good actor, but he just wasn’t Tony Hill.”
They’re not wrong, because they all have their own Tony Hill. So the goal of encouraging people to read deserves applause.
But the secret to compiling a list is finding the right mix of challenge and gratification. I had hoped for something that would draw me in, remind me of what I had missed, excite me more than discourage me.
What’s really missing from the Platinum Jubilee roster is a slice of popular commercial fiction. Since 2003, the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival has been a reliable source of inspiration.
With the “New Blood” panel, we introduced readers to a quartet of newbie authors who I believe are the pick of the crop every year.
Crime fiction has long had its place in Australia and New Zealand but in recent years it has really started to have an impact and two of my picks come from Down Under – black Antipodean if you will.
As for the next big royal party, it will likely be the coronation of Prince Charles with Queen Camilla by his side.
I suggest we celebrate with a list of books curated by the wife, who has proven to be a true reading champion.
1989 by Val McDermid (Little, Brown, £20) is out August 18. Visit harrogateinternationalfestival