My Life In Books

Sorry for the rather long gap between posts but this next post needed some consderation before I could put fingers to keyboard. Inspired by the current BBC book programme, My Life In Books, I’ve compiled my own bookography. In keeping with the format of the BBC version, I’ve restricted myself to five books. The process of culling some of my all time favourite reads has been extraordinarily difficult, but knowing I had to be brutal, I decided to base my picks on the extent to which they affected or influenced my life at the time of reading and beyond. I’ve suprised myself by a couple of my choices, but on the basis of the criteria I’ve used to make my list, I can’t argue. So here goes:

Early Childhood: The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton

Me, under the covers plus a torch plus The Magic Faraway Tree. I could not get enough of this book or the sequels that followed when I was a kid.  What could be more amazing than an enchanted forest containing a gigantic magical tree, with a rotation of strange, magical lands hovering above it  and a group of weird magic folk living inside its trunk. To my six or seven year old self, the answer was nothing.  I wanted to be best friends with Moon-face, Silky the fairy, The Saucepan Man, Dame Washalot and Mr. Watzisname. Wasn’t too bothered about the Angry Pixie though. I can’t remember which Land it was they visited where they ate strawberry and cucumber sandwiches, but to this day, I still think that it’s a sandwich combo winner. A few years ago, on a bit of a nostalgia trip, I started re-reading it and it just didn’t have the same effect, so I stopped – I didn’t want to ruin my perfect memories of it.

Early Teenage Years: The Lord of The Rings by J.R. Tolkien

I blame my Junior Four teacher entirely for this one. I was eleven when he started reading the books to us for an hour at the end of every Friday. He turned us all into Tolkien junkies and without even being aware that it was happening, I was initiated into the geek club.

Later Teenage Years: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

I read this when I was a seventeen year old college girl. It was one of the set texts on the English Literature A-Level and is responsible for my continuing obssession with Margaret Atwood’s writing. Since then I seem to have been reading an Atwood book each time a pivitol moment in my life has occured. It was also my first foray into dystopian novels and I then went on to develop a bit of a taste for them. What else can I say, the woman is a genius. Yes, I’m pretty sure that every female with ambitions to be a writer says the same thing, but there’s no taking away from her brilliance.

University Years: Sketches By Boz by Charles Dickens

Persuing my bookshelves, whilst considering this period of my life, I re-stumbled upon Sketches by Boz and realised that this book basically summed up my university career during which, I studied for a hybrid degree in English Literature and the History of Art. The premise of which was, that art and literature were interlinked and infused with social context. We  had to develop a knowledge and understanding of the social context in order to analyse whatever novel or period of art we were studying. Sketches By Boz is  a series of literary sketches or scenes written by Dickens about London in the early 1800’s. ‘Boz’ was a pen name used by Dickens during his early writing career and he used it , apparently, to keep his fiction writing seperate from his job as a journalist. It’s one of his earliest published works and in it, he depicts the life of the city in such rich detail, you can’t fail to be transported to, what has become known as, Dickensian London. As an exercise in the power of description, I don’t think you’ll find a better example. Just amazing. At a time when, it became hard for me to read books without analysing them, Sketches By Boz really stood out: the city of London and its characters literally leapt off the page. Re-reading bits of it now, in a different context, looking at his skill as a writer and observing how he created such intoxicating scenes, I’m so glad that I have re-discovered it. Got a feeling it’s going to come in as a useful reference while I’m doing the MA.

Mid to Late Twenties: The Great Gatsby by F.Scott Fitzgerald

When I was younger, I thought my working life would lead to the lifestyle described by Fitzgerald in this book. For the most part, it didn’t,  but there was  the odd heady, decadent moment when I achieved something close. What I love about this book is its ability to draw you in to a world, that you know is false and flimsy, but you’re still mesmorised by it. I was twenty six when I first read this book, about to enter a short period, of about four or five years, which would later become known as the height of my career. After I finished reading it, I remember thinking, ‘I’ve got to get out’. So, in a sense, The Great Gatsby contributed to a new type of thinking,  that maybe I could do something else, be something else.  Anyway, here I am doing the something else in a bid to become the something else. Time will tell if it was worth the risk. And if, in the end, it turns out that it wasn’t, I won’t hold it against F.Scott Fitzgerald.

So that’s my five. In another few years I might revisit this list, maybe expand it to six books, one for each half decade. In the meantime, here’s a list of all the other amazing novels that didn’t quite make my five book cut. I reserve the right to add others or change my mind about these at any time, and I probably will.

The Little House on The Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder; The Growing Summer by Noel Streatfield; The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett; The Happy Prince by Oscar Wilde; I Capture The Castle by Dodie Smith; Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen; Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte; Everything by Thomas Hardy; Remains of The Day by Kazuo Ishiguro; The Winter King by Bernard Cornwall; The Vampire Lestat by Anne Rice; The Making of A Marchioness by Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Time Travelers Wife by Audrey Niffenegger.

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2 thoughts on “My Life In Books

  1. So strange to see the Magic Faraway Tree on this list. It seems every cool person I know read this book as a child, and even as a child I knew that the cool kids had it on their bookshelf. Sadly I did not and at 44 still would love to read it.
    If I had to detail 4 books which changed my life then maybe Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks for totally making me reappraise my attitude towards Rememberance Day, To Kill A Mocking Bird as I have oft described myself as Boo Radley and love the book to bits for all time, Turbulent Priests as the first truly humourous book I read leading to being utterly addicted to Colin Bateman and lastly it has to be a childhood book but I’ll choose a set in Enid Blyton’s St Clare’s series because they represent my earliest memory of being so consumed by a book that I couldn’t move for days – summer of ’76 and I sat in a deck chair in the garden in the sun for three weeks non stop until I’d read the whole set. Happy Days. Love books, love the blog.

    • The St Clare’s Series – oh yes! Loved those. Wish everyone I know would send me their five books and reasons why – it’s a great game!

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