Tuesday 29 March 2011

My Life in Books: Day Two

Hope you're enjoying the week so far (and, importantly, that the formatting and whatnot has all worked out... I'm leaving it all to spring up of its own accord, and crossing my fingers that it works out) - let's introduce the lovely folk for Day Two!

Lyn lives in Melbourne, Australia and was responsible for introducing me to the world of Persephone Books. She blogs at I Prefer Reading.

lives in Somerset, England and was responsible for introducing me to the world (!) since she is my mother, better known here as Our Vicar's Wife, and blogs under that moniker here. [Simon: link fixed now!]

Qu. 1) Did you grow up in a book-loving household, and did your parents read to you? Pick a favourite book from your childhood, and tell me about it.

Lyn: I've always loved books although my parents weren't big readers. Too busy working and they both left school at 13. They must have read to me when I was very young but I could read myself by the time I was 4, so after that, I read to myself. Mum & Dad always bought me books and I always asked for a book if there was a treat on offer. My favourite book as a child was probably The Youngest Lady in Waiting by Mara Kay. It's about a girl who becomes lady-in-waiting to Grand Duchess Alexandra at the court of Alexander I and gets involved in the Decembrist uprising. It led me onto my interest in Russian and royal literature and history, which I still love today.

Anne: My family enjoyed books - although there weren't huge numbers of them in the house. Most Saturday mornings found us at the library borrowing up to six books (I think). From there we went to the sweet shop where I usually bought 4oz of 'chewing nuts' which were a kind of chocolate covered toffee. During the afternoon you would find me lying on my tummy on the bed, hand dipping into the sweets and brain absorbing the first book from the book pile - so my mind was fed and my teeth rotted!

An early book I can remember enjoying was The Prisoner of Zenda (1894) by Anthony Hope. I had no idea it was published so long before - it was timeless to me. A real adventure story set in the fictional Ruritania - full of derring do! It made an Easter holiday magical - curled up by the fire, breath held against the next twist in the plot! (Of course, I also adored the William books, Anne of Green Gables etc. and even Biggles - but I guess this is cheating!)

Qu. 2) What was one of the first 'grown-up' books that you really enjoyed?

Lyn: Probably Jean Plaidy's historical novels. I was 12 or 13 and loved history. We didn't study British or European history at school so I found my way to non-fiction history through Jean Plaidy and a lot of other historical novelists, some better and more accurate than others.

: My first 'grown-up book' has to be Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. I read this first as a child - just as far as her leaving Lowood. After that it was 'grown-up' and I lost interest. I returned to it a couple of years later - this time I was infuriated by its missing out the 'teenage' years - I felt that it had nothing to say about me as I was then - it ignored those years and the age of 18 seemed a grown-up goal a thousand miles away! Third time lucky! I tried again when I was nearer the magic age of 18 - suddenly the book was released to me - I could enjoy it in its entirety! I can think of no other book which I read in chunks like this - this one was unique! (I should say too, that this was the time I really looked for books with Annes in them - add Persuasion to the list!)

Qu. 3) Pick a favourite book that you read in your 20s or early 30s - especially if it's one which helped set you off in a certain direction in life.

Lyn: The Diary of a Provincial Lady by E. M. Delafield. I was around 30, working in my first job as a librarian and the branch manager (we still work together in the same library service) recommended the Provincial Lady to me. I laughed at Lady B and the bulbs on page 1 and didn't stop laughing all the way through & that's how I fell in love with the middlebrow novel of the 1920s & 30s.

Anne: My twenties were spent busily learning to be a teacher. At the end of the day I enjoyed nothing better than a Miss Read or an escapist romance to lull me off to sleep - good old Georgette Heyer! However, the book I am choosing is not by either of them - it is Frenchman's Creek by Daphne du Maurier. I have no idea how many times I read and re-read that book! I pored over maps of the area, I took a holiday - my first all alone - down on The Lizard and I plodded along the country lanes and footpaths all around the
Creek on a romantic quest. For me the attraction was the book's idea of running away from a life confined by others' expectations and being free to be oneself - the fact that there was a gorgeous French philosopher pirate in the mix made it all the more enjoyable. I loved the romance and the adventure - the understated sex scenes and the violent jealousy and possessiveness of Rockingham. Her treatment of Dona's husband was kind, if pitying and the descriptions of Cornwall lured me there. I cried every time I got to the farewell at Looe Pool - not least because I was reaching the end of the book and it would be a while before I allowed myself to read it again! And at the end, the inevitability of Dona's tame, encumbered life made sense to me - I would never be brave enough, or sufficiently lacking in commitment, to leave everything and run away!

Qu. 4) What's one of your favourite books that you've found in the last five years, and how has blogging or the reading of blogs changed your reading habits?

n: Nella Last's War. An earlier edition of Nella's Diaries sat on the shelf at Ringwood Library all the years I worked there but I never picked it up. Only about three years ago when the book was reprinted and when I'd read other WWII diaries, letters & novels, did I read it. Since then, I've read the two further volumes of Nella's Diaries & I'm really sorry that there will be no more. Blogging and reading blogs has reminded me of books I have on the tbr shelves and prompted me to get them down and read them. It's also introduced me to new authors and imprints that I might not have found on my own. The internet in general and our online reading group in particular, has widened my reading horizons.

Anne: I adored The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Schaffer. There are maybe more worthy books and more affecting books that I have read in the last five years, but that stands out as a jewel of a book, which was a pure pleasure to read. Perhaps it was partly because the author was over 70 - it gave me hope that it may not be too late to write 'my' book! As for literary blogs - I am SO proud of yours, Simon, and I love reading it [Simon: thanks, Mum!] - but find myself defeated by the tbr pile it is helping to increase - have I enough years left to read all the books I'd like to read?

Qu. 5) For your final choice - a guilty pleasure, or a favourite that might surprise people!

Lyn: I'm very predictable. I know my tastes and I don't stray too far outside them. Life's too short and I have so many books I want to read in my favourite subjects and periods that I can't fit in anything new. As to guilty pleasures, English women's magazines like The Lady and Good Housekeeping, when I can get them. [Simon: the cover I've chosen isn't an English edition of the magazine, but... it is lovely, isn't it?!]

Anne: My guilty pleasure - mmm... there are so many! Maybe it is time with the Misses Bennett as I take one more turn around the ballroom with Jane and Bingley, or Elizabeth and Darcy... after all... with so many books unread, should I really be re-reading Jane Austen for the umpteenth time?

And... I've told you the other person's choices, anonymously. What do you think these choices say about their reader?

Anne, about Lyn's choices: I think this person (definitely a woman) had a conventional education - Jean Plaidy's books would have appealed to her because of their historical accuracy and the way they get inside the mind of the central character(s). The Provincial Lady shows an appreciation of wit and the 'sending up' of the ridiculous - whilst having a real understanding of human nature under a variety of circumstances. Nella Last - ah, the historical theme again - and more intense reading of the female mind when she is 'up against it'; the magazines again hark back to a different age.

This person appreciates the comfort and familiarity of a home well-made. She likes to get 'under the skin' of other people - in the sense of understanding how they tick. She knows her stuff when it comes to history. I think she has lived through changing times and regrets the loss of some of the niceties of a lost age. I'd like to invite her to tea!

Lyn, about Anne's choices: Probably easier to give a few attributes for the lover of these books. All of them seem to involve romance in some form.

Prisoner of Zenda - romantic, lover of lost causes.
Jane Eyre - independent, passionate, moral.
Frenchman's Creek - romantic, adventurous, restless.
Guernsey - literary, curious, compassionate.
Pride & Prejudice - romantic, well-mannered, correct.


  1. Love the image of your Mum buying a bag of sweets to accompany her Saturday reading session, Simon. And Lyn is even more of a kindred spirit than I thought!

  2. Simon, I so enjoy your blog and it has stuffed my bookshelves even more but I am in love with your Mum. Her choices are mostly my favorites and I still reread Frenchman's Creek every couple of summers. She is definitely a kindred spirit!

  3. Ah, Mara Kay... Donna of Rambling Fancy told me about The Youngest Lady-in-Waiting and Masha when we had tea at the British Museum & now I am on the seemingly futile hunt to find copies (have a look at the prices on Amazon!)

    I have had chewing nuts!

  4. Lovely, and how nice of you to invite your mum to take part, Simon!

  5. Simon, I feel very honoured to be paired up with OVW! I'd love to have a cup of tea & a scone with her, too. Maybe one day if I ever get back to the UK. Can I say that Anne & I are even more kindred spirits than I thought. Jane Eyre, Persuasion, Frenchman's Creek, Prisoner of Zenda - all favourites. Paperback Reader, I know what you mean about Mara Kay. I had a look for her books on the internet a while ago & just reeled at the prices. I felt quite teary ju8st looking at the picture of the front cover Simon found. I don't own a copy, I just read my school library copy to shreds. Simon, thanks for asking me to take part, it was a lot of fun.

  6. Lovely! but the link to OVW's blog is incorrect -- takes you to quite another blog.

  7. Wonderful idea, Simon, and so much better without Anne Robinson presiding!

    I already know and enjoy Lyn's blog, but will now need to seek out your mum's! She sounds as if she's of similar vintage to me (I'm 64) and our reading experiences and tastes could almost be mine! I feel a 'kindred spirit' moment coming on! :o)

    I'm now off to read another of your 'interviews' before getting on with the housework...

  8. I feel a bit presumptuous sneaking in to Simon's blog - but I thoroughly enjoyed the 'My life in books' experience and hope I got you vaguely right Lyn! Your analysis of my choices was very kind. Thank you - a 'marsh-mallow moment'!
    For those of you who can't follow Simon's link to my blog try this:
    The original site closed on 16th March.
    (Don't expect anything erudite though!)
    Thank you for all the encouraging comments too.

  9. This is such a great idea, Simon. Lyn, I've never read any Plaidy, but you have me intrigued now. I already have a fondness for OVW, but found even more connections with her booklist. I didn't discover Frenchman's Creek until last year, but it's definitely in the to be "reread" stack. And as for your guilty pleasure, who can resist spending time with Jane at least once a year? :)
    So nice to get to know you ladies better through your reading lives!

  10. I am so enjoying this series, Simon! I hadn't heard of some of these books so I am off to have a search. I especially loved your mum reading Jane Eyre in bits!

  11. Simon, this series is so interesting! I love it! It's great to learn more about people's reading tastes and get to know the bloggers and non-bloggers better. Thanks so much!

  12. Simon, your mother sounds amazing!! And I will be stopping by "I Prefer Reading" immediately. Thanks for sharing these inspirational Q&As.

  13. Enjoying the series so far. Thanks Simon.

  14. Great reading!

    I am looking forward to day 3!

  15. I love those book choices and am quitly pleased to see another Georgette Heyer fan!

  16. It's so interesting to hear about others reading experiences and the books that influenced them when young--particularly when you know some from blog reading (and will be exploring those you don't!). You do make it hard though--trying to "read" a person by the books they choose!

  17. Oh that Mara Kay book - I loved it as a child and read and re-read. SImon, I know you have paired me with someone else but really your mum and I are kindred spirits!!


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