This week on The Books that Built the Blogger, I am delighted to welcome FictionFan – one of my favourite bloggers thanks to her great reviews, irreverent posts and witty banter! Do check out her blog, it’s fab.
I do have a bone to pick with her though as she has chosen one from my list for her list too, but I’ll forgive that. This time….
Here are her great choices!
The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
I read this when I was perhaps seven or eight, and fell under the spell of the language. While the story of Mr Toad is fun, it was the chapters where Grahame lets rip with some delicious descriptive writing that taught me that I love beautiful prose for its own sake, and that any thought seems doubly profound when carefully crafted and expressed in an original and memorable way. I also loved (without really being aware of it at the time) that Grahame makes no compromise in terms of vocabulary for the age of his reader – he assumes that a child will look up unfamiliar words in a dictionary. Learning this habit young has stood me in good stead all through my reading life.
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
I was about thirteen when a school friend and I read this and answered an essay question on it, much to the annoyance of our teacher who declared that we were too young for it and shouldn’t have read it till the following year; but then had to admit that, based on our essays, we’d understood it pretty well despite our presumptuous precocity. It influenced me in two distinct ways: firstly, to ignore silly restrictions on what ages books are considered suitable for (and silly English teachers who set such rigid rules that reading becomes a prescribed chore rather than an experimental pleasure); and secondly, to realise that I love books which present and explore political and philosophical ideas within a strong plot – a thing that has become almost a benchmark of good fiction for me.
Bleak House by Charles Dickens (representing 19th century classics)
I don’t in truth remember what my first 19th century classic was, but I read my way through dozens, maybe hundreds, of them in my late teens and early twenties. They influenced me to expect good quality, well-crafted writing as a given, leaving me entirely impatient of lazy, unpolished writing. One of the things I most often complain about when reviewing contemporary fiction is the repeated use of foul language. This really isn’t because I’m prudish – it’s because I believe writers should, like the 19th century writers did, lead and inspire us to explore our wonderfully rich language rather than following the multitude down the path to a restricted and tediously repetitive vocabulary. (The classics also very much influenced my own rather pedantic and convoluted writing style, and my almost obsessive use of parentheses, not to mention my use of phrases like “presumptuous precocity”… 😏 )
The Complete Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
So, given that all of the above shows I was well on the way to total book snobbery, thank goodness for my love of crime fiction. Like so many of us, Enid Blyton’s mysteries were my first venture into crime, but the really influential moment for me was when Santa Claus gave me the complete Sherlock Holmes stories when I was about ten. My love for the stories has never wavered, though my reaction to them has changed over the years. As a child it was the mystery and adventure that I loved, and that led me on later to reading other mystery writers, especially Agatha Christie and the other Queens of Crime; and then in later years to more modern styles of crime fiction – police procedurals and thrillers. I still return to the Holmes stories frequently though, and find now it’s the descriptive writing, of London and Victorian life, and the friendship between Holmes and faithful old Watson that draw me back.
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
This is the book that indirectly led to me becoming a book blogger. After being blown away by it back in 2010, I read some of the critical reviews on Amazon and became so incensed I just had to get it out of my system! So I became “FictionFan” and posted my first Amazon review – and boy, is it embarrassingly bad! No way am I linking to it – not even if you offer me cake! However, while I was in the mood, I posted two other reviews to promote old books I loved which at that time had no reviews. For some obscure reason, this was enough for Amazon to invite me to join their Vine programme, which back then was mainly for books. A bit like NetGalley, they would send us ARCs in return for reviews, and that’s how I got into the reviewing habit. Then I was approached by a publisher to offer me a review copy because I had raved about the author’s previous book, and the publisher suggested I should start a blog – a thing I’d never thought of. And so I did. If, back when I did that first review, I’d known I’d still be reviewing seven years later, though, I’d have tried to come up with a better nom de plume…
Thanks, Cathy, for giving me the opportunity to talk about myself – cheaper than therapy and much more fun!
What great choices! As mentioned, I have Brave New World on my list of the books that built me – great minds clearly! I am currently reading The Wind in the Willows to my 6 year old twins and can attest to the fact that they are mesmerised by the story. Are any of your favourites on this list? I would imagine that Sherlock Holmes could be a popular choice!
Thanks to FictionFan and remember, if you’d like to take part, just drop me an email to email@example.com