Monday, 12 March 2012

My Life in Books: Series Two: Day Eight

Awww, it's over!  This is the final day of what has been a really great week (and a bit) of interviews.  I'll do a proper round-up post tomorrow, but I will quickly thank everyone who agreed to participate - you've been brilliant.  And I hope everyone has enjoyed it as much as I have!  If I summon up enough energy, and find willing participants, it may appear later in the year...

Simon S (as he shall be known today to avoid confusion with me) is something of a double threat.  He writes the wonderfully enthusiastic and witty blog Savidge Reads, and is also the other half of podcast duo The Readers.  He was also the first blogger to put a roof over my head for a night...!

Eva describes herself as 'an amateur reader and full-time library aficionado', and blogs at A Striped Armchair, one of the most wide-ranging and thought-provoking blogs I know.  I wish she'd come over this side of the Atlantic, so I could say hello in person...


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.

Simon S: I did grow up in two very book loving households. As mother had me when she was 16 I spent my time between the hustle and bustle of Newcastle, where she was doing her degree, and with my grandparents in the Peak District and both my mother and Gran are voracious readers so I never wanted for books or people to read me bedtime stories. Though woe betide anyone who should try and skip a page or two of bedtime story thinking I wouldn’t spot it. 

I suppose I should go for a book like Roald Dahl’s Matilda or The Witches, both of which I adored, but I am going to say that The Adventures of the Witch Esmerelda and Marmalade the Cat were my favourite tales. My granddad wrote them and illustrated them by hand and sent me on a week, I dug them out the other week to read to his two youngest granddaughters (he sadly passed away a few years ago) and it was so lovely to see a new generation loving them too. Though they did keep asking why I was in the books and why I wasn’t a man in them.  [Simon T: you can read more about these lovely books here.]

Eva: My dad read a bit, but my mom was the big reader of our family.  I was read to every night before bed up until I was maybe 12 or 13.  As I got older, my mom and I would alternate reading the chapters.  Oh, and if I chose to spend my (very small) allowance on books, my mom would match my spending, effectively doubling my book budget (we also went to the library regularly).  So yes, my household definitely encouraged my book-love!

I had all kinds of favourite books when I was a child, but one of the lesser-known ones was The Children of Green Knowe by L.M. Boston.  A little boy in boarding school is sent to spend his holidays with his great aunt in this fabulous old house, Green Knowe.  Once he's there, his aunt tells him the most marvelous family stories & he soon discovers that the house holds a fair amount of magic.  She wrote several books about Green Knowe, but that first one has my heart; I still have my copy and reread it just a few years ago.  More famous titles I loved include The Giver, Anne of Green Gables, the Nancy Drew series, and the Chronicles of Narnia.


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

Simon S: Without a doubt it would have to be Sherlock Holmes.  As an early teen I would be dragged, or maybe I should say taken away, on long walking holidays involving 10 miles a day treks through the Peaks or the Lake District. My great uncle Derrick gathered that mid morning and mid afternoon I would tire and so would have memorised, almost word for word, at least ten Sherlock short stories each ‘holiday’ and tell me two of them during those lulls. Interestingly these stories, along with others of Arthur Conan Doyle’s, are books that encouraged me to read again after a wilderness of reading in my late teens and early twenties. I still turn to them now when I have a reading funk too.

Eva: Hmmm...I read a lot of classics when I was younger that weren't necessarily children's books; I remember reading White Fang when I was 9, for instance. When I was 11, my mom and I read Gaston Leroux's The Phantom of the Opera together. We had just moved back to England, and I remember us laying on my bed with my new pink bedspread reading it together.  For my 12th birthday, my mom took me to see the musical in London: it was magical!

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

Simon S: It would have to be Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier because it was the book that made me want to go  and read anything and everything again and reminded me of the power of a great story told by a brilliant storyteller.  I picked it up because it had a ridiculous cover and looked a bit ‘spooky’, I was in no way prepared for the wonderful journey, which I know sounds a cliché but its true, which I went on for 400 pages which just seemed to rush by.  I loved the gothic elements and mystery, but mainly it was the prose. It set me off reading again after several years of not, I can’t think of a better direction a book could give.

Eva: Honestly, as much as I love reading and feel that I would be a very different person without books, I can't really point to a specific title that changed my life.  That being said, I remember discovering Salman Rushdie when I was 17 (I started with The Satanic Verses) and being blown away by the magical realist style & international setting.  It definitely opened my eyes to how incredible fiction outside of the white US/UK bubble could be.  Don't get
me wrong, I still read and adore lots of white authors, British,
American, and otherwise!

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?

Simon S: I wanted to say Gillespie and I because it’s a modern neo-Victorian masterpiece which plays with your head and leaves you shocked, but that doesn’t have a link to blogging as I would have read that from loving Jane Harris’ debut novel.  Instead I am going to chose The Shuttle by Frances Hodgson Burnett.  I wouldn’t have heard of Persephone Books, and indeed this overlooked sensation novel, if it hadn’t been for several bloggers like you, Claire, Verity or Rachel.  I am so glad I did because it introduced me to a wonderful story that was long forgotten... and then onto others.

Eva: The book blogosphere has definitely changed my reading habits; I now read far more women than men, which wasn't always the case.  I used to participate in all kinds of reading challenges set up by book bloggers, which introduced me to a ton of different genres and geographic areas and more that I'd never thought about before (can you believe I didn't even know of the books-about-books nonfiction topic before bloggers started mentioning various titles?).  In fact, one such challenge inspired me to take a hard look at how whitewashed my reading was and to begin searching out more authors of colour.  And of course, there are so many authors and books that I hadn't heard of pre-book blogging that are now firm favourites.  My book horizons have been broadened immeasurably, at the same time that my previously-existing loves (i.e.: classics, mysteries, fantasy, international fiction) have been reinforced.

I've been blogging for over five years, so forcing me to choose a favourite seems cruel! But I'm going to focus on the 'one of' part of the phrase and go with Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. It's her debut novel and centers around a young Nigerian girl who has an abusive father. Adichie is an incredible storyteller, and this book has stuck with me over the years since I've read it. In fact, just writing about it is making me want to reread it!  Fortunately, I have a copy on my shelves due to the kindness of a book blogger who sent me her 'spare.' :)


Qu.5) Finally - a guilty pleasure, or a favourite that might surprise people!  

Simon S: I don’t believe in books being guilty pleasures, just pleasures.  So... One that will surprise people... Hmmmm!  I guess M.C Beaton and Tess Gerritsen have surprised people so they are out.  Oh, I have a secret passion for Batman graphic novels, it’s my only remaining geek out since childhood.  I wanted to be Bruce Wayne for years or one of the villains on occasional and I do like turning to these now and again, does that suffice?  I don’t think many people would know that, I keep it under wraps like a secret identity.

Eva: Let's see...my newfound love for the Hamish Macbeth series is a bit lighter than my normal fare.  Oh, and I adore Melissa Marr's Wicked Lovely!  I can't say I really have any guilty pleasures though; in fact, I'm far more likely to feel guilty when I don't care for a book that everyone else in the blogosphere loves. :)

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

Eva, on Simon S's choices: This reader must have had a bookish childhood, with a handmade book from a grandfather! From the title, it sounds like an adventure/plot-focused book, which might have influenced the later interest in Batman and Sherlock Holmes (both crime fighters, if in different manners!). The person must be a bit of an anglophile too, with several British authors on the list. And I'm guessing the person has a taste for old-fashioned stories: most of the books are classics.  And even the Batman books, while not perhaps what one would traditionally call a classic, do have the "good end happily, the bad end unhappily" approach to fiction. I suspect I would find more than a few books I'd wish to borrow on their shelves! :)

I actually have a suspicion as to who my partner is: Simon S. I know he's a huge fan of du Maurier & Sherlock Holmes, and although you told me not to guess the gender, I can't help thinking of a boy reading those Batman books!

Simon S, on Eva's choices: I felt a slight philistine when I first saw these books as I had only heard of three of them and only read Salman Rushdie and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who I think are great authors so this person clearly has good taste and likes the literary reads with a worldwide feel.  Even though it’s a diverse list, I would also say they like quite dark and gothic books, so really their taste isn’t far off mine... I want to find out what their top ten books are as I have a feeling I might like all the ones I haven’t yet encountered.


32 comments:

  1. I love these! They're so interesting for nosy people like me who are curious about things like this. :) (And I love that I have so many to read after falling behind on the Internet for a week or so...)

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    1. Great, Dan! Enjoy the rest of the series :)

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  2. This has been such a wonderful series, I'm sorry to see it coming to an end and hope it comes back at some point. I also read some Sherlock Holmes when I was about ten, so I guess that must have been my first adult reading too. And I have a secret soft spot for Batman too! I also really liked Wicked Lovely. Still need to read Rebecca though...

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    1. Everyone has been so lovely in their comments, Carolyn, it will definitely make a return appearance!

      And you do need to read Rebecca... ;)

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  3. My mother took the Complete Sherlock Holmes into hospital when I was born. My birth was a bit dramatic, so we were both there for quite a while. The nurses used to exclaim in horror when they saw my mother reading her book - "Oh, what will it do to your dear little baby girl?" was one of the comments she used to enjoy repeating to me!
    And what did it do? I grew up loving Sherlock Holmes stories of course - but I just can't imagine being able to memorise them word for word!

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    1. how have I not heard this story before, Mum?! Wonderful! Somehow I can't imagine Granny reading Sherlock Holmes...

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  4. Ah The Shuttle...Simonyou are a kindred spirit

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  5. Simon S, how wonderful to have books that were written just for you, and how incredible to get to know Sherlock Holmes while striding across the countryside. And Eva, I am so glad you chose The Children of Green Knowe - it is such a magical book, and I love the description of the house, and the links with the past. But I can't agree with MC Beaton, who you both mention. I have tried and tried and it's probably a lack on my part, but I still think her books have no literary merit whatsoever.

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    1. I missed out on Green Knowe growing up (given my obsessive love for Enid Blyton, I was intolerant to most other authors) but bought it a few years ago - must read it sometime...

      Simon S actually sent me some Agatha Raisin books, won in a prize draw on his blog, but I have yet to read them.

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    2. My advice would be don't bother, but everyone else seems to like them so I'm in a minority on this one. To coin a comment from Muriel Spark, MC Beaton is a 'pisseur de copie'... hope I spelled that right!

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  6. I agree with Carolyn that this was a wonderful series and I hope it returns one day :) I think I would have difficulty picking a blogger based on these book choices so I am in awe whenever someone gets it right. Wonderful to read about you two, Simon and Eva!

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    1. It will :)
      I was so impressed by the bloggers who guessed correctly! I don't think I'd have been able to... although if I did, it would probably be Simon's choices - they're very him!

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  7. I've been internet-absent for a couple of weeks and so have read these interviews one after the other - they're great! I only wish there were more to come! Reading of those handmade books Simon received really touched me - and gave me an idea. I'm trying to get my daughter into reading for reasons other than you need to write about it in a school homework diary! I might try writing my own! And in addition to the inspiration, I've got a lot of ideas for things to read from this series - first on my list will be Purple Hibiscus mentioned by Eva. Thanks for these interviews - really enjoyed them!

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    1. Aren't the handmade books a lovely idea? We did similar things - Mum would make books that we appeared in, with sundry Mr. Men added.

      So pleased you've got some ideas for reading from this!

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  8. Loved The Shuttle too though I have to say it isnt my favorite Persephone.

    Love this series! Ive been enjoying reading them everyday!

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    1. Great :D
      I haven't read The Shuttle - I was put off by it being abridged, I have to confess.

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  9. Thank you for such entertaining writing. I loved hearing about all the books. Three things came to me during the past week. 1. I need to reread Rebecca as it has been years since I read it. 2. Persophone books. I had not heard of it before. 3. Motivation to keep going with my own blog. It is a very rich community to become a part of.

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    1. Gosh, if you haven't heard of Persephone, you're in for a treat! Lots of gems to read. My favourite is Family Roundabout

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  10. Simon T, thanks so much for inviting me to take part! And if I ever get back to England, I will *definitely* be making a visit to Oxford! :D

    Yay! I'm glad I was right! Too funny that Simon S & I both mention MC Beaton; he's the reason I gave her a try! ChrisCross, I never said she was 'literary'; I just find the Hamish series cosy comfort reading for when I'm sick & my brain can't handle anything but the book equivalent of popcorn. And I love her descriptions of the Highlands! :) I can understand why she's not everyone's cuppa, though. But it's lovely to meet another Green Knowe fan! When I was little, I longed to live there & have my own animal and ghost friends; honestly, I still do.

    Carolyn, wasn't Wicked Lovely fun?! I love that the love interest is into tea and books. hehe

    Elaine & Mrs. B (and Simon S of course!), it sounds like I definitely need to read The Shuttle! I recently read my first Burnett for adults (Emily Fox Seton) and was impressed, so now The Shuttle is waiting for me on my Nook. :)

    Col, I'm actually just about to start rereading Purple Hibiscis! :D I hope you enjoy it even half as much as I did.

    OVW, what a sweet story! I'm more into Laurie King's Mary Russell & Sherlock Holmes series than Doyle's stories, but I did love Hound of the Baskervilles.

    Dan, Iris, and Travelling Penguin, thanks for leaving comments!

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  11. This series has been fascinating to read.

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  12. This has been an absolutely fantastic series! I really enjoyed it, even though I came across it in its last 2-3 days. It's been great for triggering off my own memories of childhood favourites, and for encouraging me to try new things. Speaking of which, this is the nth time 'The Shuttle' gets mentioned, I'll have to make an effort to get hold of it and read it now! I didn't think Frances Hodgson Burnett had written anything for adults, although I probably read all of her children's books.

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    1. Lovely! I'll post up links to the series one interviews tomorrow, so there are even more to enjoy.

      The Making of a Marchioness is the only adult book I've read by FHB - it's very good indeed.

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  13. This has been terrific fun and I've loved learning more about bloggers I've followed for some time as well as those I'm just discovering now. I commend you all for narrowing your choices down to just one for most of these categories; I think that would be very difficult!

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    1. They've done very well! It would be really difficult for me to pick just one book from the past five years, for instance.

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  14. How amazing to have had books specially written for one! What a special grandfather! And I must say, I really like the sound of Great-uncle Derrick striding along and reciting Sherlock Holmes to a tired and bored boy. It actually sounds like something straight out of a book...

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    1. Aren't both those relatives really lovely?

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  15. These posts are really wonderful! Great series!

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  16. Always a pleasure to meet a Sherlockian :)

    I have been a fan of Holmes since childhood as well. Have you read the book "Bending the Willow: Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes" by David Stuart Davies. This book is a recommended read for fans of the Granada adaptation and/or Jeremy Brett.

    Cheers!

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I've now moved to www.stuckinabook.com, and all my old posts are over there too - do come and say hello :)

I probably won't see your comment here, I'm afraid, but all my archive posts can also be found at www.stuckinabook.com.