Stu is otherwise known as Winston's Dad, and knows more about literature in translation than anyone I know. His blog is a fantastic resource for the literature of so many countries.
Florence blogs at Miss Darcy's Library, and I am grateful to her for getting me finally to read some Rosamond Lehmann, after she led a Reading Week devoted to this author earlier in 2012.
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.
Florence: I grew up in a diplomatic household, and every two to three years we’d up stakes and move to another country. It was difficult keeping up transatlantic friendships, and I learnt early on to rely on books rather than people for comfort and companionship. It helped that wherever we lived, there were always books all around us. Every night after dinner my siblings and I gathered on my parents’ bed for story-hour, and my mother read aloud from all the great classics. When we grew too old for children’s books she swapped them for Jane Austen, Margaret Mitchell, or Tanizaki. It was only when I finished high-school and moved to Paris that the tradition finally – sadly – came to an end.
If I had to pick one book from my childhood (oh how hard it is to choose!), it would probably be E. Nesbit’s The Enchanted Castle. I was very keen on tales of magic and adventure, and I read and enjoyed a great many of them, but only The Enchanted Castle had statues that came alive in the moonlight, and an invitation to dine with the Greek gods on an island in the middle of a lake!
Qu. 2.) What was one of the first 'grown-up' books that you really enjoyed? What was going on in your life at this point?
Florence: I was twelve when I first read Jane Eyre. I tried Pride and Prejudice first and found Austen so dry that I gave up at the end of the first page, vowing never to open the book again (luckily, I have gone back on that vow multiple times since then!). We were living in Cape Town at the time, and I vividly recall the sunshine pouring into my bedroom and the way I leaned over and put P&P back on the shelf, with a small but decided plunk. For some peculiar reason, that is the image that has stayed with me, rather than the drum-roll moment when I first opened Jane Eyre. And there should have been a drum-roll! For I fell utterly, irremediably, head over heels in love with Jane and Rochester. It was the first time I met a heroine who was neither a princess nor the most beautiful girl in all the kingdom – and yet, poor, obscure, and plain as Jane was, she was wonderful! So full of fire, and so unquenchable... She and Rochester are still my favourite literary couple.
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.
Stu: Well, early adulthood saw me leave Cheshire where I grew up and move to Northumberland where my dad and step mum had relocated. Still angry, I ended up eventually living in Germany with a German girl. At this point my angry young man part of my life had come to its end really, and I asked my dad as he came over to Germany to visit to bring some books over from the wonderful Barter Books. So my dad, the escapist reader, brought half a dozen books, a couple of which were books in translation by German writers as I was in Germany. One of these was The Glass Bead Game by Herman Hesse - a coming of age novel about games of intelligence and maybe living outside the world just for intellect. Now, how to bring this into my own life... well, as many of you may know or may not I support people with learning disablities and have done since I returned to England nearly twenty years ago. I do this job because I love to see the people I support achieve things and have found my personality is suited to this job: I'm very patient and a great reader of people's emotions and a good listener, so I know how to help the people I support. Anyway I'm sure there is a link between Hesse and my job!
Florence: As a teenager I was very fond of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Emily trilogy, which I always preferred to the Anne of Green Gables series. Emily was so much more mysterious than Anne, and I loved New Moon and the aunts. In fact, though I couldn’t have put it in so many words then, the Emily books – and especially the last one, Emily’s Quest – appealed to me because it combined everything that is most important to me: a quaint old house, a large and eccentric family, and writing. That’s always what bugged me the most about Anne Shirley: she was a failed writer. And she accepted that. Whereas Emily never gave up. She was going to be writer whether people liked it or not! I wanted to be like her – and I still do..
Qu. 4.) What's one of your favourite books that you've found in the last year or two, and how has blogging changed your reading habits?
Florence: It was my best friend who pushed me to start a blog: it amuses him when I get all worked up about a book and do my best to get him to buy my latest favourite. Because he lives far away in the States, opportunities for heated debates about books are not as frequent as we would like, so he suggested a blog as a way of getting around that... And I am very glad he did! Apart from the many lovely blogs that I’ve come to know, and the countless fascinating titles I have added to my TBR list, I would never have discovered A. S. Byatt or Mary Stewart if it weren’t for blogging, and they both (albeit in very different ways) make my life much happier!
Paradoxically, though, blogging has slowed me down: I have trouble starting a new book until I’ve reviewed the one I’ve just finished, and because I take forever to write up my reviews, I actually read less now than I did before. Moral of the story: be organized and don’t procrastinate!
Qu. 5.) Finally - a guilty pleasure, or a favourite that might surprise people!
Florence: No surprises in store for anyone here! I think my tastes in books are a pretty accurate reflection of my personality. There isn’t much guilt involved either – I would perhaps refrain from mentioning my enjoyment of Georgette Heyer novels in certain academic circles, but all in all, I don’t think one ought to be made to feel guilty about reading, whatever one might choose to read. As a matter of fact (since the truth will out!) my guilty pleasure is watching American TV series, such as Friends and Gilmore Girls. Hmm. Please don’t hold it against me!
And... I've told you the other person's choices, anonymously. What do you think these choices say about their reader?
Florence, on Stu's choices: This was a fascinating list of titles to analyse! Though judging a person by what they read as a child is not exactly foolproof, I think that in this case, the choice of The Hobbit is very telling: it points towards an imaginative and adventurous mind - a trait the other titles tend to confirm. For the adolescent reader's forays into French and German literature (Camus and Hermann Hesse), and the adult's appreciation of the Peirene Press's very diverse European publications, reveal an open, curious mind and a desire to explore beyond the confines of the English literary canon which seem in perfect accordance with the child's love of Bilbo Baggins's adventures through Mirkwood and the Misty Mountains. Lastly, I think my mystery reader probably has a soft spot for animals, a kind heart and a sense of humour, or they wouldn't like Marley and Me so much. Definitely someone I'd like to meet!
Stu, on Florence's choices: Well my partner guest I feel has a love for the old fashioned - Nesbit is a old fashioned children's writer from the golden age of kids' fiction. I feel this is reflected even more with the choice of Jane Eyre and the Emily series. The choices show me a reader that likes their classics but Byatt shows me they like modern fiction too but maybe with an orange tinge? I feel this reader is maybe a good few years younger than me as I watched Friends in my twenties and loved it as well but was maybe too old for Gilmore Girls. So I'm seeing a passionate classic fan that maybe loves strong female writers of the here and now, and maybe the occasional YA book.