Lee Child: What I Like Reading

Lee Child: What I Like Reading

When I go on holiday, my wife will get annoyed because all I want to do is sit on the beach and read. I read several books a week. I always like to read new writers, but also the new books from my old favourites, like Joseph Finder, Harlan Coben, Don Winslow and Michael Connelly. My favourite crime novel of all time is probably Thomas Harris’ Red Dragon. Another favourite is Stephen King. I’ve been reading his books ever since Carrie came out. His books are a sucker punch. The voice is so friendly, like sitting on a porch in rocking chairs, and then, bang! Years ago, when I was just starting out as a writer, he did me a big favour without knowing it. I was watching a baseball game on TV. It was close for a while and then the wrong team got on top. Then the announcer said, ‘Even Stephen King’s given up. He’s reading his book.’ And there’s this big close-up of him reading my book.

Classic books I believe everyone should read include To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, which is the greatest legal thriller ever written, in my opinion. Other books that were influential for me, and that I believe nobody should miss include Roots by Alex Haley, Sophie’s Choice by William Styron (if you only read ten novels in your life, make this one), Catch 22 by Joseph Heller, which started a brief but glorious period of dissent in the US, and The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham, which must be the best what-if sci-fi ever. Goldfinger by Ian Fleming, of course – iconic for a reason, and The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler, which is the best from the golden age of American crime writing. But there’s also the debut of one of my top thriller writers, Los Alamos by Joseph Kanon, and Post Mortem by Patricia Cornwell – there’s a reason why she became so popular, and this is it. I recently read John Le Carré’s A Legacy of Spies on a plane. The story folds right back to the glory days of the Cold War, and Le Carré has never been better than when writing that kind of spycraft stuff.

My taste in books is quite wide ranging and eclectic. Sometimes I’ll buy a book only on its physical appeal, for instance The Damned and Destroyed by Kenneth Orvis, which I bought simply because it had the most lurid cover. It turned out to be quite a good thriller. But I’ll read anything — history, politics, sociology. I read a book by Salvatore Basile about the history of air conditioning, a seriously interesting topic, and one on rust, by Jonathan Waldman. Ever since the Iron Age we’ve been making metal structures and they have been rusting away. A bit off the wall for me recently was An Odyssey: a Father, a Son, and an Epic by Daniel Mendelsohn, who is a great classics expert. It’s about Homer’s Odyssey, but it’s also about the fact that Mendelsohn’s dad insisted on sitting at the back of his class while he was teaching it. He told him, ‘Sure, Dad, but you mustn’t open your mouth.’ Inevitably, every five minutes his dad had his hand up asking a question. Recently, I read a great big biography of US President Ulysses S. Grant by Ron Chernow, who also wrote the biography of Alexander Hamilton. I doubt if they’ll make a musical of this one, but it’s a terrific story.

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