Sunday 11 March 2012

My Life in Books: Series Two: Day Seven

It is the end of the week - but, fear not, it is still not the end of My Life in Books!  Tomorrow is the final day - for now, taking the spot usually reserved for Song for a Sunday, I hand over to two bloggers, both of whom (incidentally) were introduced to me by Simon Savidge...

Polly writes at Novel Insights, and 'loves books with stylish covers and what’s inside them too.'  I love the way she recently announced her engagement!

Gav, who blogs at Gav Reads, couldn't have a much more different reading taste from me if he tried - such is the charm of the blogosphere!  I came across Gav through the excellent podcast he co-presents, The Readers.

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.

Polly: I did indeed grow up in a book-loving household.  Many a weekend was spent in the lovely old Waterstones in Newcastle with it's 'W' monogrammed stained-glass windows, leafing through the childrens books there in the basement.  I'm sad to say that it's now moved and been replaced by an H&M!  It's hard to pick a favourite childhood book. My thought immediately turn to classics such as Winnie The Pooh and The Chronicles of Narnia and of course I loved fairy tales.  I had a copy of Terry Jones' Fairy Tales which was much loved and the stories repeatedly re-read.  I loved it for it's fabulous illustrations as much as the original and charming stories - full of magic and with a moral.  I was always able to persuade my Mum to read 'just one more story' at bed time by choosing one of the tales 'The Three Raindrops' which was always a good bet because it was just a paragraph long.

Gav: My dad definitely isn't a reader, he doesn't like reading instruction manuals.  My mum though definitely is.  I didn't really grow up in a house of books.  Though my mum used to but me the odd book.  I recall a copy of Wind in the Willows that stayed in a drawer in the living room for years and years. And I never could get on with it.

I think if I had to choose one book from childhood it would have to be The Twits by Roald Dahl though really it could be any Dahl novel from Matilda, The Witches, BFG, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  I think The Twits is probably the least fanciful but most grotesque of his novels especially the part of about food in beards.  But Dahl in general is an amazing children's writer.  He just gets what childhood is and how adults seem to children.  Plus he gets how easy it is a child's imagination can run wild.  Oh I forgot the illustrations by Quentin Blake! Absolutely perfect.

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

Polly: Hmmm... struggling to remember now!  When I was about 10 and 11 I read alot of cross-over books that had an older edge but still had an element of magic (Watership Down, The Hobbit).  I think the first really 'grown-up' books that I read were around the time that I was in school.  I remember reading Animal Farm and not quite getting all of the references but enjoying it.  I got really involved in William Golding's The Lord of the Flies which I thought was superb at the time - I studied it for my GCSEs.  I think as a result of this, for a long time I was mainly interested in 'modern classics' and particularly those with a darker edge.  It's not until recent years that I've started to explore books set pre-1900.

Gav: Now that's really grey I didn't get bookie until I was 16 and I delved into science fiction and fantasy mostly, which to most people isn't really grown-up reading.  And I really can't recall what I was really reading.  I can see snapshots.  But if we're looking for challenging language, you could say it was Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien.  I'd read The Hobbit but that is definitely more a child's book as it's simpler in lots of ways. But Lord of the Rings stretching over a trilogy

I'll let you into a confession though: I've never read the very ending of the book. 

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.

Polly: As mentioned above, the experience of really studying modern classics such as Orwell and Golding and then Muriel Spark influenced me in the sense that I tended to look out for modern classics. Additionally a local secondhand bookshop near my Sixth Form College which sold Penguin Classics for a pound each led to me becoming a little obsessed with those lovely orange covers.

Gav: Ha well that's got to be Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett.  I've already said that I didn't read a lot.  I tried to read but found it hard to find an author that really connected with me.  Well this book started a passion for reading that's lasted the last 17 years.  It helped I think that he had a lot of books out so I could read them all to satisfy some internal hunger.  That I've just kept feeding 

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?

Polly: I've read alot more classic novels since blogging and reading recommendations - for example I fell in love with Wilkie Collins and really enjoyed reading Persephone Classics such as The Shuttle by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I think it's broadened my reading horizons by making me braver about reading more widely or books that I thought would be boring before!

Gav: One??  You're kidding right!  But if you insist it's going to be The Draining Lake by Arnaldur Indridsaon.  It was the first book of cold crime I'd read and it took me in to the whole area of cold crime and then crime in translation in general. And that's one of the thing that I love about blogging is that there are bloggers who stick to one niche.  They do it very well but they never seem to grow or change as readers.  And I do like to see my pushing the edges of my reading flipping from one literary obsession to the other.  And The Draining Lake was a great doorway for me.

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

Polly: I'm pretty open about the books I read so there may not be any surprises!  My favourite page-turners are usually by crime authors such as Sophie Hannah, Val McDermid and Tess Gerritsen but I think these are excellent so I don't feel any measure of guilt about reading them.  I also LOVE Daphne du Maurier who has been written off as trashy romance by certain foolish (in my humble opinion!) people in the past.  She's definitely one of my favourite authors and her novels are wonderfully atmospheric and beautifully described.

Gav: I'm pretty honest about my reading.  I don't really think of anything as a guilty pleasure as I don't see anything to feel guilty about.  I guess that I love Bridget Jones' Diary might cause a moment for pause...

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

Gav, on Polly's choices: Fairy Tales: A book of fairy tales written by one of the Monty Python crew? What could be a more wonderful treat for a child or an adult for that matter. What a lucky reader there were. I'm highly jealous.  I'd say this reader has a great imagination.
The Lord of the Flies: You know I've never fancied reading this book. I shy away from books that reinforce that we are only one stage removed from other animals.  I'm not sure if this book does show humanity in a good light at some points but I must admit to not wanting to go into those dark places first.  The person that loves this book is much braver than me.  Though it might be they were forced to read it in school and just happened to fall in love with it.
Muriel Spark: I always think of Muriel Spark's work as fun and intelligent.  I could be very wrong.  I know she's best known by me as the author of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie but again I've not read her and not sure she'd be my cut of tea.  But I think this shows a bit of refinement in a reader.  I wonder what affect Spark had on them as a person as well as a reader?
The Shuttle: I'm going to stick my neck out and say this book is somewhat obscure?  With all the Britishness of the other choices I can't see this person as an American so it does make me curious about why this was an important book in their life.
Daphne du Maurier: Daphers has been mentioned a lot to me this last year.  I honestly didn't know how diverse a writer she was.  Rebecca is such a favourite by so many people.  Jamaica Inn and My Cousin Rachel come up frequently.  It say this shows again a reader that likes the darker side of humanity.  Though we seem to have lost that childhood pleasure in reading we started off with in Terry Jones' Fairy Tales.

Polly, on Gav's choices: I think that this person is a child at heart with a wicked sense of humour judging by their love of The Twits, and the fantasy books make me think they read to escape from the real world. Judging by the crime novel they have a bit of a dark edge but the Bridget Jones's Diary choice suggests day to day are approachable and down to earth. The overall mix suggests someone warm-hearted who has a good sense of humour and doesn't take themselves too seriously.

If I had to place bets I would say this person's name starts with the letter S... But I might be wrong!
[Simon: who could you have been thinking of, Polly?]


  1. More good books, and more in the way of happy memories. I found the tv version of this quite disappointing but seeing what actual people who are clearly enthusiastic readers choose seems endlessly fascinating. Loved Roald Dahl as a child and had all but forgotten about him until today

    1. I adored Matilda, book and film, but have not revisited either for many years. Although I was shocked at finding out that one of the main characters in Junebug was Miss Honey.

  2. Oh its two of my favourite people (who also happen to blog) today. Interestingly I wouldn't have guessed either of them from the books they have chosen either, I must be a rubbish friend!

    I am now off to play catch up with the rest of the series so far.

    1. Haha! I love that that is the test of friendship... Thanks for 'introducing' me to both these people - when I paired them it was actually because of you as the connection, in my mind!

  3. Fascinating posts - and what diverse choices...

    1. I know! I thought Gav might bring something a little different to the table...

  4. Oooh, So nice to be involved with this and delighted to see who the other featured person was! Actually, the person who I was thinking of was Sakura of Chasing Bawa but looks like I was wrong.... perhaps Sakura and Gav would be a good pairing for reading recommendations. Thanks again Simon, this was great fun - especially the 'reveal'. (Novel Insights - comments not working!)

    1. Thanks so much for playing, Polly! I couldn't decide if you were thinking Sakura or Simon or Sasha with your 'S' guess - but I can definitely see why you might have thought Sakura. Now go and check out what she *actually* chose!!

  5. Ooh, very close as I've read all of Gav's choices except for The Draining Lake! I forgot how much I loved The Twits too:) And I must make a mental note of reading The Shuttle. Lovely choices both of you!


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