1970s Thriller

The Stand by Stephen King

The Stand

Five words from the blurb: plague, death, dreams, Apocalypse, grows

I had never read any Stephen King (I was too scared), but then Sandy persuaded me that I’d be OK with this one, despite the apocalyptic premise. She was right, but I’m afraid I read this about 15 years too late. I think I’d have loved The Stand if I’d read it in my early twenties, whilst going through a Crichton binge, but my reading tastes have changed since then and I found it lacked the depth I crave today.

The Stand started really well, with a wonderfully tense scene involving a man escaping from a secret government facility after an accident released a deadly strain of the flu virus. Unfortunately this man carried the virus with him and it spread quickly, wiping out almost everyone in America. 

I loved the first 60 pages of this book, but after that it began to get repetitive. Too many characters were introduced and I didn’t enjoy reading about every one of them dying. There was a frustrating inevitability to it all so after about 400 pages I began skimming through the chapters. The same problem was repeated with the nightmares and so I decided to give up and read the wikipedia summary!

There were many great passages and the writing quality was higher than I expected it to be. 

Glen was both amazed and heartened by their willingness to talk, and by the charged atmosphere of excitement that had taken over the dull blankness with which they had begun the meeting. A large catharsis, long overdue, was going on, and he was also reminded of sex talk, but in a different way. They talk like people, he thought, who have kept the huddled up secrets of there guilts and inadequacies to themselves for a long time, only to discover that these things,when verbalized, were only life sized after all. When the inner terror sowed in sleep was finally harvested in this marathon public discussion, the terror became more manageable…perhaps even conquerable.

There was a wonderful 400 page book trapped in this 1700 page epic and I think I’d have loved The Stand if it had focused on just two or three people. The drama was spread too thinly for me as it took several hundred pages to get to the next interesting plot point. As a younger person I’d have had the patience to enjoy this flabby, meandering plot, but I’m afraid that I’ve read too many books that have dealt with the subject in a more powerful way – not many books can stand up to comparison to Blindness by José Saramago

It’s a shame that my first King read wasn’t more positive, but I’m glad I’ve now experienced his writing. 


Do you think I’ll have better luck with any of his other books or are they all similar in style?


1970s Non Fiction Uncategorized

Alive by Piers Paul Read

Alive: There Was Only One Way to Survive

Five words from the blurb: plane, crash, survivors, unthinkable, truth

After giving myself permission to read a book which mentioned a plane crash I decided that I might as well go the whole hog and read Alive, a book which gives a detailed account of one. In 1972 a Uraguayan plane crashed into a remote mountainside and the passengers survived in horrendous conditions for 10 weeks before being rescued. Their story is controversial because the only way in which they could stay alive was to eat those who had perished in the initial impact. 

Alive was much less disturbing than I imagined. The cannibalism was tactfully described and it didn’t sensationalise the process –  instead it clearly showed the difficulty and revulsion the group  faced when deciding whether or not they should eat their friends. The overall theme was of survival, showing the difficulties faced by those on the brink and how they were able to utilise their small resources to make their lives more comfortable. 

The seventeenth day, October 29, passed quite well for those stranded in the Fairchild. They were still cold, wet, dirty, and hungry, and some were in great pain, but in the last few days a degree of order seemed to have been imposed on the chaos. The teams for cutting, cooking, melting snow, and cleaning the cabin were working well, and the wounded were sleeping a little more comfortably in their hanging beds. More important still, they had started to single out the fittest among them as potential expeditionaries who would master the Andes and get help. Their mood was optimistic.

This book was incredibly well paced. The way it alternated between the view of the survivors on the mountain and those who were searching for them was very effective. It maintained a beautiful tension throughout, despite the fact the reader knows how it ends from the beginning. 

My only criticism is that it was difficult to keep track of all the people. The large number of names meant I could not distinguish between many of the survivors and had even less chance of keeping track of all their family members. In many ways this was a positive as it meant I wasn’t emotionally attached to any of them and so maintained an objective distance from their pain and emotional turmoil.

Despite the difficult subject matter Alive was a surprisingly positive book. It showed the strength of the human spirit and the importance of keeping hope alive. It is 40 years since publication, but this book remains as fresh and important as the day it was released. Highly recommended.  




1970s Memoirs

The Shining Levels by John Wyatt

The Shining Levels

Five words from the blurb: Lake District, forest, joys, deer, friendship

The Shining Levels is a beautiful book about the joys of the English countryside. It is an autobiographical account of John Wyatt’s move to a small stone hut in the Lake District, where he lives without many home comforts. He often takes things further by staying in a basic shelter in the woods; eating what he can find around him. His enthusiasm for the flora and fauna is infectious and it makes me want to walk through a wood looking for the wildlife he mentions. Well you can find best quality, economical, long lasting wood briquettes at

Wyatt has a particular passion for trees and he explains everything from what each species tastes like, to the recipe for the perfect fire:

Once one gets the taste for smoking wood it is possible to mix and obtain subtle flavours; and invent recipes. Prepare a fire base of larch kindling, add well-seasoned oak until the logs redden deeply; place one large back-log of holly, and add, from the fire back to the front, one crab-apple log, one well-dried cherry and one of birch. An ideal after-dinner mixture.

There is also a fascinating account of what happens when he agrees to look after a baby roe deer. The relationship that builds between the two is wonderful and I highly recommend this book for that aspect alone.

On top of the detailed, vivid descriptions of wildlife we also glimpse what life was like in 1970s Cumbria. There is a wonderful range of local characters and many amusing anecdotes.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading about nature, especially those with a connection to the Lake District.


Many thanks to David, a regular commenter, for recommending this book to me.

1970s Classics

Watership Down by Richard Adams

Watership Down

Five words from the blurb: rabbits, leave, warren, journey, danger

I wanted to read Watership Down as a teenager, but several friends warned me about how sad it was and so I avoided it. Even as an adult I’d been scared to read it or watch the film. Recently I realised how ridiculous this aversion was, especially given the number of disturbing books I read, so I bought a copy and settled down to read it in the sunshine.

Watership Down is the story of a group of rabbits who decide to leave their warren and set up home in a new field. Along the way they meet numerous dangers, including foxes, owls and people.  It is a wonderful story for children, but unfortunately it didn’t have the same impact on me as an adult.

The main problem was that it was a bit predictable. It quickly became obvious that they would encounter every threat possible, suffer mild peril, but ultimately be OK. I’m afraid I became a cynical reader and started looking for the patterns, groaning as each new predator approached and they escaped AGAIN!

I also found the plot too slow and meandering. It probably didn’t help that I already knew the ending (a sign that this classic book has become so important to our society) or that there were so many rabbits it was hard to bond to any of them individually.

On a positive note, the writing was good and there were some lovely ideas about rabbit mythology.

Rabbits (says Mr Lockley) are like human beings in may ways. One of these is certainly their staunch ability to withstand disaster and let the stream of their life carry them along, past reaches of terror and loss. They have a certain quality which it would not  be accurate to describe as callousness or indifference. It is, rather, a blessedly circumscribed imagination and an intuitive feeling that Life is Now.

I’m glad I’ve read it, but I wish I’d done so as a fourteen-year-old.


1960s 1970s Non Fiction Recommended books

The Mountain People – Colin Turnbull


…..our much-vaunted human values are not inherent in humanity at all, but a luxury of ordered society.



Five words from the blurb: tribe, starvation, cruelty, individual, society 

In 1964 anthropologist Colin Turnbull spent two years living with the Ik, a tribe living in the mountainous borders of Uganda and Kenya. Crops had failed for two years in a row and people were dying from starvation. This book details the shocking events he witnessed as the people struggled to survive.

Turnbull saw that the basic structure of society seemed to have been lost as everyone cared only about themselves.

Children are useless appendages, like old parents. Anyone who cannot take care of himself is a burden and a hazard to the survival of others.

The old and young were left to die – food sometimes even being stolen from their mouths. The people failed to display any of the characteristics we think of as being common to all humans, failing to show the slightest degree of compassion for those who were suffering.

…she was totally blind and had tripped and rolled to the bottom of the oror a pirre’i, and there she lay on her back, her legs and arms thrashing feebly, while a little crowd standing on the edge above looked down at her and laughed at the spectacle.

The tribe were also unusual in that the structure of the family unit had completely broken down. Children were thrown out of the home at the age of three, elderly relatives were ignored, and even the husband-wife relationship was minimal.

This entire book had me gripped and questioning how strong our own society is. In many ways this book was similar to Blindness, but the scary thing is that Mountain People is true. Human beings actually did these things to one another and there is little to stop it from happening again somewhere else.

This book isn’t perfect – there are some points when the writing is a bit dry or when too many geographical or anthropological details are added to a section, but these are very minor issues.

This book is a fascinating insight into what could happen to a society when there simply isn’t enough food for all to survive. It is my favourite read of the year so far.


So how did I discover this fantastic book?
After my disapproval of Anne Robinson as a host on the recent My Life in Books TV series (because she doesn’t like fiction) I am almost embarrassed to admit that I first heard about this book in an article she wrote for the Radio Times. All I can say is that Anne Robinson has a fantastic taste in non-fiction books and I will be keeping an eye out for more of her recommendations in future.

1970s Booker Prize

The Elected Member – Bernice Rubens

‘The Elected Member’ won the Booker prize in 1971. It is the story of one man’s battle with drugs, and how his family cope with having a drug addict as part of the family. Norman is a bright, young Jewish boy living in a tight knit family in London’s East end. He has a promising law career ahead of him, but when a tragic event occurs Norman’s life begins to fall apart. His family struggle to deal with the series of events that follow. The story is told from each member of the family’s point of view. It is very moving, and although I have no personal experience of drug abuse it all seems very vivid and realistic. The drug taking is not glorified, as it can be in some books, and although Norman comes across as a deeply troubled man, you feel great sympathy for his situation.

I was totally gripped by this book. My only criticism is that there is no joy to be found anywhere. It leaves you feeling quite deflated and depressed. The writing is very accomplished, and even though you don’t necessarily want to be there, you are transported into the world completely. The descriptions of Norman’s hallucinations were particularly realistic.

Highly recommended – but have a box of tissues handy!!
4 out of 5 (point removed because it was so depressing!)