I have loved books for as long as I can remember. My real growing-up memories are mixed up with memories of bits of plot or beloved characters from the books I was reading at each stage in my life. There are so many books that I’ve loved that if I included them all on this web page you might have to keep scrolling down this page through all eternity, so I’ve had to be selective. Here are some of my favourites.
The Bible: I was brought up in an evangelical Christian home, and before I could even read myself, my dad read the Bible to me and my brother and sister daily from beginning to end, leaving nothing out, from genealogies to gory bits.
The Chronicles of Narnia:My dad also read the Narnia books to us. I have to admit that I looked forward to hearing about what was happening to Lucy and the other Pevensie kids much more than who begat whom or how many cubits high the temple was – that’s kids for you! When I was old enough I read these books myself until they were practically falling apart – then I bought new copies and read them again. My favourites are The Magician’s Nephew, and The Horse and His Boy.
The Folk of The Faraway Tree: I had stacks of Enid Blyton books (the woman wrote hundreds!). Even though I cringe now at some of the things in them, I loved them dearly as a child and longed more than anything to be able to find the Enchanted Wood and the Faraway Tree and join Moonface and Silky, and even the funny old Saucepan Man on their adventures in other lands.
The Wishing Chair:
More of my earliest favourites. When I got a bit older I progressed to Blyton’s school stories, or the Famous Five adventures. The funny thing is, that the children in Enid Blyton’s books had such different lives to mine, and yet I identified with them totally, and never tired of reading about them. And kids still love them now. Imagine being able to write books that so many generations of children can relate to. Next time I sit in the wishing chair I’ll ask it to make me that talented!
The old lady who sometimes shrinks to the size of a pepperpot without any warning, but still manages to get her chores done and have her husband’s dinner on the table for him when he arrives home. Not one for the feminists I guess, but one of my favourites non-the-less. I still can’t look at a crow without remembering the story where the crows steal Mrs P’s clothes and headscarf. They really do look like they’re wearing headscarfs – have you noticed?
Fattypuffs and Thinifers:
Now that I think about this book as an adult, I can see that it’s an astute political parody of the way nations will fight over the most arbitrary things – rather like the war in Gulliver’s Travels over which way up a boiled egg should be. As I child though I just thought it was funny and exciting.
My Grandad, Horace Gledhill, loved the Louisa May Alcott books and lent me his copies to read. I loved the stories of tomboy Jo, pretty Meg, shy Beth and spoiled Amy. I remember with painful empathy the scene where Jo receives her manuscript back from the publishers – rejected!
Oh, the life of a writer is hard.
The Lord of the Flies:
We read this book in school, and I’ve included it in the list, because even though I don’t know if I love it, it’s a book that can’t fail to leave an impression on its readers. It’s such a good book that I probably would have loved it if I’d have come across it on my own rather than been forced to write essays and do comprehensions etc on it. Ah well.
The Lord of the Rings:
We watch the animated version of TLOTR at my school in the early eighties, and I got a big fat paperback copy of the three books in one that had a spooky picture of a black rider taken from the animation (with glowing red eyes). I loved the bits with the hobbits, and got a bit bored by the battles (although the battles came to life for me when I recently watched the movies). What sticks in my memory though, is one night reading in bed and getting to the bit in The Return of The King, where you get back to Sam and Frodo in Mordor, and being so totally gripped that I had to keep reading, and finishing the book just as the sun was coming up the next morning! I can’t remember if I had school the next day – of course I never told my parents that I stayed up all night reading anyway.
A Wrinkle in Time:
When I was sixteen my family spent a year in California (my dad did a sabbatical at UCSB as a maths professor) We stayed in the house of a college professor who was spending a year in Scotland with his wife. Not only was California a fantastic place for a sixteen year old, but the house was perfect because its spare bedroom was full of books. Wonderful books – including several by the prolific American writer, Madeline L’Engle. I instantly fell in love with the magical beautiful series about the Murry family, and Ms L’Engle joined the ranks of my all time favourite writers. (I just read on Wikipeadia that A Wrinkle in Time was initially rejected by 40 publishers – another great writer who got there by persisting in spite of all the negative feedback. Wannabe writers take heart!)
C.S. Lewis Space Trilogy:I discovered these grown-up fantasies from C.S.Lewis in the book room of our Santa Barbara house as well. Space travel, angels and Arthurian legend mixed up with philosophy and spirituality but all done in a narrative that gripped my sixteen-year-old mind. In fact, remembering these books makes me want to stop working on my website and go and find a nice bench in a park somewhere and read them all again.
As Well as the Space Trilogy, I discovered Till We Have Faces, Lewis’s fictional story based on the mythology of Cupid and Psyche. Another book that I want to go and re-read right now.
At The Back of The North Wind:
Another Santa Barbara discovery for me was the fairy tales of George MacDonald. It’s so long since I’ve read At The Back of The North Wind or the shorter fairy stories that I can hardly remember what they are about. I do remember being deeply affected by them and feeling something like awe as the stories unfolded. MacDonald was a favourite writer of Tolkein, Lewis and L’Engle as well, so it’s interesting to see how he has influenced their work.
Nineteen Eighty Four:
Back in England I left home aged 17 and moved into a student shared house in Leeds. Being a penniless student (these were the days before student loans) I got to know the charity shops and second hand book shops, and so began my journey through the classics. 1984, Animal Farm, The Time Machine, The Three Muskateers, anything old and dusty and not too expensive. I picked 1984 to add to this list because of the vivid memory I have of reading it in bed and bolting up in fear at the point where I realised they were watching Winston through the TV. Horrifyingly compulsive – I had to read on!
One of the girls I lived with in Leeds was an English Lit student who shared with me her love of Dickens. I tried hard to read through the collection, and some I read and loved, others I stuggled through, and some I gave up on in the middle (I know, I’m a failure). Bleak House, despite its pessimistic sounding title, was one that I loved – lots of humour and great characters. I also like A Tale of Two Cities, Oliver Twist and A Christmas Carol. I gave up on Nicolas Nickleby (shame on me).
Pride and Prejudice:
If you think that the classics are boring – give them a go. You’ll be amazed at how relevant and fresh they can still feel. I have to admit thought that I can’t think of Pride and Prejudice without thinking of Bridget Jones obsessing over Colin Firth as Mr Darcy! Recently in my book club we read Wuthering heights and East of Eden, both of which I approached with some trepidation, thinking they would be a bit stuffy, but found that they were both brilliant.
Lord Peter Wimsey Mysteries:
My sister introduced me to the works of Dorothy Sayers. Gentle intellectual murder mysteries with a quintessential English feel. I was instantly sold. I love all the Peter Wimsey mysteries, but the ones with Harriet Vane in are my favourites. I also developed a taste for Jeeves and Wooster around that time – just as English as Dorothy Sayers, but with lots more slapstick and farcical humour.
Anne of Green Gables:I can’t remember when I first read Anne. It’s one of those books (or series of books actually) that I’ve read and re-read so many times that I hardly remember the first time. I remember crying when Matthew died, and being hugely frustrated by Gilbert Blythe. Lots of things from the Anne (with an E) books stick with me, like the idea of kindred spirits, or the scene with Anne’s grand staged apology.
When I was nineteen I left Leeds (one of my favourite places on earth) to go to Queen’s University in Belfast. In the summer in-between leaving Leeds and arriving in Belfast, I went back to America, only this time to the East coast – to North New York State, as a camp counselor with the Camp America program. (My second book, The Trap is set in a summer camp in North New York State – where did I get that idea from…?). I met one of my most kindred-spirit friends ever at the camp, a girl called Star. We were both reading The Belgariad – a series of fantasy novels by David Eddings at the time (see what I mean – kindred spirits!) One night, before the kids arrived, I was reading aloud to Star by torchlight (- no electricity in the cabins) when I forgot which end of the bunk bed I was sitting on, and flopped down – onto thin air! I landed with a clatter on the ground, and the torch went out. Star totally freaked – all she heard was a bang followed by darkness and silence! I think she thought I’d been magicked away or something!
I realise that there are still about twenty reading of my life not covered here – I will get around to it sometime – I’m so overwhelmed with all the books that I’ve read in that time, that I hardly know where to start. I might just skip to now and what I’m excited about reading at the moment, and then fill in the gaps when I have some spare time. Please be patient!
I was very intrigued by this book, but when I first started to read it I hated it – the narrator, who is never named starts out as such a self absorbed foul mouthed unlikeable character, that I almost gave up on the book. I didn’t though, because inspite of my missgivings, I found myself wanting to read on, and when we’re introduced to Marianne, I was glad I did because in my opinion the book took a huge turn for the better. I absolutely loved the historical back story which could be their shared history from hundreds of years ago, or could be the ravings of Marianne’s unstable mind. I did find her stories to be so sad as to be verging on the comical – almost like the start of an episode of CSI when you have to guess who’s going to die in what kind of grizzly way. Talking of grizzly, some of the scenes are quite graphic, both sexually explicit and disturbingly nasty, but still I really did enjoy the book.
(I’ve started writing a short paragraph about the books I’ve just read (see the page ‘I just read…’)