Sunday 4 November 2012

My Life in Books: Series Three: Day Seven

Frances blogs at Nonsuch Book, and I shamelessly stole the idea of centered, lower case post titles from her... thanks, Frances!

David blogs at Follow The Thread, and is (I think) the only person other than me who attended both the Bloggers Meet-Ups I organised a while ago! [EDIT: Oops, no, he wasn't!]

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.

Frances: I did grow up in a book-loving household. A seriously book-loving family. My grandfather and his sister never said no when it came to a book and some of my best memories from childhood are of book shopping expeditions. All those possibilities! I was read to frequently by all members of my extended family but they did take to hiding my favorite book, The Lorax, because I cried every single time when we reached the end and the Lorax picked himself up by the seat of his pants and disappeared through the grey clouds.

David: I’ve always been around books and words, though I don’t think I’d say my household was more book-loving than the average. My father in particular has read books as long as I remember, but I wouldn’t describe him as a true bookworm – I’ve always been the most bookish person in my family. I was read to as a child: the Munch Bunch books were my mum’s main books of choice, and the Mr Men were my dad’s. Richard Scarry’s work was another childhood touchstone – I remember a book of 366 stories and poems, one for every day of the (leap) year.

My reading as a child took in myths and legends, books of obscure or humorous facts, fiction, poetry, and more. Given that, it’s hard to just choose just one book, but I’ve gone for Can You Get Warts from Touching Toads? by Peter Rowan. It’s a collection of answers to kids’ medical questions, such as whether eating bread crusts makes your hair curl, or whether it’s better to run about or fall asleep after Sunday lunch. I had great fun browsing this book, and the Quentin Blake illustrations only added to that (I can still remember one of the grandfather who claimed he could blow pipe smoke out of his ears).

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?

Frances: Every Christmas, my family would listen to a recording of A Christmas Carol on Christmas Eve, and I just loved that. Got it into my head that I could read Dickens when I was much too young to appreciate but I persisted. No wonder that re-reading Dickens as an adult was a completely different experience than those childhood reads. :)

David: Terry Pratchett was my bridge between children’s and adult fiction. I first got into his work through the wonderful animated version of his novel Truckers; moving on to the Discworld books in my mid-teens was a natural progression. There are so many I could choose, but Wyrd Sisters is one of my favourites. The book great fun for Pratchett’s humorous riffs on Shakespeare (“When shall we three meet again?” “Well, I can do next Tuesday”). But it’s also an incisive exploration of one of his main themes as a writer – the ways we use stories to shape the world. For all Pratchett’s success, I think that aspect of his work is significantly underappreciated.

I also have to mention Wyrd Sisters because it was one of the texts I used in my A Level English Language coursework project, comparing the humour in three comic fantasy novels. That was a busy and enjoyable time - and probably one of the first occasions when I really thought about how my favourite books worked.

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.

Frances: The World According to Garp. But that is a deeply personal story.

David: Summer vacations from university were a great opportunity to get some concentrated leisure reading done. In the summer after my second year, there were two large books in particular that I wanted to read. One was China Miéville’s Perdido Street Station; as that’s become the better-known of the two, I’ll concentrate on the other one here. Mary Gentle’s Ash: a Secret History was one of the first books I read because of online reviews: the vast (1000 pages, though it reads quickly) tale of a female medieval mercenary, which proves in time to encompass much more than that. I devoured it in a week and can still remember the experience. (Incidentally, both Ash and Perdido Street Station were shortlisted for the Arthur C. Clarke Award; this was one of the first years I paid attention to the shortlist, which has since become a highlight of my blogging year.)

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?

Frances: A History of Love by Nicole Krauss is one of the most beautiful books I have ever read, but I have to say that some of the best reading experiences I have ever had have been because of my blogging life especially with my on-too-long-a-hiatus online book group, The Wolves. We have read the treasured together (Virginia Woolf) and all manner of new things. It is how I came to the infinitely playful Perec, Conversation in a Cathedral and many other wonders. I came to blogging for the conversation and that satisfied the want and then some.

David: Blogging has broadened my reading habits, and helped me to see that what I really like is not a type or genre of book, but a set of qualities that I can find in all sorts of books. I’ve also become interested in reading new literature, and seeing what writers of my own generation have to say. So the book I’m going to choose here is Mr Fox, Helen Oyeyemi’s journey through different versions of the Bluebeard story. When I read a writer like Oyeyemi, I know that the future of literature is in good hands.

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

Frances: I read comic books. Have always been a big Thor fan. All the Nordic myth stuff plus the fact that he sacrifices his godlike status to dwell and live among humans in part.

David: I don’t really think of myself as having guilty pleasures – if a book is a pleasure to read, there’s a good reason for that, and I don’t see a need to feel guilty over it. Which leaves me with a book that might surprise people…

I’m going to say Agnes Grey by Anne Brontë. I only read it this year, but I’m choosing it because I think it’s a sign of where I am as a reader right now. I’m not as well read in the classics as I’d like to be, and there was a time when I wouldn’t have chosen to read a novel like Agnes Grey. But I really liked it, and appreciated it in ways that I wouldn’t have previously. That’s how I know I’ve grown as a reader, and I hope I will continue to do so in years to come.

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

David, on Frances's choices: This reader has chosen a classic ghost story and a work based on Greek myth, so there's an interest in traditional tales here. Anyone who would choose a Dr Seuss title as a childhood favourite surely loves language. Put the two together, and I think you have someone who appreciates storytelling - it wouldn't surprise me if this person enjoys the spoken word as well as the written. The Thor comic makes me think of grand, sweeping action; and the Irving and Krauss books tell epic stories about individual lives - so I'd say this person enjoys books with a large or small focus. Definitely someone who'd be interesting to talk books with!

Frances, on David's choices:  At first glance, this list seemed to suggest a very clear picture of this reader - inclined to the fanciful but only in a smart and sometimes irreverent form. A reader with a sense of humor certainly. Perhaps a subtly wicked sense of humor. And then I get to the end of the list and see Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte and became suspicious that this exercise is not "determine a portrait of this reader" but a "which one of these things is not like the other" proposition. Another excellent novel on the list but stark, purposeful and loaded in its intent in a way not present in the others. This must be a reader that has an obvious passion in his/her reading choices but with depths and range not immediately obvious.


  1. Simon, I have enjoyed all the posts this week - thank you so much to you and to everyone who took part! It's a fantastic project. I hope you'll make it an annual event.

  2. Francis and David are both bloggers who's blogs I very much enjoy reading. It was lovely to learn more about them. And Frances, I too love The History of Love. Strangely, this is one of the few books still on my list of favourites that I discovered pre-blogging. After I started blogging that list grew exponentially.


  3. I totally agree that Terry Pratchett's work is under-appreciated. I too got into Pratchett through the Truckers series, and now I have practically all his books. I also love the way his Discworld series explores issues from our own world in a comic and entertaining way.

  4. David's last observation on Frances was definitely true! - and I think he would be too. And I loved the observation about "a set of qualities that I can find in all sorts of books." It might be hard for me to define what those are, for me, but I would also guess that it's true for most of us, and what a lovely way to think about one's reading!

  5. I've just found these posts today. Fun reads all. For some reason, it's very satisfying to read about so many books. By the way, I also have a deeply personal reason why I love The World According to Garp. I wonder if it's just that sort of book.

  6. I've loved following the series, especially since when I read the two descriptions/names of bloggers at the top of the posts I try and guess what their answers might be. Lovely to be surprised yet again. Bookish back stories are always fascinating. :)

  7. Thanks, Simon - this has been a great series in which I was glad to take part; and it's nice to discover the identity of my co-contributor at last!

    Frances's comments were interesting: "inclined to the fanciful but only in a smart and sometimes irreverent form" - yes, I think that's true. As for the rest... I'd like to think so.

    Finishing on a tangent - Simon, we weren't the only people at both meet-ups. Sakura definitely went to both; I'm fairly sure Jackie did; and there may well have been others.

    1. Really? I thought Sakura missed the first one, and I'm sure Jackie didn't make the one in Oxford, did she?? I have a terrible memory, so you're quite possibly right!

  8. David's right, I did make both. And I think Jackie and Annabel made it to the pub in Oxford too:)

    I've heard so much about The World According to Garp but have never read it. I'm curious now. I too agree that Pratchett is underappreciated and am happy that he's getting a lot more recognition now. And I have to check out Ash!

    1. So sorry, Sakura! I remembered you at the second one, but for some reason I thought you'd been ill for the first one... how bizarre. And sorry Jackie and Annabel! Oh dear, I am dreadful...

  9. Both these bloggers are new to me, and many of their choices were new as well (with the exception of Dickens, Pratchett and Anne Bronte), so I found this really interesting, especially David's final selection of Agnes Grey, which seemed so unlike his other books.

  10. I am coming to late to these posts, but they are fascinating and very enjoyable, thanks. I am already a fan of David's blog but Nonsuch is new to me so I will go and have a read now.

  11. This is one of the few books still on my list of favourites

  12. Ohh I miss Frances badly. I haven't known David's blog yet but will surely visit. Thanks, Simon!


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