The Hunt For Red Pillars of the October Earth

By | July 31, 2023

With no access to good school libraries or expansive public libraries, my early reading was curated by my parents. I read whatever they had around, and from time to time asked for recommendations.

Two books suggested to me in quick succession were The Hunt For Red October and Pillars of The Earth. They came out several years apart, but I read them one after another in when Pillars hit paperback. Dad flew a lot, so he went for fiction to pass the time. He’d liked the series of linked melodramas of Pillar and the plot of October. Maybe I would, too.

At the time, teenage me thought  they were both great, though when it came to Cold-War era spy books I eventually tended more towards DeMille (I thought he told more compelling stories). Considering the earn out on Jack Ryan and all of Clancy’s stuff, I seem to be in the minority on that score.

Pillars was like nothing I’d seen in other adult books; a romance novel with some romance and star crossed lovers, etc. It also wefted the warp with slice of life stuff and the romance of being able to do what you love. Building a family, and a life. Finding survival skills like building a cloth business or building a cathedral that blazed with stained glass. A romance novel “for boys”, finally, and I liked it.

When I got to adult life and had access to astonishing amounts of cheap books (library sales! Tag sales! Books by the box shops!) and well stocked libraries, I read more Clancy. Nope, still not my cup of tea, just copaganda and not told well (in my opinion—I don’t think much of Steven King, either, but that’s more likely not liking horror too) though I did like reading the real life Red October story told later by other authors (there are several retellings I’ve read).

I read more Follett. Mostly thrillers, but it was interesting to read them through and guess where he was in his career based on how the story went. I briefly went through a phase of completion-reading in my youth, but again, books were pretty terrible (made want to write, though) when I was a kid so I dropped that expensive habit, mostly. Watching a writer’s career wax (and sometimes wane) as their skills develop, as their editors shepherd the manuscript through edits (or they change editors who take a different tack) and the publishers accede to market changes is pretty cool.

So when I read something now, it’s not just to read it, it’s to learn something from it. And if I read more than one of a novel or more than one series, it’s to get a feel for how the author and their editors grew and changed (along with the market and social dynamics, in many cases) over the years.