Saturday, 3 November 2012

My Life in Books: Series Three: Day Six


Laura blogs at Laura's Musings, and has been the brainchild between the year-long celebration of Elizabeth Taylor throughout 2012.  Thanks, Laura!

Jodie is better known to most of us as Geranium Cat, and was (I believe) one of the first bloggers I met in person.  Lovely!



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.

Laura: My mother was an avid reader and always had something on the go. To this day I can picture her curled up in her "reading chair." She made sure I learned to read before starting school, and took me to the library on a regular basis. I outgrew the library's juvenile fiction before I was old enough to receive an adult library card, but was given one with a special designation that allowed me to check out all but the most "mature" books.

When I was very young I received several books by Joan Walsh Anglund as gifts, and I adored them. They are small books that fit well in a child's hand, with very sweet illustrations and titles like Love is a Special Way of Feeling and A Friend is Someone who Likes You. Their central message was all about being loved and caring for others. I remember having them read to me, and then reading them on my own. They were a regular source of comfort, and even now their covers bring back warm feelings.

Jodie: Yes and yes. I adored books and was encouraged and read to by everyone around me. One grandfather read Winnie-the-Pooh and Christmas Carol to us “with voices” and Granny was wonderful both at reading Alice and at making up stories. My favourite book from my early childhood was Barbara Sleigh’s Carbonel, about a girl who buys a witch’s cat and has to free him from a spell. It’s the first book I can remember reading to myself, because everyone else was too busy that day. I’m sure learning to read wasn’t quite that straightforward, but it’s a book I still love.

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?

Laura: I read Jane Eyre one summer, I think I was about 12. At that point, this was the longest book I'd ever read. I entered a local bookstore's summer reading competition, so who knows why I chose such a long book! I remember taking it with me to summer camp, partly because I was enjoying it, but more than anything I wanted to win the competition! I didn't win, but I did well enough to earn a small gift certificate. And Jane Eyre definitely sparked my interest in classics and made me more willing to approach books others might consider difficult.

Jodie: As soon as I was old enough to go to the library alone I was sent every week (not that I needed encouragement) to choose books for my father to read on the theatre switchboard when there were no lighting changes and, inevitably, I read them too. So I grew up on a diet of crime and science fiction – H.P. Lovecraft, James Blish, John Creasey, Robert van Gulik…I definitely shouldn’t have been reading van Gulik’s The Haunted Monastery at whatever age I was then (probably about 12), I was distinctly shocked by it, but I’ve got it on my bookshelf now, so I think it should get the “first grown-up book” category. Choosing those books certainly shaped my own reading habits though, because I had to be discerning; I couldn’t simply take 4 books off the shelf and hope that they’d do.


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.

Laura: In the mid-1990s, I joined a book group with a lot of fantastic women, all older than me and great role models. One of them introduced me to The Mists of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley, a retelling of the Arthurian legend from a female perspective. At that time, I was just becoming aware of the way history, myth, and legend can differ based on who's telling the story. Mists sent me off on a period of reading alternative points of view and learning about the often unsung role of women in history.

Jodie: I think that has to be The Once and Future King by T.H. White, because after I read it I became quite obsessed by myths and legends, something which has never changed. Following the trail started by White led to so much other literature, from his contemporaries like Sylvia Townsend Warner to his sources, such as Malory and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. I love multi-layered fiction, and I think White was my first experience of it. Um, the only thing that’s wrong with this answer is that I read it when I was 12, but it really is the well from which all my interests spring.

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?

Laura: In the recent past I've discovered two wonderful authors: Winifred Holtby and Molly Keane, who wrote two books that landed on my list of all-time favourites: South Riding and Good Behaviour. Both are Virago Modern Classics, which have had a profound impact on my reading habits (and my pocketbook)! When I started blogging in 2007, I read a lot more contemporary bestsellers, mixed with some classics but mostly ones typically taught in school. I discovered Virago Modern Classics through LibraryThing, and have been introduced to so many fine women writers I never would have discovered otherwise.

Jodie: The recent favourite is easy – Angela Thirkell’s August Folly, the first of her books that I read. I came to blogging almost through despair – that’s hardly too strong a word. Five years ago I had read everything that I could face on the library shelves, a nauseating cocktail of chicklit, inferior crime writing and poorly-written fantasy. I was utterly miserable but I decided that the Internet must be good for something by then and started looking for recommendations by people who liked the same sort of books as me and bombarding the library with requests for books – oh yes, and buying them. I no longer wait for a good book to come to me by chance, I actively pursue them, as far as I can afford to, and the proportion of newly published books I read has gone down considerably. I still read crime and fantasy, but I can be much more discerning, and I won’t finish a bad book just for the sake of having something to read.


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

Laura: This is difficult to answer because I don't usually read for escape, or for guilty pleasure. But since most of my reading tends to be "heavy" stuff, I do need a break occasionally. Then I find that mystery or crime novels, which I rarely read otherwise, can be just the ticket. Most recently I escaped into Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl and have enjoyed C.J. Sansom's Matthew Shardlake mysteries, set in the Tudor period.

Jodie: Well, not exactly guilty, but this one has not only spent the last year on my bedside table, but I regularly take it with me when I’m away from home. It is The Illustrated NFL Playbook, subtitled: “Pro football explained in diagrams, charts and definitions”…I should explain for those to whom the letters “NFL” mean absolutely nothing that this is American football, as mysterious to the uninitiated as cricket (which I loathe, along with virtually every other form of sport I can think of). All I can say in my defence is that it has proved a wonderfully safe topic to steer conversations towards on those occasions when my three large menfolk disagree (sometimes joined, I’ll admit, by me) on quantum computing, or whether pecorino is better than parmesan, or what to do about the Palestinian question. At such times all I have to say is, “Who do you think has the better defensive line, the 49ers or the Bears?” and they’ll be throwing statistics around for hours. The funny thing is, I’ve started to really enjoy it…



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

Jodie, on Laura's choices: There were two books I didn’t know at all. Googling Love is a Special Way of Feeling by Joan Walsh Anglund shows that it looks very sweet, and ideal for parents to read with their child sitting on their knee – a book for sharing. I’d guess that this is someone who grew up in surroundings where books were treasured. South Riding - Winifred Holtby and Good Behaviour - Molly Keane? Well, I suspect that this person’s bookshelves may have quite a few volumes with dark green spines and probably a collection of Persephones too? And that they probably like secondhand bookshops and would much rather read a book published last century than the latest bestseller. In The Mists of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley, I think I might detect a fellow lover of myths and legends? Definitely a romantic, at any rate, though, taken along with Jane Eyre, perhaps a romantic with a sense of restraint. Something these books have in common is the strength of their female characters: even quiet Jane refuses the safe option, while Sarah, Aroon and Morgaine struggle against the dictates of their worlds. Finally, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn – this is the other book I don’t know, but I think all these choices tell me that this person is interested in how people and relationships work and in the role of woman in society, and is someone who looks for emotional integrity in their reading.

Laura, on Jodie's choices: I felt a bit anxious to begin with, because I'd never heard of Barbara Sleigh or Robert van Gulik. Thank you LibraryThing for filling me in! This reader strikes me as an anglophile whose lifelong reading has been shaped by a love of fantasy. I was excited to see The Once and Future King as their early adult read, since I was strongly affected by a woman's version of the same tale. The Angela Thirkell is really different from their earlier choices, which makes me think this person is open to new experiences at least in reading, and possibly in life as a whole. But I have to say, The Illustrated NFL Playbook had me scratching my head. I'm guessing this person has a great sense of humor, having thrown in a selection so different from the others. There has to be an interesting explanation, and I can't wait to read their what they have to say!

32 comments:

  1. Nice choices and many I've never heard of. I have though read Gone Girl and thought it was brilliant. Thanks once again!

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  2. Simon, this was great fun, and it's so nice to meet the mystery person behind The Illustrated NFL Playbook!

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  3. Lovely post : ) Jane Eyre was my first proper grown up book too - I was about 11 - and have read it twice since. Tudor type mysteries are also my guilty pleasure reads along with Agtha Christie and Dorothy L Sayers.

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    1. Jodie remarked over on her blog how often Jane Eyre was mentioned in people's answers. I've been surprised by that, too.

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  4. I feel rather guilty for getting the NFL Playbook onto the Stuck in a Book blog - sorry, Simon, and Laura too. It was lovely to read Laura's answers and discover the reasons behind her book choices.

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    1. Jodie, I think it's hilarious how you worked the NFL Playbook into the post, and it was an excellent ploy to keep me guessing. Loved reading more about your book choices, too. And now I've discovered a wonderful new blog: yours!

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    2. I've been enjoying discovering your blog too, Laura. It's so nice to meet new friends this way.

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  5. I love this series! What an awesome idea :) I'm here via Laura's blog and now I think I'll be here for a while reading all of these ;)

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    1. Hi Jennifer, it's nice to see you! There are some great posts in this series and Simon's blog is just super generally, so I'm glad this series brought you here.

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  6. I had little Joan Walsh Anglund books as well. What memories this brought back! (Makes me wonder if they are still at my mom's house?) I may have to see about the NFL Playbook for my dh for Christmas. :)

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    1. Susan, I don't think I've ever met anyone who had those books! I discovered mine one day while going through some old things and got lost in the memories for quite some time.

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  7. I have to agree with my friend Jennifer Hartling above! I am here through Laura's blog and will have to add Stuck in a Book to my Bloglovin follow as well!

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    1. * waves to Rebecca * hi there buddy!
      I'm glad you've discovered Simon's blog now, it's terrific!

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  8. Hoorah, after a small absence following other peoples blogs (I am training to be Granny Savidge Reads carer for the last few months she has left, exhausting but worthwhile) I am back and I come back to Stuck in a Book to see that you are doing this wonderful series again. Yippee.

    Anyway... Jane Eyre, amazing, don't know any of the other books really which makes me feel rather shoddy. I am planning on reading Gone Girl very soon though as I have heard excellent things about it.

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    1. Simon S, I'm curious what you'll think of Gone Girl, not sure it will be your cuppa but hey, you weren't so sure you'd like Jane Austen either and wasn't that a pleasant surprise?!

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  9. Laura was the person who inspired me to start my book blog, but I don't think I'd have picked her out from those choices. I think it was 'The Mists of Avalon' that really threw me.

    I also follow Geranium Cat and would never have guessed - that NFL book confused me! Glad to hear it stops argumnets in the house!

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    1. Aw shucks, Jackie, I didn't realize -- or had forgotten -- about that so-called "inspiration"! I'm so pleased not only that you started blogging, but that you continue to this day. It's also fun to know that I "threw" you with my book choices :)

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    2. It confuses me, Jackie - I'm not at all sure how it happened!

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  10. For some reason I thought yesterday as the last day, so it was a lovely surprise to get back from a busy day in the charity bookshop and find another My Life in Books! I've never come across Joan Walsh Anglund or Robert van Gulik, but I remember Carbonel, and the thrill of reading The Once and Future King for the first time.

    And I'd love to know if Jodie's library actually gets the books she hassles them about, because mine doesn't!

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    1. Christine, I'm glad we gave you a "lovely surprise"!

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    2. Lovely to find someone else who remembers Carbonel! And no, the library isn't much good at finding the books I want, but it isn't a bad place for new books that I'm not sure if I want to buy. And I've found a librarian who's even more serious about fantasy than me, so I'm planning to cultivate her assiduously.

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  11. I love these blogs! Coincidentally, an American friend recommended " Gone Girl" to me just an hour ago. In the US it seems to be called " Gone, Baby. Gone". It's not my usual genre but I might well give it a go once I've finished " A Fine Balance" - Rohinton Mistry. Just finished John Banville's "The Sea" but,sadly, it wasn't my cup of tea.
    Ah, well, we can't like everything......
    Delyn

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    1. Actually, "Gone, Baby, Gone" is a different book, by Dennis Lehane, and was published in the 1990s. I haven't read that one. "Gone Girl" is by Gillian Flynn and was published in 2012.

      I really liked "A Fine Balance" -- hope you did, too.

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  12. Love this series! Another great post, and some really interesting book choices. Great to see Jane Eyre made the cut...

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    1. Willoughby, Jane is the best isn't she?

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  13. Jodie and Laura, I only started following both your blogs this year so it is wonderful to get to know more about you both through your answers here. It is amazing to see how often Jane Eyre has shown up this week but mostly I am THRILLED that someone else has finally mentioned an Angela Thirkell book!!!

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    1. Hi Claire, I've enjoyed your blog this year as well and remain in your debt for recommending The Laskett. It provided such wonderful inspiration for our garden this year.

      I really must try Thirkell one of these days.

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    2. Do try Thirkell, Laura - I recommend High Rising or Wild Strawberries as well as August Folly.

      Claire, I'm always absolutely delighted when you write about Thirkell.

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  14. What a great idea to try and work out the kind of person behind the book selection. Enjoyed learning more about the two of you....

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    1. Karen, happy to have my "15 minutes of fame" -- glad you enjoyed it.

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  15. Oh yay, someone else who's not only heard of but also loved Carbonel! My copy is falling to pieces I read it so many times growing up. I was a big fan of Arthurian legend too.

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  16. This was so much fun to read (I came by way of Jodie's blog). I had no idea this was going on, and I love that at the end, they each had to guess about the other blogger through their book choices. That was so fun! I like the different ways that putting bloggers side by side to meet each other, reveals how wide and varied the way into books is. It's interesting too how mysteries for one reader is much of her reading life, and for the other an escape, and vice versa for the older women's literature.

    I have South Riding to read, and I love the Matthew Shardlake series. I've read Jane Eyre twice, and can't get into The Mists of Avalon, which does annoy me because I love fantasy. Isn't it fun how books cross between so many people?

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