Lee Child on Birmingham: ‘The pollution was insane. Rivers would catch fire’

The Jack Reacher author recalls his childhood in a prosperous city, haunting the library and the strong work ethic that has stayed with him

I was conceived in Leicester, born in Coventry, and moved to Birmingham when I was four, in 1959. I lived there until I left for university at 18. Those were my formative years, both in a sense of day-to-day experience, and in an overarching existential sense of being raised determinedly middle class surrounded by an infrastructure and a culture created entirely by the skilled working class.

Birmingham was amazingly prosperous in those early years. Factories were humming, and workers were well paid. I remember my grandma visiting from Yorkshire for Christmas in the early 1960s and helping my mother with some last-minute shopping. She came home trembling with excitement. For the first time in her life she had seen an ordinary person holding a five-pound note.

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Lee Child on Amazon’s real-life bookshops – and why we should be worried

The world’s biggest online retailer wants to invade the high street. What’s in it for them?In December, Amazon US released its 2015 in-house all-format all-category bestseller list, and then the newspaper USA Today came out with its own industry-wide all-sources version. What was the difference? Two words: The Martian (good movie, but the book was better). It was a huge seller, number 4 on USA Today’s list, but nowhere on Amazon’s. There were other titles in the same anomalous situation. Why? Because, even now, for most books and most people most of the time, the biggest spur to purchase is actually seeing an actual book in a physical place. Because for most people most of the time, reading is a take-it-or-yawn-leave-it activity. Books are not quite distress purchases, but neither are they exciting enough for enthusiastic online hunting. (Again, for most people most of the time, which I’ll stop ...