Saturday, 29 November 2014

My Life in Books: Series Five: Day Six

Scott blogs at Furrowed Middlebrow

Anbolyn blogs at Gudrun's Tights

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.

Scott: Certainly no one else in my family was much of a book-lover, though adults did read to me. I learned to read rather early, and since no one around me felt that books mattered much, I was allowed to be wildly indiscriminate in my earliest reading. I loved books for the sake of books—cover images, typeface, the smell of new paper and ink—and not for their content (and sometimes I still do). The only book that stands out for me from early childhood is The Teeny Tiny Woman by Paul Galdone, which my oldest sister would read to me and over which we would become completely silly and giggly. Apparently I was already passionately concerned with the perils facing solitary spinsters!

Anbolyn: I was not raised in a book-loving household so I'm not sure how I came to love reading so much. My mom tells me that I taught myself to read before I went to school and I grew up yearning for knowledge and curious about the world, but I didn't read much in my leisure hours as a child. I much preferred to ride my bike or watch TV. The only reading I really did was at school and that's where I discovered a fascinating book about Egyptian mummies and death rituals. I remember being completely fascinated and checking the book out of the library during every class visit.

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?

Scott: My wildly indiscriminate reading included all sorts of inappropriate adult books—John Irving, Elmore Leonard, and even Jackie Collins among them (can you imagine a 12-year-old boy carrying Hollywood Wives around with him and no one batting an eyelash? it might explain all sorts of things about me!)—but since I rarely understood those, I doubt if I enjoyed them particularly. The first grown-up book I really enjoyed was surely an Agatha Christie—probably Sleeping Murder, which I still have in the battered, yellowed, late 70s paperback I must have acquired when I was 10 or 11.

Anbolyn: Gone With the Wind was my first grown-up book and I read it compulsively during my 7th grade year at school. I wasn't very happy in junior high school and didn't fit in with the rest of the girls very well and this is when I started to turn to books for escape. I immersed myself in Scarlett O'Hara's world and, though she may be a questionable role model for a teenage girl, I gained strength from her confidence and fighting spirit.

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.

Scott: I was going to say Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises, my favorite book for most of my 20s, and one I would re-read at least once a year. But although I still think Hemingway is brilliant on gender issues, he didn't set me off in any particular direction. I did not, for better or worse, become a bullfighter. So perhaps Iris Murdoch's The Black Prince is a better choice here. I read it in a British Women Writers course in college, and if it didn't immediately lead me into my current path, it must, along with the other books from that course, have laid the groundwork. Murdoch's novels create a universe all their own, and once you're in it, it has a way of leaking into your everyday life in strange and
wonderful ways.

Anbolyn: A book that made a great impression on me in my twenties was Tess of the D'urbervilles. I've never liked unrealistically happy endings and this satisfied my sense of literary honesty. Also, I hadn't read much British fiction up to this point but reading Hardy turned the tide. I began reading lots of Victorian fiction after Tess and eventually became a committed Anglophile.

Qu. 4.) What's one of your favourite books that you've found in the last year or two? How did you come to blogging and how has blogging changed your reading habits?

Scott: One? Seriously? Well, I've already babbled about it endlessly on my blog, but I have to choose Tom Tiddler's Ground (aka Ask Me No Questions) by the unjustly forgotten Ursula Orange. A wonderful, smart, cozy, wartime village comedy that simply must be reprinted. It was books like that which brought me to blogging. I was obsessively exploring and listing British women writers most people hadn't heard of, and I wanted to share what I'd found. I didn't quite expect it to grow into the intimidating project it has become, but it's been amazing coming across so many kindred spirits. Blogging hasn't changed my habits all that much, apart from always thinking how I can best describe what I'm reading and which passages will make good quotes. Perhaps it's just made me more obsessive than ever.

Anbolyn: I read Angel by Elizabeth Taylor last year and it astonished me. I'd read Taylor before (At Mrs. Lippincote's) but wasn't quite persuaded by her writing. Angel made me a lifelong believer. It's flamboyant yet subtle, funny and sincere with a perfect ending and is now a great favorite of mine. I would probably never have heard of Elizabeth Taylor if it wasn't for blogs. When I started reading blogs back in 2007 or so I happened upon bloggers who were reading Persephone Books and Viragos and it opened up a whole new, exciting world to me. My reading tastes and interests were entirely transformed by the blogging world - thank goodness! I decided to start my own blog so that I'd have people to talk to about these new found passions as no one in my day-to-day life has been remotely interested in Persephone or Virago.

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

Scott: I don't really feel guilty about my pleasures (except perhaps the fact that I can polish off a dozen donuts in about a day and a half if I allow myself). Cozy mysteries, romances, girls' school stories—I'll cheerfully and guiltlessly admit to loving all of them. But it might be surprising to some that I spent 15 or 20 years obsessing over the most "highbrow," experimental Modernist literature—
Joyce, Woolf, Apollinaire, Eliot, Djuna Barnes, and so on—before discovering my inherent and irrevocable middlebrow-ness. I even have a post coming up in which I come clean about my undying love for the wacky, playful, unfathomable writings of Gertrude Stein.

Anbolyn: People are always surprised to learn that I love being scared and truly appreciate a good horror novel. Nothing gory, but the suspenseful, supernatural gut twisting kind that prevent you from getting a good night's sleep thrill me to pieces. The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon and I Remember You by Yrsa Sigurdardottir are two recent novels that scared me witless.

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

Anbolyn, on Scott's choices: First off, I'm not going to even try to determine this person's gender, age or nationality - too hard! This reader strikes me as being an inquisitive person, someone who likes a mystery, a bit of darkness to their stories and someone who likes a challenge. I think they must be intelligent and witty and that they enjoy examining the underside of life, peeking under the surface of polite society to see what human nature is really all about. I also see them as someone who finds joy in language, in how sentences, paragraphs and chapters are sewn together and they just might be a writer themselves. They don't follow trends or care about popular opinion - they are quite content with who they are and with what they like. I think they have a quiet confidence and a true love of literature.

Scott, on Anbolyn's choices: It sounds like I have a lot in common with this reader, and he/she surely has a touch of a dark side that I could completely relate to—I remember being fascinated myself by ancient Greek religious cults and rituals when I was pretty young. That dark side also shows itself in the reader’s guilty pleasure (which I’d never heard of, but which sounds irresistible). Gone with the Wind is a quite ambitious first adult novel for sure, and shows a taste for grand scale, drama, and romance, and the choice of Thomas Hardy shows that taste remaining even as he/she explored slightly darker authors (I also had several years of loving Hardy in my 20s). And finally, oh, Elizabeth Taylor, what a great choice—I know how excited I was to discover her. Since we have so much in common, I can only conclude that this reader has, ahem, impeccable taste!


  1. I'm so happy this series is back and have been loving it this week. But what is it with blogger? I've totally failed to comment and am now having a go as Anonymous (I'm really Harriet). I should be cursing you, though, as I want to read almost everything everyone has mentioned, and this one in particular has put me in a real whirl. I'll be a regular visitor to these blogs in future.

  2. Lovely stuff again! I really am intrigued by Ursula Orange! :)

  3. I am so happy to see featured Anbolyn here, and to meet Scott. I have lots of books to check on from their lists!

  4. Another lovely selection of books - and I'm really glad to have discovered Scott's blog.

  5. I'm happy to see Anbolyn here, too, and look forward to visiting Scott's blog!

  6. More fascinating answers from fascinating bloggers!

  7. Simon, it's great to learn of the reading influences of all my favourite bloggers. You have chosen some beautiful editions of the books to illustrate the posts. Thanks for taking the time.

  8. This was so fun and I'm thrilled to see Scott as my 'book partner'. I've enjoyed his blog for months now and I was right - he is very witty!

  9. Ah, two bloggers who have done irreparable damage to my wishlists, though most of Scott's have to go in the 'impossible' category. Two really excellent blogs.


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