Thursday, August 15, 2013

Bogmail, Reading, and the Internet

I do not remember how I discovered the Irish novelist Patrick McGinley.  My best guess is that I saw a Penguin paperback copy of his first novel, Bogmail (1978), in the mystery section of a used bookstore in the early 1990s.

I think I read it in 1994 or 1995 and it is slightly horrifying to think that is almost 20 years ago.  I loved it and then set out to find and read the rest of his books.  In Bogmail, a pub owner has to kill his barman and after he disposes of the body in a bog, starts to get get blackmailed by a mysterious person. And then things get complicated.

Earlier this year, McGinley published a new novel, Cold Spring, and Bogmail was republished to coincide with the rebroadcast on Irish television of Murder for Eden, the 1991 adaptation of Bogmail.

Curious to revisit Bogmail after all these years I got out the copy of Bogmail I read (a second edition hard cover) and was stunned by how much I wrote in it.  (I never write in books.  I often take notes but in general I hate defacing them by making notes in them.)  Apparently, my knowledge of Irish vocabulary and culture was almost non-existent and I wrote down the definitions of dozens of words.  I can remember asking random Irish people the meanings of certain words. (Which probably was a lunatic thing to do but how else was I going to figure this stuff out?)  I guess I used dictionaries to understand some of the words.  This would have been done when the internet was still in its infancy and certainly well before mobile high speed internet access (via which I always consult Google when reading now.)  In fact, I recently read 15 novels in a row by the Sicilian crime writer Andrea Camilleri and I Googled dozens of things in each book I read.   I know the internet is destroying traditional book publishing and retailing but after seeing what my reading was like pre-internet (with Bogmail) and what it is like now (with Andrea Camilleri), it is astonishing how much the internet is enhancing the reading process.  I suppose the ability to instantly access a world of information is taken for granted by most but seeing the notes I wrote in Bogmail made me realize how different things used to be not so long ago.

A different example of how the internet is enhancing my reading life just popped up in the series of books I started after I finished reading Andrea Camilleri.  For some reason, I fell behind in reading the Scottish crime writer Denise Mina.  She is a fantastic writer - so good that for the second year in a row, she has won the Theakstons Old Peculiar crime novel of the year award. Up until a few years ago I had read all of her books, usually just as they were published.  All of my copies are UK editions as I never wanted to wait for each book to be published here.  But in 2009 she started a new series with Still Midnight and it didn't grab me right away.  So I put it aside and now four years later, I've gone back to it and the books which followed: The End of the Wasp Season, Gods and Beasts, and The Red Road.  These books feature a female Glaswegian police officer named Alex Morrow.  In The End of the Wasp Season, DS Morrow mentions that some lazy police officers are reading The Digger, which is a weekly paper in Glasgow that covers crime, criminals, and corruption.  And it just so happens that via the internet I saw, back in 2007, a documentary about The Digger that BBC Scotland aired.  The reference to The Digger in the book is interesting but by no means crucial to understanding anything but nonetheless I was thrilled that I recognized it.  (And also thrilled that the hours I piss away on the internet occasionally pay off.)