Thursday 31 March 2011

My Life in Books: Day Four

Hope you're having a fun week so far - I definitely am. We're on our fourth couple of readers, with three more to come after today - I hope you've been picking up lots of suggestions, as well as revisiting much-loved books from your own life.

lives in Ontario, Canada and blogs at Roses Over A Cottage Door. She's one of those lovely bloggers who started as a blog-reader, and was persuaded to join the blogging masses - we're so glad you did, Darlene!

Peter lives in Somerset, England, and is better known here as Our Vicar, for he is my father. He is the only member of our family not to have a blog... yet!

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.

Darlene: (Cue the violin music) Books were almost completely absent from my household growing up and I have only one memory of being read to by my mother. What we did have was a set of the Encyclopedia Britannica and I loved each and every volume. Being an information junkie from the age of four (I would listen to news stories and run into the kitchen to repeat them to my parents) this collection suited me perfectly. Everything I could have wanted to know from aardvarks to zebras was contained within those pages and was perfect for dipping in and out of.

Peter: We didn't have a lot of books at home - one bookshelf in the main room - maybe a hundred or so books. I don't remember many of them - one was a Bible (which I still have - given to my mother at the age of 12). I'm not sure about children's books, but Brer Rabbit was there somewhere, alongside some books about Golliwoggs, and some Enid Blyton.

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

Darlene: I remember the first grown-up book I enjoyed, it was called Karen and was about Karen Killilea, a girl with cerebral palsy (told you, information junkie), written by her mother Marie. I had finally convinced the woman who drove the library bookmobile to let me sign out a book from the adult side of the van. When I was in Grade 5, unbeknownst to me, I was labeled a 'gifted reader'. A couple of times a week the principal of the school would collect me from class and I had to sit in another classroom and read with him. For the longest time I thought it was because I was naughty but really it was because the rest of class was reading books way too easy for me. Adults didn't inform children about things in those days, you just went along.

Peter: One of the books on the shelf was Walter Scott's Tales of a Grandfather - I don't know what happened to that, but I remember writing an essay in secondary school about the Battle of Sheriffmuir (1715) and expanding Scott's version and thinking maybe nobody's ever written such a long account of the battle. The first grown up novels I read were probably those by PG Wodehouse and Arthur Conan-Doyle.

Qu. 3) Pick a favourite book that you read in your 20s or early 30s - especially if it's one which helped set you off in a certain direction in life.

Darlene: It was all about Jane Austen in my late 20s and early 30s so I would have to say Pride and Prejudice. Her writing just seemed to always feel right. Whenever I would veer towards other genres I would eventually reach a saturation point, be left wanting, and end up returning to Austen where there was usually something new to admire or laugh at depending on your mood. And if you don't have an English accent, you've read at least part of her books out loud just to see if you could pull it off. I can't!

Peter: I spent much of the time in my 20s and 30s reading Maths and Theology books, for my degrees in those subjects. These include The History of Maths by Carl B Boyer - a fascinating account; and The History of Israel by John Bright - covering the Old Testament from an historian's perspective. It was also during this time that I started reading Thomas Hardy's novels - my favourites being Tess of the D'Ubervilles and Jude the Obscure. [Simon: to this day, I think Hardy is the only novelist I have heard Dad mention favourably!]

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?

Darlene: There has been so many favourite books over the past few years but for this venture I am going to choose Someone at a Distance by Dorothy Whipple. I love that book and could not believe my luck when Nicola Beauman hosted a book chat on said book at Persephone while I just happened to be visiting London. It took that particular reading experience up a notch and I will never forget it. Reading blogs has enriched my life beyond all measure. Growing up in a household that did not value books or education as much as I did left me feeling isolated and out of place. This community of booklovers has been my classroom and when you write something, be assured that I am paying attention and learning. For as long as I can remember there has always been a book on my nightstand, since discovering blogs there are now stacks!

Peter: In recent years I've read Pride and Prejudice and begun (but, several years down the line, not yet finished) Lord of the Rings, having been persuaded to try these by Simon and Colin respectively. Under my own steam, I've enjoyed reading a couple of Bill Bryson books - particularly A Short History of Nearly Everything.

Qu. 5) For your final choice - a guilty pleasure, or a favourite that might surprise people!

: The Daily Telegraph is my guilty pleasure once or twice a month. Because it comes from outside the country it costs a ridiculous amount but I don't care. My husband knows I would rather have that than a bouquet of flowers and I pore over every detail. Can I buy the items advertised on sale at Boots or, but I love looking anyway. And I love choosing which play I would see at the weekend if I could just hop on a train or exhibit to drop by and scrutinize. It's like a mini-holiday in a newspaper and is always accompanied by a pot of tea and some cake.

Peter: I remember buying my first Guinness Book of Records when I was 10 - and have occasionally snuck one onto the house over the years.

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

Peter, about Darlene's choices: This lady - and why do I presume a lady when the inclusion of the Encyclopaedia Britannica and a quality English broadsheet could easily have been on my list? This person obviously followed Stuck-in-a-Book's suggestion from September 2009 to start Dorothy Whipple with Someone at a Distance. My guess - sensitive (somewhere in the caring professions?), conservative (unlikely to be reading Stieg Larrson), aware of the world (and the Telegraph also suggests a conservatism) and interested in learning (still reading history and biography as well as novels) - this strikes me as a very interesting lady.

Darlene, about Peter's choices: In my humble opinion, the person who chose these books is witty, intelligent, supremely curious and has an eye for detail. Going out on a limb I am going to suggest this person has achieved higher education and far from considering it something to get through, they really enjoyed the process. They would love to live in the countryside but have to live close to the city, they're happy with their own company but enjoy a laugh with friends as well. And last but not least...there is a much-loved cosy cardigan somewhere amongst their clothes.


  1. These are so fun! OV, I too read Bright's History of Israel for a Biblical Backgrounds course I was taking in my post graduate days. (Didn't follow you with the math, though. :) ) And Darlene, you're making me want to pull Someone at a Distance off my TBR shelf sooner than later. (It's the last Persephone I have in-house, so I've been saving it.) I'm continually amazed at how varied everyone's selections and how "rich." Yes, the list continues to grow... Thanks, Simon!

  2. What a wonderful surprise to have your Dad as my partner, Simon! I am quite sure that we could happily pass an hour or two together pouring over the latest edition of The Guinness Book of World Records!

    This has been such a fun way to get to know people a bit better, thank you so much for asking me to play along, Simon!

  3. Really fascinating choices again! Smiled at Darlene's guilty pleasure. Did that for years when abroad myself Darlene! Sundays meant driving to Geneva Airport for the paper. Admire Peter's devotion to Tess and Jude. I'd like to be tough enough for Hardy's vision instead of always yearning that they'd be less relentless and end more happily.

  4. How interesting, Darlene..... we didn't have many books at home ( 5 kids = little discretionary spending!) but we had The Book of Knowledge and the Encyclopedia Brittanica. I am 64, but I am often amazed at how much of my background knowledge (Pompeii, Norse myths, how pottery is glazed, Edith Cavell, etc......) I can trace back to that Book of Knowledge reading.

    I loved reading about your experience with the encylopedia and have just started ordering from Persephone myself. Thanks, Simon..... this has been a great week!

    Barbara M.

  5. OV, Bright's History of Israel was on the reading list when I did my theology degree (Durham, 1994-98), though I'm not sure I ever read it. My (umpteenth-hand) copy has now been passed on to my husband, a United Reformed Church minister, though I don't know whether he's ever read it either! (Church history is his preferred area of study.)

  6. Interesting that the first adult book you remember loving was Karen - I loved it too but I know for certain the edition I read was marketed as a YA book, not adult! I think you were not alone in seeing the crossover appeal.

  7. Carin - When I read 'Karen' it was over forty years ago and I was quite young so all I remember is that it came from 'the big people side' of the bookmobile!

  8. Darlene, imagining you in the adult section borrowing books on childhood battles with disability evoked a companionable shiver of recognition. Ten {?} years earlier on the other side of the world I was similarly lurking in the non fiction shelves in search of inspirational biographies, hoping the librarian would overlook the fact that I was under 10 years old!!

  9. Martina, Isn't it so interesting what fascinates us from a young age? I was also absolutely obsessed with Helen Keller and wondering what it would have been like to live in her world.

    I never had any friends who thought like I did...too bad you were so far away!


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