Lesley Mace
Lesley Mace asked B.K. Duncan:

When you're reading, not writing, do you prefer to read from a book or an e-reader? Do you collect books? If you do, which is the most interesting book in your collection? And what are your top favourite modern fiction books?

B.K. Duncan Thank you for such a variety of questions, Lesley, all about my favourite subject. I read books the old-fashioned way. I guess because they are my stock-in-trade, have childhood memories of hours spent in libraries, and feel I already spend too much of my time in front of an electronic screen. Plus, I love the smell of books. Particularly pre-owned ones. There is something about picking up a battered hardback in a second-hand bookshop or charity shop or from a market stall and wondering who read it before me; where it has been until it got in my hands; what did the other owners find in its foxed pages? One of my cherished ones has a history all of its own; a 1951 first edition by Harold Dearden had been in the Derby Mechanics’ Institution Library and stuck on the title page is this notice:
‘The attention of borrowers is directed to the following Extract from Clause 171, Derby Corporation Act, 1901:- “No person shall return to any Lending Library any book which has been to his knowledge exposed to infection from any infectious disease, but shall at once give notice that it has been exposed to infection to the Medical Officer of Health or to the Inspector of Nuisances, who shall cause the same to be disinfected and then returned to the Librarian. If any person offends against this enactment he shall be liable to a penalty not exceeding forty shillings.”.”’
Doesn’t that make you want to write a story? Particularly given the title of the book: ‘Aspects of Murder’.

I don’t collect books as such (although my groaning shelves of thousands would give lie to that) and acquire them for reading rather than any monetary or rarity value, but I will hunt down a scare book on a subject I’m researching or to add to a particular author’s works. I have everything Robertson Davies published. My latest quest is to read all of J.B. Priestley’s vast output – novels, plays, essays, radio broadcasts, criticism, social history, writing wisdom – and as I’ll want to go back to some of them again and again I feel I have to own them. Call it obsessing rather than collecting.

Favourite modern authors is a tricky one because I go through phases of obsession (see above) and it will also change depending on what I am writing myself in terms of genre or theme. I also have a problem determining what constitutes ‘modern’; my books are set in the Great War and the 1920s and so I read a lot of the authors of that time to get a flavour of the tone and language: right now J.B. Priestley feels modern to me! But I’ll plump for a couple because you’ve asked me to . . . Andrew Taylor, Sarah Waters, Annie Proulx, A. S. Byatt . . . You see, I can’t restrict myself at all when it comes to books!

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