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I’m often asked what is my favourite book is but the question always throws me. My mind goes blank: what book is in my bag? What did I say last time? But it’s a perfectly logical question to ask the guy spouting off about how people should read and read more. Let’s cut to the quick and see what he likes. But favourite books are wrapped in so much of your life, it’s hard to let them stand on their words alone. Favourite books are where your read-life and your lived-life merge. Favourite books can be the ones that change you, comfort you, shock you, enlighten you, or fill your need for a story.

Being allowed by the lovely people at Give A Book to ramble on about potential favourites, made me realise why I tend to shy away from the question – that it’s just about me and, while I’m happy to talk about ME until the cows come home, reading for me is also about connecting with other people. First with the author, your thoughts swimming together, and then with others. Readers don’t have to like the same books, but it is a special moment when you meet someone who shares with you a love of a particular book or author.
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It can happen in the oddest places, and this isn’t the same as someone clocking what you’re reading and feeling they can give you their take on it. As a despatch rider, I was once sitting in the protean-wasteland of the Docklands, where new streets and buildings would appear each week. Another biker stopped, nodded at the cover of the book I was reading, The Anarchist Reader. I was immediately recruited into the anarcho –syndicalist DIWU (Despatch Industries Workers Union), given a key-ring with the apology that the DIWU had disbanded several weeks earlier.
So, no, not that kind of exchange. Nor the kind of prescribed list that publishers or prizes offer.
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I have felt that connection twice recently, both times in prison libraries, both about the books of John Connolly. I’ve been reading and rereading Connolly’s Charlie Parker series (do also read his stand alone novels, particularly the magnificent The Book of Lost Things). Initially a serial killer vs. detective narrative, the Parker books have since evolved its supernatural elements, becoming a grand mythology akin to Neil Gaiman’s Sandman epic whilst losing none of its heart.
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The first time was in the stacks of the prison library. I go into the stacks whenever I can, to look at what’s in stock and also to see what other people are interested in. There are some voracious readers in prison. This was a male prison and some of the men clearly thought I was there to offer “good reading choices”. The prisoner in the stacks was working through the Lee Child spines. I saw him slide by the Connollys and mentioned he might like them. Read them all. he said. And he had even the brand new collection of short stories. But we stood there talking over the latest Charlie Parker – connected. Equal for that moment and happy to share that space.

The second time was in a privately-run women’s prison. Privately-run prisons tend to have a smaller choice of books: they can’t refresh through the public library system. In this women’s prison, the prisoner has already chosen five of her six books when she asked me which other I would add. I saw she had a John Connolly in the pile and immediately we were like old friends chatting away about the series.
‘Five minutes left,’ the librarian called.
There weren’t any more Connollys. We were dancing round the stacks chatting about what else we’d read whilst promising the librarian we would be ready soon.
‘Three minutes,’ the librarian sang out, smiling at our search.
No early Clive Barker, Aickman too rare, and James Lee Burke too much on the crime side. Triumphantly I pounced on Peter Straub’s The Throat.
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Okay, she should probably read Koko first but The Throat is an amazing novel and has the same strands of crime, thriller, and supernatural as Charlie Parker. We rushed the library counter together, laughing for no other reason than it’s good not to be alone.