I got through a few books rather rapidly this month and may well finish a fourth, but for now here are some thoughts about three books to get this blog bang up to date in the ‘Reading’ category.

Louis Theroux – Theroux the Keyhole was a Christmas gift and an easy read. I listened to his previous book Gotta Get Theroux This during lockdown and thoroughly enjoyed it – he’s just as good in written form as he when he’s on TV. This book takes the much-loved diary format and documents his lockdown experience.

At turns he feels inadequate as a father to his two young sons, like a bad husband to his wife who he has just set up a badly timed documentary production company with, and that he is drinking far too much to numb the pain of being shut indoors instead of visiting weirdos around the world and asking them silly questions. In fact most of the questions he asks seem to be aimed inwardly and you get a sense that, like many people during lockdown, the unavoidable claustrophobic soul-searching led to a reappraisal and appreciation of what mattered the most to him in his life. It’s a funny and heart-warming book and an easy read.

“I don’t have many secrets. Basically, my vices are probably the obvious ones of drinking too much, and being an insensitive man, in various respects. But I think that owning up to that is a public service of sorts, at least that’s what I’ve persuaded myself.” 

Louis Theroux (quoted from this news article)

J. R. R. Tolkein’s Beren and Luthien was another Christmas gift. The book was posthumously compiled from his numerous notes and edited by his son Christopher Tolkien and presented in the same sort of time period of Middle Earth (The First Age, about 6,500 years before the events of The Lord of the Rings) and in much the same exploratory spirit as The Fall of Gondolin and The Children of Hurin.

Beren and Luthien is the story of the love between mortal man Beren and the immortal Elf Lúthien, and to my mind is the most magical of stories in which a dance and a song can send the most evil of foes into a slumber, in which Beren can take on the form of a wolf by wearing it’s skin, and in which boats fly and turn into stars. Tolkien wrote several versions of their story (in an early version Beren is actually an elf) which his son painstakingly explains. like the other posthumous books, it is often a story about the creation of the story than it is the story itself.

Along with The Silmarillion these books are essential reading for Tolkien fans and read as a collection provide as complete a picture of Tolkein’s fantastical ‘legendarium’ as can be made available. This is a world history that was more important in some ways to the author to try and complete than the far more publisher-friendly The Lord of the Rings, sadly a lot of stories and associated poems were unfinished but we’re not feeding on scraps here – this is full-bodied stuff the likes from which many a classic 70s rock song has sprung to echo through the lofty cobwebbed halls of time.

Stephen King’s The Institute has been sitting on my bookshelf for some time and I thought I had better get it over and done with. I don’t know why I’m so reticent about King these days – he remains one of my all-time favourite authors and I’ve not missed a book, but they are often heavy going and require some emotional effort from the reader – something that after a bout of flu I didn’t think I had in my locker going into it.

Thankfully it didn’t take long, as usual (why do I doubt the guy?), to become 100% hooked on the story and to be fair he starts you off easy with a kind of homage to Lee Child’s Jack Reacher with disgraced cop Tim Jamieson turning up in a small town in South Caroline looking for work with the local sheriff’s office.

However, the story soon turns to Luke Ellis, a gifted twelve-year-old boy who has a touch of telekinesis along with his intellect. This is well-trodden ground for King and it feels like he is going to back to his roots when he writes about the boy being abducted and waking up in the titular institute. Long-time fans will be thinking of Firestarter at this point, new readers probably more likely will have Stranger Things in their minds. No surprise given how hugely derivate the Netflix show is. It’s as Stephen Kingy as can be without triggering a lawsuit I think.

Anyway Luke meets some other kids in the Institute who have also been kidnapped and are being injected with drugs and subject to weird tests of their telekinesis or telepathy. Unfortunately there’s no fire starters in the story. Escape is on the top of Luke’s list of things to do, closely followed by revenge as he is convinced his parents are dead. I don’t think it’s a massive spoiler to say that he does escape (bit of a dull story if he didn’t) and quite obviously meets Reacher, sorry I mean Jamieson, who helps to protect him against the bad guys. It’s a great book with a great ending (sometimes lacking in King’s work) and I don’t know why I let it gather dust before I read it.

“He was only twelve, and understood that his experience of the world was limited, but one thing he was quite sure of: when someone said trust me, they were usually lying through their teeth.”

Stephen King