Here are five books I have read at least twice over the years
My favourite reads: Kevin Hackett
Since I was a young boy, I have been an avid reader (and, as my wife constantly reminds me, hoarder) of magazines and newspapers, seemingly unable to find the time or inclination to read a hefty novel. The few books that have left a lasting impression with me are the result of enforced reading while travelling or on holiday, and the five I list here are ones I have read at least twice over the years.
A A Gill is Away by A A Gill (2002)
The main reason for my addiction to newspapers was discovering A A Gill – a journalist who, in his regular Sunday Times features, painted pictures with words like few others could. Outrageously opinionated, yet compassionate and inquisitive, his incredible prose was always best suited to writing about his experiences while travelling. This book is a compilation of some of his best travel writing, as published in various magazines, and remains my go-to tome if I’m in need of a good belly laugh or want to expand my own vocabulary. Gill always made me want to be a better writer, and 18 months after his untimely death, he still does. For the those unfamiliar with this man’s genius, A A Gill is Away is a fine place to start.
27 by William Diehl (1990)
Some novels have inexplicably never been adapted for film or television, and 27, also known as The Hunt, is one such book. Diehl’s hard-hitting language and graphic descriptions pull no punches as he tells a story set during the lead up to the Second World War in which a Nazi-hating mercenary locks horns with one of Hitler’s most brutal assassins in a deadly game of cat and mouse. It’s a thrilling read that resonates even more today, with its almost prophetic sleeper-agent plot, where the Third Reich’s perfect spy and murderer lays in wait for years until given a signal to strike. The closing chapters do veer towards the nonsensical, but suspension of disbelief has rarely been more engaging than this.
Red Dragon by Thomas Harris (1981)
The Silence of the Lambs made Hannibal Lecter a household name, but Red Dragon was the novel that gave him life. I bought this book after seeing the film Manhunter, which was based on it. As a movie, it was extremely suspenseful – sometimes horrifying – but it was let down by an ending that, it turned out after reading it, had departed from the original story. Harris has an uncanny knack for hooking you in and not letting go, meaning you end up reading hundreds of pages in just a few days. That’s fine, though, because his books are that good that you don’t mind revisiting them time and again.
The Moon’s a Balloon by David Niven (1971)
In our family photo album used to be a picture of my dad laughing so hard that tears were running down his cheeks. He was holding this book. I share with him a wicked sense of humour, so when I was old enough to appreciate it, I bought The Moon’s a Balloon. While reading it, often found myself doubled up, no doubt because of the same anecdotes. The memoirs of one of Hollywood’s most enduring raconteurs, it’s an astonishing collection of stories from his early childhood, through military service and to the top tiers of film stardom. It’s a masterpiece – I must buy another copy.
Killing Pablo: The Hunt for the World’s Greatest Outlaw by Mark Bowden (2001)
This was bought for me as a gift and remained unread for months until I finally got around to opening it. But like all my favourite books, it was consumed in no time at all once I had started – a rollicking slab of investigative journalism charting the rise and fall of one of history’s most notorious and violent criminals: Pablo Escobar, the head of Colombia’s Medellin cocaine cartel. Intense and gripping, Bowden’s work reads like the very best crime novels, and Escobar’s reign of terror is laid out in graphic detail thanks to the author’s unprecedented access to the people who ultimately brought him down.
Kevin Hackett is a features writer for The National