Miles Kington: How many books are you reading at the moment?

'Go to your bedside table and honestly tell me what books are there. All of them. Not just the books you would like people to think you were reading'
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The Independent Online

The other day I paid tribute to the memory of the late Richard Boston, and today I want to add a late postscript to my memories of him.

When he was editing his magazine Vole, he rang me up one day and said he was doing a survey of what different writers were reading.

"There's a general feeling that people read one book at a time," he said. "I don't believe this. So go to your bedside table and honestly tell me what books there are there. All of them. Not the books you would like people to think you were reading. The ones you are really reading. Go to your bedside table and read out the titles."

I duly dictated the titles of about 10 books on the go, all half finished. He was not at all amazed by the quantity of books I was reading and said it was about par for the course.

Apart from the fact that Richard Boston is no longer alive, nothing has changed, as I realised the other day when the pile of books on my bedside table fell off with a crash. There were more than usual, because they had been augmented by the books which I took away with me last November, when Richard Ingrams whisked away some Oldie writers on a Swan Hellenic cruise round the Mediterranean. We had started the cruise at Barcelona, so I took with me a book on Barcelona by Colm Toibin, called Homage to Barcelona, which I started reading just as were sailing out of Barcelona. It was an absorbing book and I was still reading it a week or two later when we disembarked at Madeira.

"Surely it does not take a man two weeks to read a book on Barcelona?" I can hear you mutter. "Especially if you have already been there?"

Of course not. But this is where the Richard Boston theory of reading comes in. You do not just read a book on Barcelona. You read a book on Barcelona and half a dozen other books at the same time. Before I had left home I had grabbed a handful of novels I had been meaning to read for years, including Have A Nice Day by Barry Norman, and Beat The Devil by Claud Cockburn.

The Barry Norman was very enjoyable. It detailed the mad attempts by a British TV crew to make a programme on American stars in Hollywood, and was very funny about the short cuts (and cul-de-sacs) taken by film crews, though the plot itself was a bit sentimental.

About the Claud Cockburn, Beat The Devil, I knew only that he had sold the film rights to John Huston, who had filmed it with Humphrey Bogart and Robert Morley in 1953. Claud Cockburn did a film script from his own novel, which Huston so hated he tore it up on the first day of filming and flew the young Truman Capote out to Europe to rewrite the whole thing. I have never seen the film, said to be a cult classic, nor had I read the novel, so I was surprised to find it's really rather good. Seedy, atmospheric, full of good characters, very noir, like down-market Graham Greene.

I also took with me a book on Morocco, as we would be passing that way. Not a modern book, but Morocco That was by Walter Harris, one of Eland's great reprints, and a portrait of the country as it was 100 years ago. Fascinating.

My interest waned slightly when I found we were not actually going to land in Morocco, so I passed on to Agatha Christie - not one of her thrillers, but her effort at an autobiography, which is surprisingly good. Surprising, because the characters in her thrillers are usually pretty wooden, predictable stereotypes, but the characters in her own childhood and growing up are entertainingly eccentric, and often very funny. It's the sort of book that makes you want to read bits out loud to people the whole time. I am rereading it now.

Then I am also rereading Brian Aldiss's book Non-Stop, which is wonderful ...

Oops. Run out of space. Is that enough for going on with, Richard?

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