Saturday, 10 March 2012

My Life in Books: Series Two: Day Six

Happy weekend, everyone - but there is no rest for the, er, bloggers.  Still six more bloggers waiting to tell you their lives in books!  Hasn't it been fun, so far?

Claire writes (sometimes!) at Paperback Reader, and I think (although I have not thought too long and hard about it) might be the blogger I've met the most often.  And it is always a joy and a pleasure!

Nymeth writes Things Mean A Lot, a title derived from a Red House Painters song, and started blogging a week or two before I did.  She gave me the option of using her real name (Ana) or her blogging name (Nymeth) and I thought I'd go for the one with which I was most familiar - but she'll answer to either!


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.

Claire: My love for books and for reading was instilled in me from an early age, mainly by my mother and grandmother.  I loved being read to and I was one of those children who always knew (and objected!) whenever the reader skipped over a part or mixed up the words.  The two picture books that stand out in my memory are Mog's Christmas by Judith Kerr and Dogger by Shirley Hughes, both written by stalwart children's authors who have endured.  Mog's Christmas was the second outing in the famous series and concerns Mog the cat's unsettled reaction to Christmas; I'm a huge fan of Christmas and cats and I like to think that Mog's Christmas contributed to that. Oh, and I loved the book so much that my grandparents had to rename their kitten Mog!  She was as much a part of my childhood as the book was and died when I was fifteen years old. 

Dogger, like Mog's Christmas, wasn't exactly a happy story and I wonder if my love of sad stories that end happily says something about my reading preferences...  Dogger is the eponymous toy dog who is lost and found again; however, it is also a heartwarming tale of a sister who sacrifices her own toy for her little brother's happiness.  I loved, loved, loved it.


Nymeth: I did grow up in a book-loving household, though my parents never really had the habit of reading to me.  I confess I feel slightly envious when fellow book bloggers share their memories of being read anything from The Lord of the Rings to Dickens to Jane Eyre as bedtime stories!  But to give my parents the credit they deserve, they led by example: they were always plenty of books around the house, and I would always see them reading.  So from a very young age I learned to associate reading with something adults did for enjoyment, and I very much wanted to do it myself.

Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer was a huge childhood favourite of mine.  I first discovered it through the Japanese animated series from the 1980s, which was on TV a lot when I was little.  I asked my parents for the book, and for many years I reread it every six months or so.  I had no idea Twain was one of the great American novelists then – I just loved his book for its sense of adventure and possibility and for Tom Sawyer’s endless mischief.  I would love to revisit it one of these days, along with the more critically acclaimed Huckleberry Finn.  I must have been 13 or 14 when I last read them, and have no idea what they’d look like to my adult eyes.

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

Claire: I read a lot of older books before I was really supposed to.  I had access to libraries and voraciously read anything; I also remember devouring my grandmother's library books too, books by Catherine Cookson, Lena Kennedy and Barbara Taylor Bradford just because they were there.  However, I also encountered classic novels during my binge years and read The Catcher in the Rye at ten years old (way too young to understand it) and Jane Eyre at eleven (I adored it; I did not adore studying it my first year at University).  Either of those answer your question but I think it was really reading Rebecca when I was fourteen that was the first 'grown-up' book that shaped me as a reader and determined the type of books I sought out from that point onwards.  It remains a favourite.  My mum bought it for me on a holiday to Ireland to visit family and I cherished -and still do- that copy although it is battered and well read and re-read.  I was a bookish teenager who didn't fit in at school and was, at that stage, going through a particularly bad bout of being bullied; I had always escaped through fiction but Du Maurier  thoroughly immersed me in Manderley and its goings on that I didn't want to leave.  It took me until last year to read a second Du Maurier novel because I loved Rebecca so absolutely that I couldn't have anything taint those memories of being found - as opposed to lost - in literature... I need not have worried.

Nymeth: Probably one of George Orwell’s most famous novels, Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm.  I read them a few months apart, but I can’t really recall which one came first.  I also can’t remember what was going on in my life at this point, though funnily enough I have very vivid memories of lying in my bed in the afternoon and reading these novels.  I must have been in seventh or eight grade, and I remember feeling all clever and grown-up and proud of myself for understanding Orwell’s allegory in Animal Farm and grasping at least some of the political subtext that informs the dystopian world in Nineteen Eighty-Four.  I also felt very satisfied with myself for having picked up these novels on my own (I didn’t grow up in an English-speaking country, so we didn’t study them in school).

Of course, looking back now I see that the power of Orwell’s novels doesn’t exactly lie in their subtlety.  Laura Miller says in The Magician’s Book that these are great stories to “cut your critical teeth into”, and I can see what she means.  They’re pretty transparent but no less satisfying for it, and so they can easily make young readers feel confident that they can understand metaphors and allegories and tease out political themes in more complex literary works.


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.

Claire: I couldn't discuss my life in books without mentioning Angela Carter as she has been a huge influence.  I read Nights at the Circus as a set text in my final year of university (so, my twenties and "early adulthood") and enjoyed it more than any other book I read while studying (and that's saying something as I first read Toni Morrison, Charles Dickens, Salman Rusdie and many more while at uni).  The richness of language, the literary allusion, the fervour of her storytelling and how she is unrelenting in her creativity and passion... yes, I was an immediate fan. 
A year later I had read her back catalogue and was writing my Master's thesis on aspects of her work.

Nymeth: I don’t often remember to list it among my favourites, but Aurora Leigh by Elizabeth Barrett Browning was important to me because it sparked my interest in the Victorians and, obliquely, in gender studies.  I’m not sure if I’d say it helped set me off in a new direction in life – I didn’t go on to study any of these things in grad school, for example, though I did consider it.  But the novel opened up a new world for me, and the readings that followed from that help shape my thinking to this day.

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?

Claire: The Group by Mary McCarthy is a favourite from the last five years but there have been several... that one wasn't one I found through blogging although it was an early read in my blogging career and one I am glad I have been able to share with fellow bloggers.
Blogging and reading of blogs has been an enriching experience but it also changed the way I read.  The wealth of recommendations, challenges (especially literary prize list reading) and books for review was a lovely by-product of blogging but it was also overwhelming... I found it important to return to my roots as a reader and read more on a whim rather than have hype or deadline dictate my reading.  I am enjoying my reading again (reading is never fun when it becomes a chore) and every so often allow myself to be led by the enthusiasm of another blogger into my next book read or purchase.  I have always been an eclectic reader but think I have become more discerning of my own preferences since I returned to making my own reading choices again.


Nymeth:  Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers, which I might never have picked up if not for book bloggers, and which I’d certainly have read out of order if not for bloggers – I was rescued from that horrific fate at the very last minute!  I know this might sound clichéd, but blogging has done a lot to expand my horizons over the past few years.  The more time I spend in the virtual company of other bookish folks, the more my interests widen.  And this is something for which I’m incredibly grateful.

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

Claire: Nobody can survive - or be sustained - on a diet of one type of book alone... I tend towards rich, hearty literature and that's just not healthy so sometimes I have to indulge in some low-calorie popcorn reading too!  I love some easy reading fantasy series reading, whether it be on the epic scale of George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series or Charlaine Harris' Southern Vampire (Sookie Stackhouse) series, things that I can snack on between meals but that sate me for a while.

Nymeth: I hate to be a spoilsport, but I don’t really believe in the concept of guilty pleasures :P  I think people have come to expect my blog to be an amalgamation of interests that don’t often go together, so I’m not sure what would be surprising.  I guess there’s The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa.  I was obsessed with it in my teens and memorised entire passages.  It’s one of those books that helped make me who I am, but because all of this happened pre-blogging people are unaware that I’ve even read it.

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

Nymeth, on Claire's choices: These choices immediately made me think of one blogger in particular: Claire from Paperback Reader. I think all of those are books I’ve seen her mention fondly at one point or another – the three middle ones in particular are such Claire novels. But regardless of who my mystery partner is, I would guess that they are: 
  • A cat lover since childhood, as evidenced by Mog’s Christmas
  • A fan of feminist fiction
  • Someone interested in novels that successfully combine elements of several genres (Angela Carter is brilliant at this, as well as just brilliant in general)
  • Someone with very diverse reading taste
  • Someone who values both good writing AND good storytelling.
See, all of this fits Claire perfectly. The more I think about it, the more I become convinced that I’m right ;)    [Simon: haha! well done you!]

Claire, on Nymeth's choices: Simon, you had to go and challenge me not to try and guess gender because now I have to!  My gut instinct is that my co-participant is male, although I feel bad that it's based on gender-specified stereotypes (illogically as I read Tom Sawyer and Ninety Eighty-Four as a young reader too...)  I like their choices and they intrigue me - especially the Pessoa as a guilty pleasure/surprise although I suspect that the surprise is that it is Modernist.  I think my co-participant is from the UK and has had an extended education in English literature, with a great love for Victorian literature.  
[Simon: oooops!]


28 comments:

  1. Oops, indeed. I am kicking myself esoecially as Ana knows me so very, very well. My choices were predictable and definitively "me". I loved participating and have been enjoying the series all week, enjoying the answers (and examining my own - esoecially why I opted for picture-books to sum up my "childhood"... Thank you for asking me, Simon, for re-immersing me in the blogging community and for pairing me with Ana (of all the people whose gender I could stereotype... I feel embarrassed and annoyed with me. Of course Ana would strive against normative gender bias.)

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    1. Don't feel bad, Claire! I know I've made similar assumptions in the past. And I'm not surprised you didn't guess, since I came to my current reading interests in a sort of roundabout way. There wasn't even a book by Neil Gaiman or Sir Terry in there to give me away ;)

      PS: I was definitely going more for surprising than guilty pleasure with The Book of Disquiet. And you did get some things right, as I studied English literature with an emphasis on the Victorians :P

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    2. The Book of Disquiet hugely intrigued me too - not really a surprise, since I knew nothing about it before!

      I'm so pleased you both took part, and especially pleased that it's giving back your love for the blogosphere, Claire! (And if I ever have a go at this myself, the Mr. Men will be childhood book... so picture books are fine ;) )

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  2. Great great great. How amazing of Ana to guess Claire! I love Paperback Reader and all Claire's choices make me realise why -- Mog, yes, Dogger, yes, Rebecca, yes, Angela Carter, yes! I've never succeeded in reading Tom Sawyer, and this makes me wish I had. Thanks to both and of course yet again to Simon.

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    1. I miss Claire's blog and reading this has reminded me why. Get back to blogging Claire, about anything, doesn't have to be books.

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    2. Harriet, I was incredibly impressed when I got back Ana's guess of Claire! And confident enough to have it down in print. And further proof that I must read Angela Carter, as of course I must.

      Hayley - agree, agree!

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  3. Claire and Nymeth, I really enjoyed reading about your reading, and I loved your choices, which feature so many of my own favourites.

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    1. It does seem to be win-win this week - either much-loved titles are discussed, or suggestions are made for the reading list.

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  4. Just wanted to say that I am enjoying this series. It is good to see "Gaudy Night" getting a mention. Is it pronounced "gow-dee" or "gor-dee"? Either way, it sounds a rather off-putting word to me. Not being an Oxbridge graduate, I was not aware of the term being used to describe a feast for former college members. The chances are that I would never have read it had it not been mentioned favourably on a blog (I cannot remember which one). Normally I insist on reading series in order but Gaudy Night is the only novel in the Lord Peter Wimsey series that I have so far read. I hope I haven't spoiled the rest of the series as a result.

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    1. Thanks David - a Life in Books Series One man!
      Even though I am at Oxford, I can never remember how Gaudy is pronounced... and have to confess that I really didn't like the book at all, although I know it is a favourite with many.

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  5. Why can't I find Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Aurora Leigh anywhere to add to my Nook? It's in public domain & now I want to read it! Hmph. ;) And reading about Claire's love for Angela Carter (again) has made me remember that I *really* should pick up Nights at the Circus. Good thing it survived my cull and is still on my TBR shelf!

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    1. I would have thought you'd be tripping over online copies of Aurora Leigh, how strange...

      Again, I must read Carter! I don't have Nights at the Circus, but I do have Wise Children and The Magic Toyshop. Oh, and Fireworks somewhere.

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  6. A-ha! I knew my guess had to be right ;) Thanks again for having me, Simon! It was a lot of fun.

    PS: Eva, you do have to read Nights at the Circus ASAP!

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    1. Thanks for playing, Nymeth! And huge congrats on your guess ;)

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  7. wonderful two first blogs I found when I started blogging ,all the best stu

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    1. really? How lovely! I think the first blog I discovered, outside of the people I already knew from an online book group, was Margaret at Books Please - she started hers the same week I started mine!

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  8. Thank you Simon, I enjoy these life in books.

    Claire, like Desp. Reader I pine for you to make a come back too.

    David Nolan I know I've said this before, but I still do so wish you authored a blog.

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    1. Gotta say, Merenia - I completely agree with you about David BUT I think you should write a blog too!

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    2. Thank you, both. Maybe one day. In the meantime, you might just enjoy this "stack" I have been creating on Delicious. I might have to put it on Pinterest instead as that is where all the cool folk seem to be these days - not that I have made much of a claim to be cool!

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  9. The only one that would have made me guess Claire was The Group, which I haven't read but have been meaning to ever since she wrote about it. I of course love Rebecca and Mog was one of my favourite series as a kid.

    I am shocked that Claire and Nymeth didn't compare notes before, me and Gav did (oops) to check we werent matched with each other.

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    1. SHOCKING behaviour, swapping answers before the reveal! ;)

      I bought The Group years ago... I have yet to read it, of course.

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  10. Oh, thank you for all of the lovely comments and to Simon for inviting me. Blogging shall resume soon...

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  11. Like Eva, I really need to read Night at the Circus, or any Angela Carter really. As for Ana: I do not think I would have been able to recognise you from those book choices either!

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    1. Completely understandable! As I was telling Claire, I came to my current reading interests in a bit of a roundabout way, and so my reading history doesn't necessarily reflect them. You and Claire know me pretty well, so if you couldn't guess I doubt anybody would.

      I'll add another yay to the idea of Claire returning to regular blogging :D

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  12. What a perfect pairing! And I've been meaning to read The Book of Disquiet forever!

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    1. When I read the description, I thought it would be a great choice for you, Sakura (as well as me!)

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  13. I've heard so much about Angela Carter, but haven't read anything of hers. My daughter studied some of her fairy tales in her first year of English studies at university and hated them with a vengeance! She was only seventeen and very innocent... Maybe I should give AC a try. In secret! :)

    Dogger is one we certainly both agree on, though. I read it to my son and daughter innumerable times (and cried every time! Even reading Claire's summary of Dogger made my eyes well up!) Wonderful, wonderful book!

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