Monday, 5 March 2012

My Life in Books: Series Two: Day One

Welcome, welcome, to a second series of My Life in Books on Stuck-in-a-Book, shamelessly ripped off from the TV series.  This time around there are even more bloggers involved: sixteen lovely folk all said yes!  I've grouped them into pairs, but without revealing to them who their mystery partner is - which makes it all the more fun when they guess what the books say about the chooser!  

I'm really excited about the wonderful people involved, and I hope you'll enjoy the week.  Do comment, and fingers crossed the bloggers in question will be along to reply.  Here goes!

Rachel, also known as Book Snob, writes one of the loveliest and most popular book blogs around, and describes herself as a "book loving, tea drinking, quilt making, cake eating, itchy feet possessing Londoner."

Teresa, along with Jenny (who'll appear later in the week!) is one half of the blogging duo behind Shelf Love, a pun which it took me about two years to get.  She's also the first blogger I met from outside the UK!




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.

Rachel: I would say it was more 'book appreciating' than 'book loving'. We didn't really have any books in the house at all when I was growing up except for an ancient set of crumbling Dickens novels my mum inherited from her grandad and kept locked in a glass cupboard. Neither of my parents have ever been big readers, but my mum always appreciated the importance of reading and let me read whatever I wanted, and read to us every night. I got all my childhood books from the library, and my mum took me twice a week to change my books. I really loved going to the library - all those bookshelves full of choice! 

My favourite childhood book was The Secret Garden - my Nan bought it for me when I was about 7 and I have loved it ever since. Victorian and Edwardian children's books can be quite earnest and sickly sweet but The Secret Garden isn't either of those things. Mary Lennox is a wonderful heroine because she is a right little madam - she's a spoilt brat who has a tantrum whenever things don't go her way - but she's also good hearted and wants to change, she just isn't sure how. As an adult you can see that Mary's behaviour stems from her parents' indifference and neglect of her, and I like how Frances Hodgson Burnett explores the importance of having a nurturing home environment during a time when most parents of a certain class wouldn't have seen much of their children at all. Mary's gradual awakening and blossoming is wonderful to read, as is that of the sickly and querulous Colin Craven, who has also suffered from poor parenting. The Secret Garden itself is a beautiful metaphor of the transforming power of love, but I think this would probably go over children's heads - for them, it's a magical story about discovery and adventure and friendship. Plus, as a child who grew up in London, I LOVED the descriptions of the moors in Yorkshire - it was so different from the concrete jungle I was used to!

Teresa: I don't remember anyone except me doing a lot of reading in my childhood home, although my mother did read romance novels now and then, and I have vivid memories of her reading Charlotte's Web to me when I was around 5 years old. I always had lots of books, especially Little Golden Books and book and record sets. The latter were usually based on Disney movies or longer novels and popular children's stories. I used to spend hours sitting on our family room floor following the words in the book as I listened to the records. I can still remember exactly what the narrator's voice in the record for Black Beauty sounded like. That book and record was a special favorite, so I was excited when I was old enough to read the real book. But the book that I really want to talk about is the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I read these over and over again and longed to live in pioneer days and cook a pig's tail over a fire or take my lunch to school in a pail. (Now, you couldn't pay me enough to live such a hard life.) I loved them all, but looking back, I realize that my favorite book at any given time was usually the one where I was closest to Laura's age.

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

Rachel: Probably Jane Eyre - I first read it when I was 12 - an awkward age for everyone!  I didn't get all of it, but I was swept away by the romance and tragedy of it all. It made me feel very sophisticated - I'd never really read much about sex and relationships before - and it made me think about how complex adult life was and how love wasn't as straightforward as I'd thought it would be. I was quite naive and sheltered and reading about a man who has a wife locked in an attic and then tries to marry someone else and then attempts to force that woman into an immoral relationship because his lust prevents him from living without her opened my eyes to what men could be capable of!


Teresa: I feel like I was slow to start reading "grown-up" books. I always happily stuck to my age range, and no one pushed me to challenge myself. On my own steam, I tried Jane Eyre when I was 12 and got hopelessly lost in the language and gave up. The first adult book that properly hooked me was Great Expectations. I read that when I was 14, my first year in high school, and I found it thrilling from beginning to end. For class, we actually read an abridged version in our textbook, and I loved it so much that I got the complete version and read it right after. Before this, I'd never been all that enthusiastic about English class. I did well in it, and I loved to read outside class, but I was mostly bored with the assignments in class.  This was the first time I could see the potential for literature as something to study and reading as something more than a way to pass the time. It wasn't long after that that I decided I would study literature in college.

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.

Rachel: Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain had a very powerful effect on me when I read it as it made me realise how fragile life is, how fleeting youth is, and how much I took mine for granted.Vera Brittain had seen, experienced, done and survived so much by the time she was 21, and she made me feel rather pathetic in comparison. Her achievements and her bravery massively inspired me, and she remains an important role model of mine.  Her heroism especially humbled me -  her reaction to what she experienced made me determined to make something of my life, to use my passion and my voice to stand up for what I believe in, and to be deserving of the sacrifice her generation went through to ensure mine would have the freedom I have been enormously fortunate to have enjoyed. 
Teresa: This is a strange question to answer because even though I read lots in my early adulthood, not many of the books I read had much affect on me. I was very serious about my life as a Christian at the time, so the books that got to me would have dealt with some aspect of the spiritual. I remember a reread of Jane Eyre, which I had eventually conquered as a teenager, helping me see that a woman can be pious, independent, and happy. This was a huge revelation when I mostly got the message that devout Christian women would only be happy if tied to a properly Christian man. Probably the most important book, however, was Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster. Foster is a Quaker author, and this book is a practical guide to spiritual disciplines like meditation, study, confession, fasting, and so on. I read this in my early 20s, shortly after I started to care about my spiritual life, and it was so helpful. It's not just a how-to book, which would have been a turn-off. He gets into the reasons for practicing these disciplines and gives good, sensible advice without ever seeming to push a specific regimen. It's one I reread every few years.

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?

Rachel: I discovered Persephone books through the blogging community, and from there an entire world of early to mid century women's writing has opened up to me, which has revolutionalised my reading world. As someone who mainly read classics, I was delighted to find excellent, literary, beautiful writing that explored female experiences I could relate to, from a time period that had always fascinated me. My favourite discovery over the last five years has probably been Elizabeth Bowen, and I can't really name a favourite of her novels, because they are all magnificent. Her subtle, intelligent, gorgeous writing mesmerises me, and I adore her depictions of 1930s England - she really captures that sense of uncertainty and pending change that rippled under everyday life in those immediate pre-war years.

Teresa: Where can I begin with how blogging has changed my reading? The biggest change is that it's made me a more thoughtful reader. After I graduated college, but before I began blogging, I read a lot, but most of the books fell right out of my brain as soon as I read them. Once I was out of school, I didn't have a place to discuss what I was reading and no real reason to think deeply about all those books. Blogging gives me that reason.


Blogging has also expanded my knowledge of the many worthwhile books out there. I've become much more aware of little-known classics and international authors. So in that spirit, I'll mention a book I never would have known about were it not for blogging and that's the fascinating Nox by Anne Carson. It's both a memoir and translation of a poem by Catullus, all presented in an accordion-fold format in which Carson's writings are interspersed with photos and bits of letters and other items that demonstrate how fragmentary our memories are. It's a beautiful book, but not one that you'd be likely to find in many libraries or bookstores, and I never would have known about it had several blogging friends not enthusiastically written about it.
Qu.5) Finally - a guilty pleasure, or a favourite that might surprise people!  

Rachel: My guilty pleasure is Rosamund Pilcher - as I said before, we didn't really have any books in our house when I grew up, and all my books were from the library, so when I had finished all my library books, I had nothing left to read - a nightmare for an insomniac like me! One night in my mid teens I was stuck with nothing to read, so my mum gave me Coming Home, a battered paperback she had in her bedroom drawer. I was hooked from page one, and so my mum tracked down her other books, read them, and passed them on to me afterwards, and we had great fun talking about them and then watching the TV serials they did of most of Rosamund Pilcher's books in the 90s and early 2000s. I can't quite put my finger on why I enjoy them so much - I think they're just great escapism, but well written, well characterised, and well plotted escapism, with interesting settings and historical details. Whenever I am ill and can't concentrate much, I love wallowing in a good old Rosamund saga!
Teresa:  It's been a long time since I've read any of these books, so a lot of people probably aren't aware of my fascination with true stories about people who survive (or don't survive) extreme physical dangers. These days, I mostly get these stories through movies (128 Hours is my most recent favorite), but I went through a phase where I was reading one disaster narrative after another. Into Thin Air, Into the Wild, and Miracle in the Andes were particularly gripping, but I also remember enjoying historical works like The Children's Blizzard, The Worst Hard Time, and The Johnstown Flood. There's something cathartic about reading these books and imagining what it would be like to face such a challenge, but I always feel a little guilty about it, like I'm getting my entertainment from someone else's tragedy. (And now I'm craving a disaster book.)


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

Teresa, on Rachel's choices: This reader clearly loves reading about the past, with a strong preference toward the British Isles, so I'm guessing she (or he! although I'd guess she if I had to) is either British or a confirmed Anglophile. Her love of The Secret Garden, Jane Eyre, and Rosamund Pilcher tell me that she's something of a romantic, but one with her feet on the ground. She does, after all, choose Jane Eyre over Wuthering Heights, and she mentions Testament of Youth, which is grounded in the difficult realities of life. Because almost all the books she mentions are from the early 20th century or earlier, I couldn't hazard a guess about her age. I will say that whatever her age, she probably has old-fashioned sensibilities, not in a stodgy, stick-in-the-mud way, but in a way that appreciates and embraces what we can learn from the past. She's also read all the books I've been meaning to read but can't seem to get around to! (All those books have been on my list for ages, but Jane Eyre is the only one I've actually read.)

Rachel, on Teresa's choices: The choice of books is interesting and eclectic but has an overriding theme of journeying - the person seems to have a real interest in reading about personal journeys and how people have overcome challenges to get to where they are. The inclusion of a book about spirituality is a pointer to a Christian faith and I suspect that having the Little House books as a childhood favourite means the person grew up in America.  Overall I would say this person is ambitious, adventurous and has a constant desire to grow and develop as a person, and looks to the lives of others who have battled hard to reach their goals or overcome difficult personal circumstances for inspiration and encouragement. [Simon: I should add, Rachel correctly guessed Teresa, but didn't want to say in case she turned out to be wrong!]


41 comments:

  1. So happy to have found your blog through "My Porch" - how positively awesome! Can't wait to read through your posts.

    Michele

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    1. Lovely to have you pop by, Michele!

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  2. I have discovered another guilty pleasure - reading your 'Life in Books' before setting off to work....
    and in Lent!

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    1. Haha, thanks Mum! Look out for one of your other children tomorrow...

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  3. Oh, how I enjoyed reading this. A perfect way to start the day by reading about the books that shaped other people's lives, while drinking the first tea of the day. Rachel's comments on The Secret Garden and Jane Eyre echo my own feelings (though the older I get the more cruel I think Edward Rochester).

    The post made me realise how lucky I was to have the childhood I did - I cannot remember a time when I wasn't surrounded by books. Our house was packed with books, and when I was a baby my mother held me in her arms and read aloud from whichever book she was reading at the time!

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    1. Lovely! Last year, when I did a My Life in Books series, a few other people said they read it over a cup of tea - and it is such a wonderful image.

      I had a similarly lucky childhood, bookswise, even if buying books wasn't as high a priority as using the library. Having said that, people who've answered My Life in Books often seem to have reacted against fairly unbookish parents. Either path leads to bibliomania, it seems!

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  4. Lovely lovely post to read at the beginning of the day. So many of those books are either favourites or ones to explore. :-) Elizabeth Bowen is a writer that I want to try but never seem to be getting to - I have to push her up the TBR. But I'm afraid I don't have the courage for Teresa's books about endurance; I couldn't cope with the suspense!

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    1. I tend to love suspense in books. It's real life where I want to know precisely what is going to happen, and I want it to be comfortable!

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    2. Victoria, get on Elizabeth Bowen, pronto! Start with To the North - you won't look back!

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  5. Read this post over my morning cuppa. I don't know either of the bloggers involved but it made no difference - I thoroughly enjoyed the whole thing.

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    1. Great :) Lots more lovely people to come this week - and hopefully next year too!

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  6. A really enjoyable post. A note to Teresa - I have just started reading the Little House books to my son and he asked me to go and buy maple syrup so he could have it on bread like Laura does. Hasn't asked me for a pig's tail yet though, thank goodness!

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    1. All the food descriptions made the meals sound so delicious. I wanted them all. And the maple syrup was an easy request. Your son could always have asked for the pig's bladder to fill with water and kick around! Yikes!

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  7. So great to have found this blog. I follow Rachel on Book Snob all the time. It's a lovely way to discover new authors and read different opinions on them. A big help for our reading group.

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  8. Another brilliant edition! Teresa made me laugh with her comment about getting entertainment from other people's tragedy. There were many years of my youth spent fascinated by the same sort of books. And full marks to her with a pretty accurate description of Rachel, who along with you, Simon, have massively enhanced my world of books.

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    1. I do feel weirdly guilty about that, but it doesn't stop me reading such books! At least when they're memoirs, the people are getting some money out of it, so I shouldn't feel too bad.

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    2. Aww, what a lovely comment, Darlene! Thank you :)

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  9. How better to start off the week than by learning more about two of my favourite bloggers? I'm always particularly fascinated to read about the influence books had on other people's childhoods. I certainly shared Teresa's love of the Little House books (and her desire to live like Laura, pig's tails and all)!

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    1. I think there were a lot of little girls who felt the same way. Laura made her life sound like such a wonderland!

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  10. This was so much to fun to be a part of Simon, thank you so much for organising it! I am so relieved I was right about Teresa - that could have been really embarrassing!!!

    It's interesting how children who grew up with little access to books can still become great readers, isn't it? Perhaps because books were a rarity when I was younger, I have come to appreciate them more? My obsessive book collecting is probably due to that constant fear as a child that I'd run out of books and have nothing left to read!!

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    1. I didn't share my guesses with Simon, but it did occur to me that it might be you, Rachel! (I had it down to you and one other person, actually.)

      I thought it was interesting that both of us had that same experience of having parents who weren't big readers but then becoming big readers ourselves, even as children.

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    2. Thanks so much for joining in, Rachel! And PHEW that you were right (although I'd probably have been kind and not mentioned it if you were wrong - having said that, there are a couple of clangers in terms of age and gender coming up, and I've wickedly left them in...!)

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    3. Oooh Teresa, who was the other person you thought I might be?!

      Yes that is interesting, isn't it? I think my mum's hatred of clutter is the main reason why we didn't have books around - my mum still moans whenever I buy books at the thought of the dust they generate even though I don't live with her any more!!

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  11. Wonderful start to series 2 and some great choices -- like Rachel I loved and still love The Secret Garden and also Elizabeth Bowen (I think owing to reading about her on Book Snob initially, in fact). Look forward to the rest of the series.

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    1. Thanks, Harriet - I remember your wonderful support last year, which was a major reason for me continuing this year.

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  12. Great start to the series, I must catch up on the tv programme, as my recorder has failed to record them.

    Looking forward to tomorrow .

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    1. I'm off to catch up with the TV series right now (but I think ours is better ;) )

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  13. This was great fun, Simon. Thanks so much for including me!

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    1. You're very welcome, Teresa! I'm really pleased that you've come along and replied to comments too, that's so lovely of you.

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  14. Great "Day 1" to series 2, Simon. I enjoy reading both of these bloggers, and it's always nice to hear more about fellow bibliophiles. Thanks for putting together another round of these for us to enjoy! Way to go ladies on your accurate guessing of each other.

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  15. I love the idea of comparing readers' experiences and the books that shaped their reading habits. I'm looking forward to the rest of this series. :)

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    1. You're in for some wonderful posts this week, Diana - I've had such fun reading them behind the scenes!

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  16. Ohhhh: I didn't know we were allowed to guess who our partner actually was. I've sent you an e-mail. ;)

    Anyway, I'm so excited to see all of the posts! You know you're going to have to do a third round, right?

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    1. I know, I will definitely have to! There are so many other bloggers I'd love to take part.

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  17. I've been sent over here twice and enjoyed the posts so much, very clever, and interesting. Thank you.

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  18. I don't think I can respond directly to such questions regarding my reading life. Thanks for sharing yours

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  19. What a great idea--I particularly like the guessing game at the end!

    I'm so happy to have been led here by Shelf Love (although admittedly I've been meaning to visit since hearing about you on The Readers).

    I look forward to the rest of this series and pondering these questions myself over the coming days.

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  20. Like others I read this with my first-of-the-morning cup of tea and it was a gentle and engaging way to rouse myself from half-sleep and start my day. Rachel and Theresa both made interesting and thought-provoking responses and I found it fascinating to read if others reading histories and preferences - its almost as if there is such a thing as our "reading personality"! It also makes me realise that the reasons why someone reads and/or how they respond to a book can be as interesting as the reason why the author has written. Anyway, for such a good start to it, my day would like to say thanks. (now heading off to get ready thinking what would I have chosen...........!)

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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.