Senin, 21 Oktober 2013

My Life in Books: Series Two: Day Two

Day Two - we're barely getting started!  Plenty more to come this week, including at least one more blogger who correctly identified their mystery partner...

Claire lives in Canada and writes one of my absolute favourite book blogs, The Captive Reader.  It's hard to believe her blog has only been around since 2010 - she's definitely a fixture of the blogosphere now.

Colin and I first met sometime before we were born... yes, he is my twin brother.  Younger twin brother.  He is also a blogger, although books are not the main focus of his blog (which long predates mine, having been going since 2003!) Colin's Only Diary.  You're more likely to hear about football, politics, or sitcoms - but books get an occasional look-in.  Get ready to see how different twins can be...

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.

Claire: My parents had both been avid readers but, with busy careers and two children to take care of, I don’t remember them reading a lot when I was little.  Still, their books were all over the house and I had unfettered access to them, something I took gleeful advantage of.  My grandparents were all devoted readers and they were the ones who really set the example for me.  My maternal grandmother volunteered in my school library and was my constant escort to the public library while my paternal grandparents, who I only saw once or twice a year since they lived so far away, used to take me to their library whenever I visited them.  My first press appearance was a photo in their local paper of me, as a toddler, listening attentively during story time at the library.

Even though my parents did very little reading on their own, reading before bed was an important family ritual.  My mother took charge of fairy tales, which she loved even more than I did, and my father covered everything else.  He introduced me to Tolkien, to Enid Blyton, and to Roald Dahl.  But before all that, he introduced me to A.A. Milne.  I had received The World of Christopher Robin (which unites When We Were Very Young and Now We Are Six in a single volume) as a christening gift and for years it was the most important book in my life (I showed my sincere affection by scribbling in it with crayons).  My strongest memories of childhood bedtimes are of chanting “Disobedience” alongside my father and tearing up when he read “The Dormouse and the Doctor”.  That poor dormouse!

Colin: I remember a questionnaire in a school English class that asked how many books we had in our house, and the maximum answer was "Lots (20 or more)". Even as a schoolchild I was astounded by the idea that 20 books was a lot - or even that any household could hold fewer than that - because our house had walls full of books. The ones in Dad's study were somewhat beyond my ken (commentaries on Nahum were not my standard fare as a child; nor are they now) but there were plenty to suit my tastes, including bundles of Famous Five books and sundry other Enid Blytons. The first 'proper' book I read was a Famous Five (Five On a Secret Trail, I think) and - if you don't count the Mr Men - that series was probably my favourite when I was about 7 or 8, although a couple of years later I would have chosen The Silver Sword or Cue for Treason. And yes, my parents did read to me - I particularly remember Mum reading me and my brother The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

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

Claire: Growing up, I was remarkably unaware of the distinction between children’s and adult’s books.  At home, I could try anything and there really didn’t seem that much of a difference between children’s authors Hans Christian Anderson and Robert Louis Stevenson and ‘grown-up’ authors Mary Stewart and Daphne du Maurier (all grouped together at one point in our distinctly unorganized bookshelves).  They were annoyingly shelved in different sections of the public library but, as far as I was concerned, a book was a book.  If it sounded interesting, I wanted to read it.  What did my age have to do with it?  Sadly, the librarians disagreed and continually denied me access to what I wanted most.  When I was ten, there was a battle to check out volume one of The Selected Journals of L.M. Montgomery.  By that point, I had read all of her novels and short stories, had visited Prince Edward Island, and was completely obsessed with Montgomery.  I wanted to know everything about her and the juvenile biographies were not cutting it.  I needed the journals.  I forced some adult family member (most likely my grandmother) to convince the librarians to let me take out it for ‘work on a school project’ (a blatant lie) and rushed home with my prize.  And then I started reading.  This was even better than her novels!  This was Montgomery herself!  She was vivid and conflicted, always interesting even though I didn’t have much sympathy for some of her dramatics.  Getting to read her thoughts, to see her speak for and about herself, was an amazing revelation.  I discovered a passion for diaries and, perhaps more importantly, learned that an author could be completely fascinating without being someone I would necessarily like if we met in real life.

Colin:Between the ages of about 12 and 15 I read little other than Agatha Christie, having been introduced to her through Murder On The Orient Express. I don't remember being so captivated by a book before, and even now I am reminded of it if I hear snatches of the Spice Girls' debut album (which my brother was listening to on the other side of the bedroom wall while I was reading). I followed it up with Murder On The Links, and over the next few years read and re-read another 70 or so of her novels - I've always been very happy to re-read, even when I can remember exactly how the plot-line will pan out; and, to be honest, I often can't remember.

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.

Claire: I had nothing but contempt for romance novels growing up.  Without ever having read one, I condemned them all as poorly written and an awful waste of time.  It was the one area of the library I never ventured into.  Then, while visiting my grandmother one summer while I was in university, I picked up These Old Shades from her sizable Georgette Heyer collection.  I had spent so many years sneering at Heyer’s books without ever having taken the time to learn what they were about that I was shocked by how much I adored it.  The experience may not have precisely set me off in a new direction but it did make me much less snobbish about my book choices and far more likely to browse through libraries and bookstores without prejudice, changes which have certainly enriched my reading and my life by leading to some wonderful discoveries.

Colin: Early adulthood? I'm not sure when that is, but it must be around the time that I read Are You Dave Gorman?, a hilarious book about a chap called Dave Gorman trying to find other people called Dave Gorman. I hadn't read a great deal of non-fiction up until that point, but this paved the way into other travel/humour type books, including Round Ireland With A Fridge, Yes Man, Googlewhack Adventure etc. Whilst the books cannot be described as great literature (or, indeed, literature) I have rarely read anything so amusing in fiction (Wodehouse is, of course, the most notable exception) and this not only opened up one genre to me, but persuaded me of the merits of non-fiction. Up to that point I had read one or two autobiographies - including Agatha Christie's, which is excellent - but rather more since.

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?

Claire: Blogging has made me a much more analytical reader, since as I’m reading now I’m always thinking of what I want to touch on in my review.  Whereas before I might only have considered the story and characters, I’m now much more sensitive to a writer’s style and to my personal preferences as a reader.  And of course my favourite bloggers have introduced me to so many wonderful books and publishers that I would otherwise never have discovered!  For instance, I had never heard of Angela Thirkell but I kept coming across the most intriguing mentions of her books on various blogs.  Finally, in early 2011, I picked up one of her early Barsetshire books for myself and was absolutely delighted by what I found.  I’ve loved all of her books that I’ve read, but my favourite has to be Summer Half, an energetic comedy that is the perfect blend of sharp wit and affection. 

Colin: The Wheel of Time is a superlative fantasy series written by the late Robert Jordan, with the final volume due this year (writing duties having been taken over by Brandon Sanderson) and whenever a new volume comes out I am very eager to read it. However, given that it is a series that I started about ten years ago, it's probably cheating to include it in this question. Instead, I'd have to say that the most interesting books I've read have been the autobiographies of Barack Obama, Tony Blair and Michael Palin. It's been a sadly long time since I've read a novel that I really loved: probably not since Northanger Abbey, which I read about three and a half years ago.

Blogging has not changed my reading habits at all! My own blog touches only lightly on books, and the only book-related blog I read is this one... despite your best efforts to persuade me of the wonders of Miss Hargreaves, The Diary of a Provincial Lady and Orlando, I have not especially enjoyed any of them and would be as wary of taking your literary advice as you would be about taking mine!

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

Claire: I think some people would probably be surprised by my love of survival fiction.  Fiction is the key part of that.  I want a slight element of fantasy and distance, even though the real pleasure comes from imagining what you would do in the same circumstances.  My father was the one who initially put me on to these books, beginning with the excellent My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George, one of his childhood favourites. The only book that has ever come close to challenging my affection for it is Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet, though, as an adult, I also adore survival-focused post-apocalyptic science fiction novels (like Lucifer’s Hammer by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle).  Details are important in these books and survival fiction writers seem to  be almost as obsessed with them as I am, with the best books reading less like novels than ‘How To’ guides.  Half the fun of My Side of the Mountain comes from trying to make the traps described in the book. 

Colin: My student days are behind me now, but at the time I found Trev & Simon's Stupid Book absolutely hilarious (and I'm not sure I wouldn't still find it funny now...), but since it isn't, by any stretch of the imagination, a novel, it probably doesn't count. If we are still supposed to be guilty about Harry Potter it would have to be that, or my Cliff Richard autobiography.

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

Colin, on Claire's choices: Right then. I know the game here is to draw vaguely pleasant conclusions from the books listed ("they sound very interesting, and I'd love to talk to them about books") but that feels a bit too easy to me, so I'm going to make some proper guesses. L.M. Montgomery makes me think my guessee is female - I've not come across the selected journals, but Anne of Green Gables gives me a clue - and, given A.A. Milne's involvement, I would hazard that they started reading keenly as a child and had a very happy childhood. I'd not heard of My Side of the Mountain, but given that it was a book for young people that was first published in 1959 (thank you, Wikipedia) I reckon that my guessee is aged 50+... and possibly likes birds. Finally, according to an Amazon review from 2004, Summer Half conjures up a pleasant world and is amusing, so I would say that my guessee has a gentle sense of humour. They would probably prefer pooh-sticks to poker.

Claire, on Colin's choices: From this selection, I’d guess that this person reads primarily for pleasure, letting their broad range of interests guide their choices.  They seem to have a good sense of fun and enjoy being well-informed.  Happily, it seems like the reader has retained the curiosity and desire for adventure that no doubt made Enid Blyton's books so attractive in childhood.  My first reaction was that this is someone I’d love to sit next to at a dinner party, knowing that any conversation would be sure to be entertaining and wide-ranging, able to touch on anything from current affairs to Golden Age mysteries. 
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