The Thirty-Nine Steps


TBR are three letters which strike joy into my heart.

For the uninitiated, these letters hint at the world’s greatest potential: To Be Read. The news might be horrifying, the economy disastrous, the world hotting up like an egg in a microwave (don’t try that at home), our politicians scrapping like children, but one sefifsh, enormous pleasure always remains: the books that I have yet to read. Combine books and lists and – well! My life is complete! Creations like The Guardian’s 100 Greatest Novels of All Time are the sort of thing I live for. My smugness at having read 40 of them is matched by my pleasure at the 60 I have yet to encounter. (How many have you read? Please comment! It’s too quiet on here!)

Immediately on reading the Guardian’s top 100, my TBR list grew by three. A fellow (and recommended!) blogger, Fiction Fan has weekly updates to her towering TBR list, currently hovering just above the 100 mark. In sympathy and fear, I try to keep mine under 30. It’s assembled with a magpie eye. A mention on a podcast by a passionist enthusiast? Machado de Assis, added. A snooty article about the superiority of C20th American authors to the British? Saul Bellow, added. Vague fame which I can’t track? Cider with Rosie, added. Famous film? One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, added. Fame for fabulous bon mots? The Collected Dorothy Parker, added. Ostentatious length? Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, added.

So when I spot a quick win, I go in for the kill. John Buchan’s The Thirty-Nine Steps is a quick and easy read, famous for being the first “modern” adventure story of the ‘man-on-the-run’ variety. It’s a genre that has had plenty of attention over the years, particularly by Hollywood. It’s also a genre that has matured and developed remarkably, as Buchan’s fun but somewhat childlike tale attests. Buchan aimed to write on the very edge of plausibility – at one point, the protagonist waltzes into a secret meeting of the heads of the British Military, tells them the country is in peril, and five minutes walks out with permission to single-handedly sort the whole thing out himself, because they can tell he cares and will be jolly good at it. Frankly, when you’ve seen the Bourne trilogy, you expect more.

Putting my 2013 mindset aside, though, it’s all very rip-roaring and pleasing. The frequent unlikeliness of events is semi-acknowledged and almost tongue-in-cheek, and thus not particularly problematic. For me, it read like a book for teenage boys, revelling as it does in cars, disguises, fights, explosions, and quick-wittedness. It’s Famous Five grown up a bit, or Mallory Towers: The Later Years (if Darrell had gender reassignment surgery). In short, it’s all good fun, if not really my bag. But it’s a darn jolly sort of book all the same, old thing, which should be put into the hands of all children who show a propensity towards building dens and climbing trees.

And now I’ve read 41 on the list. So it’s a win-win.

p.s. I have just moved house and thought you might like this particular unpacking photo:



9 thoughts on “The Thirty-Nine Steps

  1. Only 35 for me…oh, no! Not another 65 to be added to the TBR!! It may fill you with joy – it fills me with dread! Although being honest, I love my TBR list – I like to open it up and sort it and add to it, and very occasionally weed it of some of the ‘seemed like a good idea at the time’ entrants. In fact, if I spent less time playing with my list, I might get through a few more books… 😉

    Thanks for the mention, and I agree about The Thirty-Nine Steps – actually, I prefer the Hitchcock film to the book.

    1. If I’m down, 5 minutes tinkering with the TBR list always peps me up! I must see the film as it sounds more iconic than the book – to my shame I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Hitchcock film! Busily reading novels, the rest of my cultural knowledge is foundering…

  2. Keep the blogs coming so I can tick a few off without reading them as some really don’t sound my cup of tea. But Thirty Nine Steps is a classic, I’ve read it several times and loved it but still can’t remember the plot. That says more about me than the book.

    1. Hmm… I’ve always thought my posts would only appeal to someone who’d read the book, not INSTEAD of reading that book… but whatever works for you!

    1. That’s my misspent youth for you… while everyone else was out drinking Peach Schnapps and having formative life experiences, I was reading and developing a taste for tea.

      1. Haha, I’ve read a lot, just nothing on the list.. Guess they were all a little quirky. Wish I could say my excuse for not reading enough now was down to alcohol but I would be lying. Never been a tea fan though.. perhaps that’s my downfall.

  3. Pingback: Kim | Room of Joy

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