Friday, 9 March 2012

My Life in Books: Series Two: Day Five

End of the working week - but certainly not the end of My Life in Books!  We're keeping going right through til Monday, and there are some really brilliant bloggers still to come - including, of course, today's pair.  Do keep commenting about the books you've read, or now want to read!

Sakura describes herself as 'a reading, writing, half Japanese, half Sri Lankan, culturally mixed Londoner', and blogs at Chasing Bawa.  I found out on one of my favourite discussion-generating posts, 'What's in a Name?', that the name came from her family's habit, when in Sri Lanka of 'looking for, having tea and staying in beautiful houses and hotels designed by the architect Geoffrey Bawa.'

Danielle writes A Work in Progress, and has been blogging for an amazing seven years. She also has the longest blog-link list of anyone I know, and the lovelist profile image.


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.

Sakura: I grew up in a house filled with books, both my parents read a lot and my father wrote.  Although we never received pocket money, we were allowed to buy as many books as we wanted.  I don't recall my parents reading to me though and my first memories are of me flicking through my mother's book on Botticelli from her art school days.

One of my favourite childhood books is Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfield, about three orphaned girls taken in by an eccentric explorer and his niece who dicover the meaning of life, love and family through ballet.  I was quite tomboyish as a child and always wanted to learn ballet.  There was something so romantic about it and I would enviously watch as my neighbourhood friend went to her ballet lessons.  However, the book itself dealt with a lot of adult themes such as the loss of family, financial worries, the sacrifices involved in the pursuit of dreams and how values change as you grow up.


Danielle: I do come from a family of readers, though I seem to have surpassed the rest of my family in terms of having a serious book addiction.  I read far more books throughout the year and I seem to acquire them faster than anyone else in my family.  Although I don’t recall being read to (I must have been read to as a very small child), my mom always took my sisters and I to the library, which is probably where my lifelong love of libraries began.  My mom also worked in an elementary school library and would occasionally take me with her to work, which was always a special treat.  She would often bring home books to share and I still have vivid memories of some of them. 

One of my very favorite books as a child is one I owned, however.  I would spend hours poring over Richard Scarry’s What Do People Do All Day?  Although there is text, it was the illustrations that set my imagination in motion.  Inside the pages of this book is a city teeming with life.  Each building depicted is a cutaway so you can see inside and imagine all the different people and the jobs they do and the places they go.  The book is so colorful and with so many small details it every time I would look at it there was something new to see in the pictures. 


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

Sakura: The first grown-up book I read was probably Agatha Christie's Murder on the Links when I was nine.  I think I found the book in my Sri Lankan grandparents' house when I was visiting on holiday.  The book probably belonged to one of my aunts or uncles but I 'borrowed' it and it has remained one of my favourites - I still have it at home today.  We were living in Bangkok during the 1980s where I attended a British school and lived the expat life, mixing with children from a lot of different countries.  I remember spending an inordinate amount of time in Asia Bookstore near our flat going through all of Christie's mysteries I read and wanted to read.

Danielle: Not only did I always have easy access to books when I was young, but I was allowed to pick and choose as I liked.  I didn’t have a lot of guidance when it came to picking books and this was both good and bad.  It was good to be able to choose books based on whim and fancy - whatever simply sounded appealing I would read - but it also meant I missed whole swathes of literature that so many other young adults had pressed into their hands by more mature readers.  I wish I could say I had discovered Jane Eyre or Pride and Prejudice or even Agatha Christie when I was a young adult, but I was too busy exploring decidedly lower brow fiction.  It’s probably best not to admit to some of the books I read when I was just starting high school, but one I recall reading over a Christmas holiday and with great relish was a historical novel by Karleen Koen called Through a Glass Darkly.  I remember hiding out in my parent’s bedroom glued to my book while other festivities were going on.  Not a very refined choice of reading matter but it was a natural progression for me. 

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.

Sakura: Simone de Beauvoir's memoirs, beginning with Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter, are a favourite and influenced some of the choices I made and how I wanted to live.  I admired her strength and determination and her worship of scholarship and art.  She may not have been perfect and her memories may not have been altogether truthful but she dared to live life the way she wanted to and is the ultimate bohemian.

Danielle: After I graduated from college and had spent a little time traveling I remember reading Jack Kerouac’s On the Road.  This was a pivotal book in my life and marked a turning point where I put behind me more childish things, and certainly childish attitudes.  Maybe because this story chronicles a road trip, it made me feel like the entire world was open to me and anything was possible.   

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?

Sakura: One of my favourite books from the last five years is Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson, the first in a ten volume fantasy series called The Malazan Book of the Fallen.  I've been a fan of fantasy and speculative fiction since I read the Narnia books as a child, but Erikson takes this genre to another level with his sophisticated plotting and prose.  It's truly epic, adult and beautifully realised and, in my opinion, a great work of literature.

My reading habits have changed considerably since I started reading blogs and writing one of my own.  I think part of it has to do with how easy it is to buy cheap books especially when you've just read an interesting review (whether it's glowing or snarky!) I find that I have a waiting list of books I need to read, making me wish sometimes that my choice of books could be more whimsical, as they once were.

Danielle: What a difficult question.  How can I choose only one when there have been so many wonderful discoveries in the last five years?  I’ll have to give the honor to Wilkie Collins, however, and one of my very favorite books by him, The Woman in White.  Gradually over time my reading choices have changed, and in some ways drastically so.  I didn’t study literature in college and my reading history has been shaky at best, so I often (even now on occasion) second guess my reading choices.  For many years I didn’t read any classic literature at all assuming I wasn’t a sophisticated enough reader to get what was going on or catch subtleties in the story.  About the time I started blogging in earnest I decided that I wanted to start reading more classics.  He’e been one of my favorite classic authors whose books I can read again and again. 

Blogging has definitely changed my reading habits.  I am a much more daring reader in some ways, but I am also a more discerning reader now.  And I have discovered so many authors and publishers who I think I would not have been exposed to had I not started blogging and interacting with other readers online.


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

Sakura: I'm a huge fan of historical mysteries since I first disovered Ellis Peters' Brother Cadfael at school.  One of my favourites in the genre is the Amelia Peabody series by Elizabeth Peters set in early 20th century Egypt.  They are funny, thrilling, full of colourful characters and you learn a lot about Egyptology!

Danielle: Although I am now much more willing to try difficult books, I think I am also a pretty predictable reader in many ways.  One of my favorite guilty pleasures is reading books by Georgette Heyer.  Her books are pure escapism.  I know what I can expect from her work, and sometimes that’s a good thing.

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

Danielle, on Sakura's choices: I have a real affinity with this reader.  I love their choices, and while the books I was reading growing up varied, we have followed a similar reading path through life.  They seem to have had a more traditional experience book-wise growing up.  I've yet to read Noel Streatfeild (she's on my list however), but I know she is a beloved children's (and adult's too) author and many a child has had her books placed in their hands.  Agatha Christie is another author so many young adults read as their first 'grown up' author, and yet another author I have only discovered as an adult.  And then along comes Simone de Beauvoir.  Simone de Beauvoir seems like one of those pivotal authors where a reader moves from good, entertaining fiction to more sophisticated ideas and an exploration into and a curiosity of the broader world.  This is a reader who is equally at home reading intellectual fiction and nonfiction but is also content to pick up a book in other genres, and maybe has a taste for a little adventure with their mystery and science fiction book choices.  I like their eclectic taste and it mirrors my own (Amelia Peabody is a fictional character I've thought it would be fun to meet).  I think it's a given that this is someone who loves books and loves to get lost in a really good story.

Sakura, on Danielle's choices: I would say the chooser is someone who was very inquisitive from an early age because of Richard Scarry's book (and who doesn't want to know what other people do?) Their interest in history, mystery and romance was sparked quite early on, probably at school (or even boarding school?) and never left them. Their love for the genre is still strong even though their reading has progressed in a more literary direction. And they probably went through a soul searching phase in their late teens/early twenties (but didn't we all!) I'm familiar with all the choices except for Through a Glass Darkly and the choices in some ways parallel my own reading history although I chose to focus on different books. And Richard Scarry was one of my favourite authors as a child!

36 comments:

  1. Question One is always my favourite - I love learning about other readers' childhoods! Sakura, I'm so jealous that your parents would buy you books! Aside from birthdays or Christmas, my parents had a no book-buying policy for me (but not for my non-bookish brother, which outraged me). Danielle, I'd completely forgotten about What Do People Do All Day? but as soon as I saw that cover, it all came back to me! I loved that book when I was little and spent many, many happy hours with it. I also loved historical fiction when I was in my pre- and early-teens, though never read Through a Glass Darkly. Looking it up now, it sounds like just the kind of thing I would have adored (and still might, frankly)!

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    1. I have thought of rereading Through a Glass Darkly as I still love historical fiction and a good story to escape into, but I'm afraid the experience won't be quite the same now--I was so captivated by the story and spent long hours involved with the book. But I still have fond memories reading it!

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    2. I always used to be so jealous of those children in bookshops who were told "You can have one book..." We were sometimes bought books, but mostly used the library. Which I suppose is also a good message for kids.

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    3. I used to use the library a lot as well so didn't spend too much on books (English books in Bangkok weren't cheap!) I suspect my parents were trying to get my sister to read (just like yours did with your brother!)

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  2. Oh Sakura I too loved Ballet Shoes so much -- and re-read it not all that long ago and loved it all over again. As for Richard Scarry -- my youngest boy was so in love with that book! Love both your choices to bits. This has to be the best series ever -- hence so many 'loves' in one paragraph. Thanks yet again, Simon, for doing it.

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    1. It's very cool that Richard Scarry is even now still loved--it really is a classic to have stayed around so long--perfect for inquisitive little minds! :)

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    2. And thank you for your very lovely comment, Harriet - your enthusiasm makes the hard work very worthwhile!

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    3. I've read Ballet Shoes so many times too:) And Richard Scarry!

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  3. Captivting tidbits about growing up reading!

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  4. I've just LOVED reading all these My Life in Books posts, Simon - what a fantastic series of posts! It has made me think about what I might pick too (and it's more difficult than you might think). Brilliant.

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    1. thanks Boof! I'll keep you in mind for next series, if that's ok - and give you some time to formulate those answers!

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  5. Great posts - and it's lovely to know that I am not the only one who loves the Cadfael mysteries!

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    1. my Mum used to read a lot of them, but I've never tried...

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    2. No you aren't! And I'm surprised there aren't many more Cadfael lovers out there.

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    3. I didn't just 'read a lot of them' - I read and reread ALL of them! AND watched the films with Derek Jacobi as Cadfael AND visited Shrewsbury (and the 'Cadfael Quest' before it closed down). Quite hooked, one could say!

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  6. What a lovely introduction to two bloggers I don't really know.

    Claire, I think question 1 is my favourite too!

    Helen (gallimaufry)

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    1. I especially love the answers we get to qu.1 and qu.5 - I love being surprised by bloggers' tastes!

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  7. Question 1 is quite testing - it brings back all sorts of memories of one's own childhood and of one's children's. I was surprised when Colin remembered me reading Tom Sawyer - I had quite forgotten doing it!
    An object lesson for parents - your attitude to books and reading + the books you read to your children will stay with them for the rest of their life. No stress then!

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    1. If it helps you, I didn't remember Tom Sawyer at all until Col mentioned it!

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  8. Sakura--Now I get to see what you wrote about the books on the list. Even though it was anonymous I knew that our reading tastes jived and had a feeling you were someone whose blog I had been reading! I love the sound of Ballet Shoes and suspect I would like it even now (have her book Saplings to read eventually). It sounds as though you had an exotic childhood living in Bangkok and visiting Sri Lanka--you must have some wonderful memories and stories to tell! And I agree that the Elizabeth Peters books are great fun and pure escapism--Amelia is a very colorful character! Thanks so much Simon for organizing this--it is indeed great fun to read everyone's posts!

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    1. You were a great pairing, it seems :D

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    2. The more I thought about it, the more I suspected it was you, Danielle because our tastes are uncannily similar:) I still haven't read Saplings but I hope to as well. She also wrote a companion novel to Ballet Shoes called White Boots (about ice skating). Everytime I read your blog, you remind me that I need to read some Georgette Heyer. Maybe this year!

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  9. My daughters loved What do People do all Day when they were very small- my elder daughter asked everyone she met what they did, then drew pictures of them! And Ballet Shoes was one my of my favourites(I still read it sometimes, but I still re-read lots of the books I've had since I was a child). Danielle, since I've been blogging I've expanded my reading in the opposite direction to you. Having been fairly firmly rooted in the classics, I've been trying to read more 20th century novels, especially from the first part half of the century.

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    1. What a lovely story about your daughter! We must have read some Richard Scarry, but none stand out in my mind...

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  10. Wow. Lots of memories sparked with these two. My brother and I had Richard Scarry books as kids, and of course, they were passed down to mine - my ds loved them so much we made posters from them for his room (sketching scenes and coloring them). I must admit I had totally forgotten about Through a Glass Darkly. Back in my late teens, I was a member of the Book-of-the-Month-Club and purchased it as one of the featured selections. The twist in the story was my first of its kind to experience (which I shan't reveal for the sake of those unfamiliar with it), and I remember it as completely shocking. I had no idea there was a sequel and a prequel until I went to look up the author to jog my memory. I just recently discovered Brother Cadfael (through a Cornflower selection) and have been enjoying those with my dds. I wonder just how many of us had an early "adult reading start" with Agatha Christie? She seems to be a common thread.

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    1. Perhaps that helps explain Dame Agatha's popularity, to a small extent - she's a really good 'bridge' author between teenage-orientated books and grown-up books? I'm another one who came to her at about that age.

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    2. I somehow missed Agatha as a child--I bet my grandmother read her--she read quite a lot, too, and I remember piles of books on her end tables. She seems like a perfect transitional sort of author.

      Susan--I remember that twist, too--probably the melodrama was part of the appeal! :) I never did read the other books but I've thought about going back since then and doing so.

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    3. I was obsessed with Agatha Christie. Then I discovered Dorothy Sayers and Ngaio Marsh... And then Cadfael... Mysteries and historical mysteries are still my favourite genres.

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  11. This was fun! Danielle and Sakura are a great pair. It's always fun to find out about people's favorite childhooh books and what a pivotal book was for them.

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    1. I've enjoyed Sakura's blog for a while now and our tastes do overlap (I'm sure I've noted down more than a few titles she's written about), so it was a good pairing indeed! And it is fun hearing about the sorts of books readers chose growing up!

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  12. I'm a regular follower of Danielle and love her blog. My only complaint is she makes my To Be Read list totally unmanageable by finding so many new books for me.

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  13. I, too, loved Richard Scarry as a young child. There was one I particularly adored, a story called Dr. Doctor. Illustrated pigs who are married and both doctors have twins, whom they take to work with them, a little piglet strapped to the back of each parent. I don't know why, but the memory of perusing that has stuck with me over the years.

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  14. reading about books and being nosy what a great combination ...lovely!

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  15. Glad to see Sajura giving Agatha a mention and Danielle a Wilkie one!

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  16. I liked this interview so very much. Sakura was my inspiration for me to start my own blog. Maybe because she is part Sri Lankan I felt an affinity to her - to start a blog was a big step for me. I also had parents who bought me books and a grandmother who always bought me books. Being the only grandchild helped I supposed!

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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.