Thursday, 1 November 2012

My Life in Books: Series Three: Day Four


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.

Stu: I did very much grow up in a bookish house. My earliest memories are of my dad reading on the chair, in the car waiting for my mum, and his hour long visits to toilet at home with his book reading! That said our tastes in books are very different - my dad is an escapist reader, thrillers westerns and spy novels. He also reads maybe double the number of books I do.  My grandparents were also very bookish - my gran was a crime fan so holidays were spent reading but also looking through her collection of old paperbacks with their slightly creepy sixties and fifties covers.  Her favourite writer was Agatha Christie.  My other gran was an English teacher and headmistress so her shelves open my eyes to classics and although I don't read as many as I should these days, I discovered names like Saki and Dickens in her shelves. Also she maybe inspired one of my favourite childhood books, which is The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien, as she had a old version of The Lord of the Rings that I found very enticing as a kid with its cover and Runic writing - so I was given The Hobbit when I was about ten as The Lord of the Rings was maybe too had for me at that age. I fell in love with the idea of far away places and adventures in them.

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?

Stu: I always say my first truly grown up book... well I have mentioned The Hound of the Baskervilles in a post on my own blog, but maybe I'll mention another book I read around same time (that would be about fourteen or fifteen) that maybe gives a clue to my later reading tastes, and that is The Plague by Albert Camus.  A dark book about how people react when a plague breaks out and I, in a way, associate with this as my parents had got divorced in my early teens and my mum remarried and I gained a brother and sister and a step father who I didn't and still don't get on with. So a book about people struggling with life maybe rung home as my teens years weren't the happiest for me, in reflection, as I never felt at home in my late teens so writers like Camus then the beat writers gave me a outlet on my life. Damn that sounds depressing but it has affected the rest of my life.  There were of course good times but as a growing teen I felt alone at times and angry at the world.

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?

Stu: Oh I'm going to twist the rules here and pick a publisher, if I can Simon, I want pick Peirene Press. I have loved all the books in the last few years, and as you may know they publish books in translation that have been called movie books because they take a couple of hours to read. But the main thing I love about them is, yes, they are short, but every book they have published has felt so much more than its size and if it wasn't for Meike the publisher, they wouldn't reach us in English. So yes, they were the first publisher to send me a book for the blog but also the reason the blog is here to highlight books in translation.  I hope that is ok - if you need to push me I'll name Stones in a Landslide as my favourite book by them but it is like picking your favourite child.

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!

Stu: Oh guilty pleasure - I think I may have mentioned this on the blog before but it is dog biographies, books like Marley and Me.  Damn, that is my credibility gone now there! No, the truth is the blog is named after my own dog Winston and I just enjoy a bit of escapism reading a story of a dog's life, although usually get upset at the end and I can't even watch the film Marley and Me without crying loads. I just love dogs - man's best friend and in my case they have often been my best friend over last twenty years, well til I met my darling wife

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.

33 comments:

  1. Yet another excellent pair of bloggers and their choices. Though my own tastes probably veer more in the direction of Florence's, Stu's are really intriguing. I read Herman Hesse many many years ago and am quite tempted to give him another go after this. I rarely read literature in translation as I have this feeling it's best to read the actual words of the author, but I'm also aware that I miss a lot this way. And I'm glad to find out who Winston is.

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    1. thanks Harriet ,I d try Hesse again he is a great writer ,I ll have a book of his on the blog later this month as it is german lit month ,all the best stu

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    2. I feel exactly the same way about translations!

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  2. Nice and easy to guess Stu today - some bloggers just can't be hidden ;)

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  3. I already know Stu who always introduces me to exciting titles in translation but it's nice to meet Florence. I'm going to have to check out The Enchanted Castle and the Emily books (I can't believe I've missed out on both of them in my early reading years!)

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    1. me too Sakura not too aware of this book ,all the best stu

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    2. Needless to say, I recommend both The Enchanted Castle and the Emily books :) I do hope you enjoy them! They're still favourite cozy comfort reads of mine.

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  4. I'm a follower of Stu's blog, but Florence is new to me. I think I'd guess Stu from the books, but it was so interesting to see how they matched certain periods of his life. It is nice to find a blogger whose relatives actually read more than they do! I used to live near Barter books and miss that wonderful old station.

    Another great day for this feature!

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    1. yes my dad puts me to shame ,but I always say I read proper books lol .Florence is new to me great to be pair with a new blogger I thought it was Iris lol ,all the best stu

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    2. Lol I'm rather flattered you thought I was Iris and hope you weren't disappointed when you found out I wasn't :) I am glad to get to know you a bit better, Stu: I've seen you around on Twitter and other blogs, but it's nice to meet you like this!

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  5. I'm intrigued to know whether Stu giggled his way through The Glass Bead Game? I think it's one of the last books I would describe as a comic novel. Obviously, it's ludic, but funny? Did I completely miss the point, at 18, or whatever I was when I read it? I don't think I could read it again to find out, though my husband says it's his favourite novel ever.

    I love that books provided a fixed point for Florence as she moved around with her family. I keep meaning to read The Enchanted Castle.

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    1. That may be my mistake! I changed his 'comes novel' to 'comic novel', because I wasn't sure what 'comes novel' meant - I've changed it back, and hopefully Stu will be able to clear this up for us!

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    2. I think at some point I messed up with editing my answers I meant a coming of age novel for myself it shows how different the mind can be and that was a revelation ,I sometimte type slower than I think ,all the best stu

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  6. This is a really good series Simon, and I am enjoying reading about other bloggers' tastes. I haven't yet gone to Stu's blog but I'm really pleased you've pointed me there, because I very much identify with his love of European literature. I too read Camus in my youth (and The Plague is my favourite of his) as well as everything by Hesse. I still have those volumes sitting on my shelf, but I shall be following Stu's blog to see what else he can recommend!

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    1. I read and studied Camus's The Stranger when I was at school and disliked it intensely. Sadly, I never had the courage to try him again and see if my opinion of him would improve upon better acquaintance... Eventually I'll have to do something about that!

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  7. I meant to say also that I very much emphathise with what Florence says about blogging slowing her down a little. Since I started, I feel I can't move on to a new book till I've got the most recent one out of my system by writing about it - so I'm tending to have a lot of draft posts sitting about!

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    1. many thanks for the follow Kaggsy ,all the best stu

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    2. I'm so relieved to find someone experiencing the same thing as me, Karen! I almost didn't admit to this problem, as I felt ashamed to do so in the presence of so many other more assiduous bloggers - I didn't want to be branded as "the lazy blogger"!

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  9. know Stu as a blogger fairly well, and have found that our reading journey has been similar, Camus, Hesse, Tolkien etc. But Florence is new to me, so will have to investigate more.

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    1. I look forward to your investigations :)

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    2. thanks gary we have similar atses as well

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  10. Another interesting post. Stu's choices were quite thought provoking, but not necessarily books I would choose to read (apart from The Hobbit, which I love), but perhaps I should try to broaden my horizons. Florence's list is much more to my taste.

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  11. thanks to florence being my partner today ,I thought you were iris actually from your choices so great to find a new blog ,all the best stu

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  12. What a great idea this is! I'm here via Stu's blog, one of my absolute favourites in the book blogosphere because he has introduced me to a whole new world of reading in translation. It's lovely to get to know you better, Stu, and fancy you reading The Glass Bead Game as an adolescent, that's a book I recently read about as an influence on the great Gerald Murnane - and I didn't know I could have asked you all about it!
    Nice to meet you too, Florence:)

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    1. Nice to meet you, Lisa :)

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  13. Hello Stu and Florence! It was wonderful to see your selections! And both of you favoiurite bloggers of mine. You have made me want to read the Emily series, btw.

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    1. It was fun reading your selections as well, Iris - I see Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice are two very popular choices among the ladies! Sadly, the gentlemen have yet to appreciate Charlotte Brontë as she deserves. I wonder why?

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  14. I'm a regular reader of Florence's wonderful blog, which has introduced me to so many different new authors to explore.

    My own choices are an odd combination of both Stu's and Florence's. I think my first adult book was either The Hobbit or The Earthsea Trilogy by Ursula K.LeGuin. I adored them - and still do, actually. I also read Jane Eyre as a teenager and loved that too, for the same reason as Florence, though I had a slight preference for Wuthering Heights at the time. (I've re-read Jane Eyre since then, but still have to revisit Wuthering Heights to know if that preference would still stand.)

    It was really fun reading this interview and I'm looking forward to poking around two new blogs!

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  15. Lovely to see Stu featuring on this one, always interesting to hear the books he loves as he has become such an important advocate of translated fiction.

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  16. cool, I love this format, thanks for doing that! I came to visit, because I follow Stu's site. I also read some books in translation, and some directly in French, my native language actually: http://wordsandpeace.com

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  17. A fantastic post and some great choices. Thanks for sharing them!

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