Seen at The Festival of the Tree

...if you would be happy all your life, plant a garden ~ Chinese proverb

Monday, 17 February 2014

My Favourite Books - the Grand Reveal


Further to last week's post, a great deal of cogitation has gone into today's list. They're not necessarily the best books, but I've derived a great deal of pleasure from them all. If you're interested in finding out more about a particular book, the link is your better bet as I've written more about why these books have a particular resonance for me.

I've divided the list into categories to make this post a bit more readable.

Formative books

These are the books which have helped to shape the way I am and my thinking.

The Cat in the Hat - one of the first books I read and I loved it's sense of fun, use of language and the realisation that being quirky and different is a good thing to be.

A Town Like Alice - I read this as a teenager initially for the strong love story, but it's a multi-layered book and I especially love its premise that an individual has the power to shape a place into something much better. I've realised lately that I've never felt 'at home' with anywhere I've lived except when I was at university. Perhaps it's about time to bring some of the strengths of Newcastle down to Chippenham.

The Kraken Wakes - my geography teacher introduced me to the delights of science fiction as a reward for looking after her garden during the hot summer of 1976 whilst she was in China. I particularly like John Wyndham's novels because he writes about everyday situations and people. His writing appealed to my need to escape from my own world at the time, and I like the premise that anyone - no matter how ordinary they are- can experience extraordinary things.

Philip's World Atlas - an unusual choice I know, but as a child I used to spend ages looking at the maps, planning where to go and giggling over the impossible juxtaposition of British place names as seen in the USA and Canada, plus the wonderful place names in Australia (who could help but love a name like Woolloomooloo?).

Viking's Dawn - my dad bought me Henry Treece's Viking trilogy as a reward for passing my 11-plus exam. I love history when it tells the story of how people lived (the later emphasis on dates, royalty and political acts at secondary school left me cold) and Treece's novels are rattling good yarns. These stories also made me realise the Vikings were more civilised than conventional history usually tells us, thus it's important to consider all sides to a particular tale.

Books evocative of a time and place

These are books which generate strong memories of where I was and what I was doing at the time.

Out of the Silent Planet - I was an average English student in my first 3 years at secondary school. Then Mrs Schiff was our teacher for the fourth year onwards and my abilities changed simply because she chose texts which I enjoyed enormously. C. S. Lewis's Narnia books will be more familiar to you, but I like his Cosmic Trilogy - this is the first of them - even more. I'll always regret the look of disappointment on her face when she asked me to study English A Level and I turned her down.

Henry the IVth Part One. Another Mrs Schiff special. I think she understood my need to be shouty at the time and so awarded me the role of Shakespeare's hot headed Hotspur.

Coming Up For Air - I read all of George Orwell's novels whilst waiting for my medical and dental student friends to finish their first year exams. I've chosen this over his more famous novels because it was the first time I found an unlikeable character and a dreary situation a compelling read. It's a novel with humour and written just before the outbreak of WWII - it's extraordinarily prescient about the changes about to happen.

To Kill a Mocking Bird - enormously popular with many people, but we studied it for O Level. This is usually guaranteed to kill any liking of a book, but if anything it made me love it even more. It's my favourite book of all time.

Someone Like You - Roald Dahl is famous for his children's stories, but his shorter ones for adults are much darker and have a twist in the tale. As a student I used to go down the pub for the 'last hour' with my friends and then we'd go back to hall and read these stories to each other into the wee small hours.

Testament of Youth - Vera Brittain's personal account of the futility of war, a lost generation and a changing world. I'm reading an anthology of WWI war poems at the moment, which in turn has led me back (after 30+ years) to this autobiographical tale told from a woman's perspective.

Year of Wonders - nearly 20 years of commuting to Bristol meant I read lots of books on the train. This is a delightful discovery I made by reading a few pages over the shoulder of someone sitting next to me (as you do). It's a story inspired by the plague village of Eyam and is much better than that sounds.

Books with a personal resonance

These are books with a strong sense of place or are a memoir with which I also have strong associations.

Behind the Scenes at the Museum - Kate Atkinson's delightful debut novel set in York. NAH went to school there, so we often visit.

Cider with Rosie - beautifully written and a childhood memoir of the area of the Cotswolds my great grandmother came from, which is set at around the time she grew up there.

Poems on the Underground - when I worked in IT in the 80s and 90s, I often had to visit the company's London office. I hated going to London, so the discovery of new poems and authors on the posters across the underground network helped keep me sane.

The Hobbit - Sarehole Mill in Birmingham was Tolkien's inspiration for the Shire, and was a place I often visited with my friends who lived nearby.

The Rotters' Club - set at the time I was growing up in the 70s with characters who lived in the same area of Birmingham as I did. Key events like the Birmingham pub bombings and the industrial strife at British Leyland formed the background to my childhood as well as the book's. The main characters also attended schools in the same foundation as mine, so the portrayal of school life is very familiar.

Books with a personal involvement

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban - the first spontaneous telephone call my niece ever made to us was to discuss the plot of this book and how much she loved Harry Potter. A very special moment.

Lakes, Rivers, Streams & Ponds of Britain & North-West Europe - this is the most thumbed book on my shelves. It has helped me teach the importance of invertebrates as indicators of water quality to dozens of OU students, volunteer water monitors here in Wiltshire, teachers across the UK, plus Spanish and African scientists. It also reminds me of one of the best years of my life - studying for my masters in freshwater biology at Cardiff university.

Around Darlington in Old Photographs - NAH's mother was a local historian with 13 books to her name, which are neatly lined up on our bookshelves. This particular volume includes NAH and me in the dedication :)

Phew, that's it! You may like to see what everyone else has come up with. There's a diversity of great books for you to choose from, if you're looking for something new to read...
Do join in with your own list if you want to, let me know where it is in the Comments below and I'll add yours to the links above.

Those of you wishing for something more gardeny, might like to look at Emma Cooper's Plant Nutter's Book Club. The discussion of the first book is happening now and the reading of the second nominated book (details also in that link) starts on March 1st.

The image is a modified version of this image available in WikiMedia Commons.

18 comments:

  1. A most enjoyable post with an interesting selection of books.
    I'll be doing a Sofa flying post soon about my favourite books where I'll mention and link to this post. xx

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    1. Looking forward to seeing your list :-)

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  2. Thanks for capturing my link VP - you've beaten me to it :) I certainly enjoyed putting my post together. Will look out for some of your suggestions. My history teacher was a fabulous storyteller and I like the sound of 'Viking's Dawn' which I've not come across before. It may well appeal to himself as well. I wonder what it is about Newcastle that has that profound effect on people - is it the city or is it down to being at such an impressionable stage in our lives when we spent time there? Perhaps a combination of both.

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    1. I think it's both Anna - will comeover to comment properly soon:-)

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  3. What a wonderful list. Nice to see books I know and those I don't, and those that I have on my to-read pile - I picked up Cider with Rosie just the other day. We love our atlas in this house as well, we're always taking it off of the shelf. I love the image of you being nice and shouty as Hotspur. And you've reminded me of the name of the plague village. I visited a number of years ago, and had one of those conversations very recently where I couldn't remember what it was called. I kept saying things like "You know the one, ooh, it's on the tip of my tongue, you must remember, we walked all around it, you know". Now I'm happy.

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  4. The joy of having a good and perceptive teacher, huh? I had a superb English teacher (thank you Mrs Judith Atty) and was never put off books by lessons. This is one of those gorgeous exercises that I just know I'm going to wallow in like a hot bath. It's fascinating to see how many books resonate - I loved To Kill a Mockingbird too (and did it at school), fell in love with A Town Like Alice (and Peter Finch in the film. The author Nevil Shute is sadly neglected these days) and thoroughly enjoyed Behind the Scenes at the Museum.

    Arabella Sock has me nodding at Frenchman's Creek and Pride and Prejudice (which I've just read aloud to my husband - neither of us was prepared for how very funny and bitchy it was, even though I did read it at school - don't think I had enough experience to appreciated all the dry humour)

    Anna's reminded me how very much I loved What Katy Did, reading it many times, and Helen's choice of Josephine Tey's Daughter of Time has made me remember to add it to my list of possibilities.

    It makes you realise how much background we share, even when it's not obvious.

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    1. A number of the books mentioned by the others narrowly missed the cut. This has been such apleasure to do, read and a joy to find others joining in even though thry weren't involved in the original conversation

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  5. I had forgotten Out of the Silent Planet; I loved it so how come it has disappeared from my mind! And I always love reading poems on underground trains; the occasional 1 pops up. I wondered about putting testament of Youth in my list along with Simone de Beauvoir's Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter.......sigh.

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    1. And you hsd the Lone Pine Five - I loved Malcolm Saville :-)

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  6. Fascinating reading everyone's choices - I've just had a quick skim through the various posts and will return and read them properly later, when I'm not trying to deal with the several hundred unread emails which built up while we were moving!

    I've done a quick introductory post here and will put my list up as soon as I can, but it may be a few more days. Thanks everyone involved for getting me thinking about my favourite books - it's been really enjoyable. I've got R thinking too, but he says it's impossible to limit himself to 20 ...

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    1. Great to have you join in - looking forward to seeing what your choices are :-)

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    2. Thanks, VP. I have finally managed to finish my list - sorry it's taken so long! It's here.

      I meant to say, we did scenes from Henry IV part 1 at the RADA as part of my MA (in Text and Performance) - I was Hal in my scene - so I know it very well!

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    3. Thanks Juliet - I've added it the the blog post. Some great reads!

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  7. Some of your choices would be on my list too. Loved Year of Wonders and TKAM

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    1. I'm finding the same thing with the other lists too Doris. Quite a few made my long list and some which made me go "How could I have forgotten that!" :)

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  8. Great list! I'd not heard of a good portion of these, so it's always nice to find new books.

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    1. Thanks for your list too - some great recommendations for when I'm looking for something new to read...

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