The Books That Built the Blogger with Liz Dexter

Happy Easter Monday to everyone!

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Today on The Books that Built the Blogger, I am delighted to welcome Liz Dexter who blogs at www.librofulltime.wordpress.com

I love Liz’s blog – she reads books that I am often not the most familiar with and gives me ideas to look in different corners of my TBR for what to read next! For The Books That Built the Bloggers, Liz has chosen to intersperse her choices with a mention of her Enduring Reading Pleasures, which gives her books a great context within her reading and her life.

My name’s Liz Dexter and I’m a book blogger at Adventures in Reading, Writing and Working from Home http://www.librofulltime.wordpress.com . In my day job, I’m an editor and transcriber, and a writer (under my maiden name, Liz Broomfield) and I’m also a happy runner.

Anyone who knows me will think that I’m going to start this off with PONY BOOKS. But while I love pony books, and they have proved an enduring pleasure, they have not made me think differently about my reading and my world. With Cathy and the kind readers’ permission, I will intersperse these choices with five Enduring Pleasures that have run in threads through my life and reading, entered in the order in which they came, between the shocks and new discoveries that perhaps set me on new paths.

So, Enduring Pleasure 1 has to be pony books and children’s classics. We’re talking Nesbit, Hodgson Burnett, all those lovely old books, but mainly pony books – the Pullein-Thompson books, the Jill series … I was so happy when Jane Smiley started a pony book series, and Victoria Eveleigh’s modern pony stories have continued to enthral.

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But the first book I read that made me THINK was J.R.R. Tolkien – The Hobbit. I was a precocious child, very intelligent, able to read before I went to school and devouring everything in the school and village libraries. Then, when I was 7, a misguided (or were they?) teacher gave me The Hobbit to read. Yes, it was within my reading comprehension. But it was HARD. I didn’t understand the motives, the epic nature, good and evil. I was getting a bit lazy, coasting, being proud of having read all the Readers. This gave me pause. Books can be Hard, and sometimes you have to grow up a bit before you can appreciate them. Good lesson.

I read both Toeckey Jones – Go Well, Stay Well, about the friendship between a black and a white girl in apartheid-era South Africa (this was in the 1980s) and another, now lost, book about a Danish boy in WWII, trying to work to resist the Nazis, from the Teen section of the village library in my early teens. With the emotional maturity developing to understand these books, they brought home to me very clearly social injustice and war and their effects. Living in an affluent, monocultural village, this was the first time I really realised about others’ experiences in this way.

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We had all of Enduring Pleasure 2 – Georgette Heyer’s novels in the school and village libraries and I devoured them with that love of a long series maybe only an early teen reader truly has (I worked my way through Agatha Christie, Jean Plaidy and the other historicals and (really?) Ian Fleming at the same time). I’ve always come back to Heyer for a comfort read.

This is an important one, because it introduces the Person Who Supplied the Books that made the Blogger. Mary was a beacon of socialist, feminist, home-made ice cream-making, soup making wonderfulness in the village. She acted as a kind of naughty extra grandma or fairy godmother to the girls in the village in particular, teaching us to knit and make jam and to read and explore and question. It was she who introduced me to Iris Murdoch, and one of her early books I read was A Severed Head. What a sheltered 14-year-old got out of this tale of incest and psychoanalysis, who knows, but I felt terribly sophisticated having read it, and it started off a lasting love of the author. I bought all her books that were out, the next ones as they came out, I read her oeuvre every decade or so, and I have done an academic study on her and ordinary readers.

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Mary, with her “you can read anything from my bookshelves” policy, also introduced to me to so many more Enduring Pleasures 3 – Virago books, Elizabeth Taylor, Barbara Pym, great writers and imprints that have been woven through my life since. Nothing couldn’t be borrowed, and you could talk or ask about anything. Thank you, Mary. I try to be a Mary in other younger people’s lives now.

Fast forward to my life in London. One important point here is that I started keeping a reading diary in 1997, something I still keep today even though I blog online (which I started doing in August 2005). I lived in New Cross, on my own for much of the time, and got the Routemaster 36 bus round to Lewisham every weekend to change my library books. Lewisham being a very diverse borough, the library had a wonderful selection, and it was here that I devoured so many books, fiction and non-fiction, about other, different lives – LGBQT lives, lives of colour. Paul Magrs – Does it Show? represents these – what a revelation to read magical realism about people living on a council estate in the North-East, people so different to me but written about so warmly.

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A contrast to all this otherness was found in Enduring Pleasure 4 – Persephone books. The publisher started up while I lived in London, and while the books are mainly about white, middle-class people in the middle of the 20th century, they are varied, tell lost stories and are very valuable and marvellous, and predictably good. I love reading these and discussing them with blogging friends.

I kind of carried on with these reads and, of course, my not-very-mentioned love of biography, travel writing, sports writing … I also started to take part in reading challenges – first making my friends read all of Iris Murdoch, then working my way through Elizabeth Taylor, Thomas Hardy, Virginia Woolf … I was picking up new books by old authors, and somehow through the world of my blogging friends I realised I would probably like Anthony Trollope. Starting with The Warden, I found I very much did, and I’m slowly working my way through his series, with Mrs Oliphant to come. I know I have blogging friends who are also reading him, and that sense of community is lovely.

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Just before I introduced myself to Trollope, I was made to realise by my friend Bridget that while I had loved George Eliot’s Middlemarch for years and read it several times, I actually had the Enduring Pleasure 5 of The Rest of George Eliot to enjoy, too! I have been working my way through her novels ever since, loving all of them and looking forward as I go to re-reading them in time.

Many thanks to Liz for sharing her choices, I love the idea of Enduring Pleasures as a way to follow a path through your reading life! A wonderful way to approach the challenge. Plus, I don’t know about anyone else, but I really want that copy of The Severed Head by Iris Murdoch. What an amazing cover!

 

The Books That Built the Blogger with Laila from Big Reading Life


After a brief hiatus while I recovered from Reading Ireland Month, The Books that Built the Blogger is back, this time with the lovely Laila from Big Reading Life who is one of the most cheerful, supportive and enthusiastic bloggers I know.

Here are her choices for the books that have made her the blogger she is today.

It’s so much fun to think about the ways in which my reading life has changed over time. One of the things I love so much about becoming a book blogger is the way it has made me reflect on my own capacity for change. I have loved stretching my reading muscles in new ways as I discover new-to-me authors and genres. I am certainly a more adventurous reader than I was even two years ago. However, much like my love of watermelon and Reese’s Cups, there are certain tastes that I formed as a young reader that have remained consistent.

I have always loved the mystery genre, from the time I began reading David Adler’s Cam Jansen series, Marjorie Sharmat’s Nate the Great, and of course, Nancy Drew. But the book that stands out for me as the most influential in my love of the genre is The Westing Game, by Ellen Raskin. I read it at about nine years of age, and still have my paperback copy on my bedside bookshelf as we speak. I loved the huge, quirky cast of characters, the omniscient narrator (who let me know that some of these people were not what they seemed,) and the giant puzzle at the center of the story. It was creepy and filled with surprises, liars, and secrets. Every character seemed to have a hidden agenda, and some were rather hateful people. Paired off by unlikely twosomes in the contest, they had to work together to solve the riddle. I’ve reread this as an adult and it still holds up. I can’t wait to read this with my son when he’s a bit older.

Lois Lowry’s Anastasia Krupnik series is another lifelong favorite, and influential to my reading tastes. Anastasia was a girl after my own heart, precocious, dramatic, and always making lists. Like me, she also had dark hair, glasses, and an unusual name. I loved reading about her bohemian-ish parents, a literature professor and an artist, and her hilarious little brother, Sam. I think that my love of stories with realistic, quirky families can be traced to these books. The Krupniks remind me of the messy, complicated families at the centers of books by two of my favorite authors, Anne Tyler and Carol Shields. Recently I’ve been rereading the Anastasia series and, while I identify now with her parents, I still find them as charming and lough-out-loud funny as ever. They are a still delicious comfort read for me in these turbulent times.

Since becoming a book blogger I have made a more concerted effort to step outside of my reading comfort zone, and one of my favorite experiences in that effort was the book A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James. I spent two weeks lugging that thing around, wrestling with the Jamaican patois, trying to keep all nine thousand characters straight in my head. I fell utterly in love with it, most unexpectedly. I hadn’t even known that Bob Marley was the victim of an assassination plot in 1976, much less that I could empathize with and care for characters who were such a motley assortment of mostly bad people – Jamaican mob dons, drug dealers, killers. James’s skill in rendering these people as whole and complicated, with each separate voice fully distinct, totally blew me away. Initially I felt proud of myself for sticking with a book that was challenging, and after I finished I felt bereft, because I missed the vivid, raw, brave writing. I had a book hangover for weeks afterward. Writing about it now, I’m itching to pick it back up again and enter that world.

When Cathy asked me if I’d like to participate in her book-blogger feature, I initially panicked a bit. How could I choose just a few books to represent the reader and blogger I’ve become? But I realized that I am still very much a reader and blogger in progress, and as I sample new authors and styles, my tastes are still coalescing. I find that thrilling – who knows what kinds of books I’ll be reading in five years, or ten, or twenty? I will always consider my realistic family sagas and mysteries “home base,” but I am eager to venture further afield.

Thanks to Laila for those great choices. I think venturing further afield in our reading is great advice for anyone, I’ve certainly discovered some great authors in the last few years that I wouldn’t have come across had I not stepped outside my comfort zone.

Are there any books or genres you’ve come to love when you’ve gone outside your usual taste?

The Books that Built the Blogger with TJ from My Book Strings

Today on the blog I am delighted to welcome TJ from My Book Strings, a blog I love and one I have followed since I started blogging. TJ has taken a different approach to The Books that Built the Bloggers and I am honoured to have this post on my blog. It’s a beautiful, thoughtful piece about a book that is incredibly special and it reiterates to me the emotional connection we can have to books and the memories they contain for us as readers.

Thank you, Cathy, for including me in your feature about the books that made the blogger. On my blog, I have already written about which books by women have influenced my reading, and I’ve written about some of my books that come with very dear memories. But there is one particular book that I haven’t yet written about. My memories of it are bittersweet, but there is no question that it has had an incredible influence on me as a reader.

When I was 11 or 12, for Christmas, my father gave me a hardcopy of a book with a cover that showed a small man holding a swaddled baby. I started reading the book probably the day after Christmas, and when I was done, I read it again, and then again. When it was time to go back to school, I must have read the book six or seven times in a row. The book was called Willow. It is the story of a land ruled by an evil queen, whose reign, according to prophecy, will end with the birth of a marked child. Naturally, the queen does everything she can to prevent this prophecy from coming true. The book begins with the birth of this child and then tells the desperate attempt by some brave and some not-so-brave beings to save the baby from certain death.

This was the very first fantasy novel I read. I was a child with a very active imagination, and this book opened new worlds to me. Up to that point, I had lived with Anne on Green Gables. I had been best friends with Pippi Longstocking. I had gone on vacation with the Five Friends and been neighbors with Trixie Belden. But when I read Willow—with its unlikely hero and the grand fight of good over evil—I suddenly realized that I didn’t need to be confined to the “real world.” I could invent my own creatures and my own worlds; I could make up stuff I had never even thought of before this book came along. Willow broadened my horizon to make it limitless.

From Willow, it was only a small step to Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon, Ursula K. Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea, and Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Once I had read all the fantasy novels my library had to offer, I reached for science fiction. From there, it was easy enough to jump to magical realism, a genre that my father loved. He was a man of few words, but he had a lot to say about his beloved South American writers, and I know it made him happy that I read most of the books he had on his shelves.

It was only after my father passed away that I found out that Willow was written based on a screenplay that was developed from a story by George Lucas. I so wish I could ask my father why he gave me this book. He wasn’t a George Lucas fan as far as I know, and he was very much in the “the book is always better than the movie” camp. Why would he give me a book that started out as a movie script? He always put a lot of thought into the books he gave as presents, so I don’t think he just grabbed it because it was on display when he was Christmas shopping. Maybe he simply got it because he thought I would like it. If that’s it, then he was certainly correct.

I’m sad that I no longer own the copy of Willow he gave me. I would like to say that it must have gotten lost in one of my many moves, so I could blame someone other than me, but no one in my family has ever lost a book. I probably sold it, and I can’t tell you how much I regret that. I would like it back not only because it was a present from my father, but also because I can’t find another one like it. I can’t even find a picture of my edition online.

I reread the book when I decided I wanted to write about it here. It is much shorter than I thought, with much fewer details. The story is very predictable, and as a more critical reader now, I can see where and how the story could be improved—at least in my opinion. But that’s almost beside the point. The important thing is that I can see why I loved it so much when I first got it, and reading it again brought back memories of my younger self and the many other wonderful books I read because of it. When I have a little more time on my hands, I will do research once again, because I want to find just the right copy to pass on to my children, so that they can (hopefully) have a similar reading experience.

The Books That Built the Blogger with Heaven Ali!

Today on The Books That Built the Blogger, I have the fantastic Ali from HeavenAli blog. I love Ali’s blog so much – she has a wonderful mix of classic and new books and it is because of Ali that I finally made an effort to read Edith Wharton, Virginia Woolf and Molly Keane. So, I have a lot to thank her for.

Here are her great choices.

I’m Ali, I blog at Heavenali – the vast majority of my posts are book reviews, and I don’t blog about anything that isn’t book related in some way, book lists, book buying etc. I have been blogging in fact a lot longer than I have been on WordPress. I started off on LiveJournal back in something like 2006 or perhaps 2005 – many posts were transferred over here when I moved – though I went back and deleted a lot of them. My blog posts were a bit odd back then, and so was LiveJournal – I think we were all buried away in some kind of weird parallel blogging universe that only other Livejournallers knew about. At the end of January 2012 I transferred to WordPress – and decided to make more of an effort with the whole blogging thing.

Danny Champion of the World – Roald Dahl (1975)

I have been trying to decide which book it was that really ‘got’ me – made the book addict I am today. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t read, and to be honest there are several candidates for the book which turned me into a book fiend – but I settled finally on this one. I was probably about seven – and the story captured my imagination, I felt it – in a way which 40 odd years later I still remember – I was transported to a caravan, to those woods with Danny and his father. I can still remember the best way to catch pheasants, and how it feels to wake up at night in a tiny caravan and find my father has gone out.

Murder on the Orient Express – Agatha Christie (1934)

I was around eleven when I first read Agatha Christie – I read many of her most famous works back to back – taking them out of the library – where I could be found on many a Saturday morning. Since then I keep going back to Dame Agatha – I know where I am with her world, and I usually forget whodunit anyway. Of course, there are one or two books which once you have read, it would impossible to forget the conclusion, and this is, one of those. Maybe one day I will re-read it to see how it hangs together.

The Raj Quartet: The Jewel in the Crown – Paul Scott (1966)

I have read the whole quartet twice, and loved the TV adaptation, but of course with any series it is the first book which pulls you in. Looking back, I think The Jewel in the Crown set me on a path of reading a certain kind of book from a certain period, I was becoming less and less bothered by new novels – though I still read those too. For a while, quite a long while I read a lot of what is loosely termed ‘Indian lit’ discovering writers like Anita Desai. However, I also think that perhaps Paul Scott started me reading about a certain type of English community, upper middle class, privileged, establishment, – I wonder now what attracts me to that – I really don’t know. Both my readings of The Raj Quartet were pre-blog – but I expect I shall read it again one day.

The first novel in the quartet recreates the last days of British rule in India. The British community fear the rising call for Independence while their own country is at war, those in India fear Japanese invasion. In Mayapore province a young Englishwoman is raped, the events leading up to the attack and its aftermath are at the centre of the novel.

The Gentlewomen – Laura Talbot (1952)

In 2010 – my friend Liz (who blogs at Adventures in Reading, Writing and working from Home) loaned me The Gentlewoman by Laura Talbot – a lovely old Green Virago. It re-awakened an old obsession – green Viragos. Years earlier I had read some green vViragos, Precious Bane, Frost in May, Novel on Yellow Paper, The Crowded Street, and others I have now forgotten. Many were probably library books, though I think I owed a small number too. In those days, I lived in a tiny flat with two small bookcases (and that was pushing it really) and so I had to keep getting rid of books. Reading ‘The Gentlewoman’ – which I loved, reminded me of those books, books of a different time, written by women.

Governess Miss Bolby leaves her boarding house in Birmingham for Rushford where she will be teaching the daughters of Lady Rushford. Rushford is not all that Roona Bolby expects, there is a new house maid, who Miss Bolby doesn’t think is up to scratch, and two Italian prisoners work in the grounds. Miss Bolby is obsessed by her past, she constantly lives in the past, hanging on to the threads of her aristocratic connections. Her life has been a series of disappointments, and she is constantly reminded of what might have been. She is a snob and harsh critic of others. A not very sympathetic character, she is fascinating and beautifully drawn.

I joined the Librarything Virago group – and started buying and reading old green viragos again – it is a love affair which continues unabashed. Funnily enough, I have only just bought myself a copy of The Gentlewoman, which I really want to reread.

The Soul of Kindness – Elizabeth Taylor (1964)

In 2012 the Librarything Virago group decided to read all Elizabeth Taylor’s novels in celebration of her centenary year. She soon became one of my favourite writers. There are twelve novels so it fitted into a year perfectly, each month was dedicated to a particular novel, and hosted by an LT member. Not everyone had a blog so some people hosted by staring discussion threads on the forum, but those of us with blogs hosted our month on our blogs. I was still quite new to WordPress – and had never hosted anything before. I was September – The Soul of Kindness – a novel I managed to write three or four blog posts about. The Soul of Kindness of the title is Flora Quatermaine, a beautiful young woman, who as the novel opens is getting married. Flora is simply adored by everyone, which she feels is her due. As time moves forward four years, Flora has everything she wants; her husband Richard, a baby and a lovely home in St. Johns Wood. She also has an array of loyal adoring friends.  Flora only sees what she wants to see, hears what she wants to hear, she lives in a self-imposed bubble. She has her own ideas about the people around her, and is blind to any alternative. 

I think taking part in the Elizabeth Taylor centenary celebrations really helped me get to grips with blogging properly, and I began to feel part of a wonderful community.

Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day – Winifred Watson (1938)

As a very keen Persephone reader I had to include a Persephone title. Miss Pettigrew I am sure (though not 100% certain) was my first Persephone read and started me off on another bookish obsession. It is one of only two that I have re-read – re-reading it in 2013, it remains a book I feel huge affection for. While it isn’t my favourite Persephone book, it is one I often recommend. Nervous, dowdy Miss Pettigrew is immediately swept up by Delysia LaFosse, treated as a trusted confident and friend. Delysia LaFosse is a glorious creature in a diaphanous negligee, who puts Miss Pettigrew in mind of the stars of the cinema she secretly loves. People come to call at the flat; each time the doorbell rings it seems to herald things happening. Miss Pettigrew is thrilled, never has she seen and heard such things in her life before. As the day progresses Miss Pettigrew – Guinevere – finds herself the dispenser of good sense and advice – almost without realising she is doing it. It is a book which I think has hidden depths, though its cosy, slightly frothy tone makes it a good comfort read, a fairy-tale for grownups.

Thanks so much to Ali for those wonderful choices! I have recently read Danny The Champion of the World to my 6 year old twins and we all loved it. I also know I am going to have to get my hands on Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day as I have heard nothing but wonderful things about it!

As it is Reading Ireland Month, here is a link to Ali’s fantastic review of Molly Keane’s Conversation Piece.

 

The Books that Built the Blogger with Naomi from Consumed by Ink

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This week on The Books that Built the Blogger, I am delighted to welcome Naomi from Consumed by Ink. Naomi is one of my favourite bloggers. I often feel like we are long distance blogging twins as we started our blogs within a few months of each other and she is one of the first bloggers I ever followed. Add to that a passion for Canadian literature which matches my passion for Irish literature and a lovely review writing style and you have a winning blog! Here are her (great) choices!

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Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery

First… always first… Anne of Green Gables. And, even though Anne of Green Gables is not necessarily my favourite of Montgomery’s books, it is the one I started with and it led me to all the others. Her books also became my first book collection – I was determined to own them all. We spent many summers camping in Prince Edward Island when I was young, and every time we went, my mother would let me choose a new LMM to buy. I loved that I could read about characters that lived and breathed in the same places I visited (and even stood), and were written about by a woman who had once lived there. I think these books also taught me to appreciate descriptive writing at a young age. I still read them and love them, and I could probably say my whole reading life and blogging aspirations are thanks to LMM alone; rich characters, vibrant settings, and proudly Atlantic Canadian.

But since I’m allowed 4 more books,  I won’t stop there.

The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf

This lovely story taught me several things: the importance of ‘stopping to smell the flowers’, that it’s okay to be different, and that mother’s are there to love and support you in your differences. I suspect I would have come by all these ‘lessons’ in other ways, but mental images of this book have stuck in my mind all these years and so I thought it deserved some mention. My version of ‘stopping to smell the flowers’ has always been to walk or to read. When I was young, I loved to sit and read under a tree in the backyard, like Ferdinand. I don’t often sit under a tree when I read anymore, but the peaceful feeling I got from it has stayed with me.

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Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell

This book was my introduction into the world of survival stories and living in isolation. I thought it was completely fascinating, and read it many times. I still love books about people living alone, living off the land, stories of shipwrecks or living at sea. I also loved that the protagonist of the book was a girl – it showed me that girls are just as capable as boys. This is something I never questioned in my life, and maybe it’s partly because of this book, and others like it. (Although, my parents could probably take some credit here… They provided me with all these great books, after all.)

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The Eight by Katherine Neville

The Eight might seem like an odd choice for me, but I remember reading this book like it was yesterday. I read it for the first time in Grade 10, and completely gobbled it up. And it was one of the first books I read that my Dad and I could talk about. But the reason it’s on this list is because it’s the first time I remember being really excited about writing a book report. I was so proud of my report, and received a good mark from a reputably strict marker. For the rest of my time in high school I tried to outdo myself with each book report I wrote. I even wrote one for my sister once  (who was a year ahead of me) to boost her English mark. So… the beginning of something I wouldn’t take up again for another 22 years.

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The Nymph and the Lamp by Thomas Raddall 

This book reminded me of how much I love reading about places I know and love. It led me to seek out other books set in the Atlantic Provinces, such as The Nine Lives of Charlotte Taylor by Sally Armstrong, The Birth House by Ami McKay, and George and Rue by George Elliott Clarke. These are the books that are directly related to me starting my blog, so I could share my enthusiasm for them with whoever would listen. I also wanted to read more CanLit in general – I knew how many good books there were out there about the places in my own country that I had never been to, and voices of the people who share this country with me, but whose lives and experiences are different from my own. Starting my blog was like a challenge to myself to read more of these books, but it has ended up being so much more. The warmth of the book blogging community completely took me by surprise, and not only am I getting to know more about Canada, but I have also met so many wonderful bloggers from all over the world who share my passion for reading, as well as, I believe, Ferdinand’s desire for peace.

Thanks Cathy, for inviting me to talk about books (and myself) on your blog!

I love how Naomi can pin point when her love of book reviewing started! What great choices – I am determined now to read Anne of Green Gables to the twins, I think they and I will love it.

As it is Reading Ireland Month, I have one again asked for a favourite book by an Irish author and Naomi has gone for Malarky by Anakana Schofield.

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It’s a great choice, not least because Anakana calls herself an Irish-Canadian so Naomi and I have decided to share her. I’ll be reviewing her latest novel Martin John, later in the month.

What do you think of Naomi’s choices?

The Books That Built The Blogger with Susan from A Life in Books

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I‘m delighted to have Susan from A Life in Books on the blog today to chat about the books that have made her the blogger and reader she is today. Susan’s blog is fantastic, I love the books she chooses and her reviews are always so insightful. Susan is also the source of my greatest temptation with her fantastic monthly posts about great new books to look out for. As anticipated, she has chosen three great books here.

The Reader by Bernhard Schlink (translated by Carol Brown Janeway)

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It took me some time to catch on to the idea that the translator was as important as the author in translated fiction although it’s obvious when you think about it. All the more crucial in poetry, I’m sure. Appropriately enough, The Reader was the first book I read that was translated by Carol Brown Janeway. It’s the story of Michael Berg who begins a passionate affair with Hanna, a thirty-six-year-old woman. At first the affair is purely physical but when Michael starts to read to Hanna, it becomes an essential part of their lovemaking ritual. One day Hanna disappears from Michael’s life. When he next sees her, he’s a law student and she is on trial as an SS camp guard. Michael becomes obsessed by the trial, convinced that in loving Hanna he is also guilty. I liked the clean, crisp prose of Janeway’s translation which let this striking story speak for itself. It seemed to me that she had paid attention to both sense and style, staying as close as she could to the spirit of the book. Sadly, Janeway died last year but I have a few more translators that I look out for, in particular Jaime Bulloch and Charlotte Collins. I’d love to hear of any others that bloggers can recommend.

Plainsong by Kent Haruf

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My taste in writing runs to the spare, elegant and pared back: less really is more in for me. Whenever I need an example to illustrate this I turn to Kent Haruf. As with all his novels, Plainsong is set in the fictional town of Holt, Colorado. It’s not the first in the Holt series but I’ve chosen it because it’s the first Haruf novel I read. It’s about a mere handful of characters: Tom Guthrie bringing up his two young sons alone, a pregnant teenager kicked out by her mother and taken in by the elderly Macpheron twins, and Maggie Jones who introduces the twins to her. These are ordinary people living in a small American town coping with whatever life lobs at them but Haruf’s writing is so quietly compassionate, his characters so simply yet sharply drawn that Holt comes vividly to life, entirely convincing in its prosaic sometimes heroic daily life. Haruf wrote only a handful of novels – his first, The Tie That Binds, was published in 1984 and his sixth, Our Souls at Night, came out in 2015, the year after he died. For me, he sits alongside William Maxwell, Colm Tóibin. Mary Costello, Alice McDermott and John McGahern as an example of how to make every word count.

A Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin

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I’m a very recent convert to short stories; A Manual for Cleaning Women played a large part in that conversion. Lucia Berlin died in 2004 having written intermittently over a long period stretching back to the ‘60s, fitting her stories around a multitude of jobs from teaching English to cleaning houses. She drew heavily on her own life when writing her stories and what a rackety life it was: several marriages, four children and alcoholism followed a peripatetic childhood spent in mining towns with a brief glamorous teenage period in Chile. Her stories are richly diverse, from a young girl helping her dentist grandfather extract all his teeth, replacing them with his masterpiece, to the titular story in which a cleaner mentally runs through her clients on the bus home, tossing in helpfully bracketed tips to her colleagues. There’s a wonderful immediacy in her short, crisp, carefully constructed sentences. Her material is often raw but there’s always a wry humour in her delivery. I’m not going to claim that I now snap up every short story collection that comes my way but I’m certainly reading more, rather than simply dismissing them as not for me.

I love these choices from Susan and her rationale for picking them. Plainsong also had a very profound effect on me and I loved the simple beauty in Haruf’s tale of quiet lives.

Are any of your favourites here?

As it is Reading Ireland Month this month, I also asked my victims contributers what their favourite Irish book is and Susan has gone for John MacGahern’s That They May Face The Rising Sun.

I haven’t read it yet – possibly one for next years Reading Ireland Month!

The Books that Built the Blogger with Elena from Books and Reviews!

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Today on the blog I am delighted to welcome Elena from Books and Reviews, one of my favourite bloggers whose fantastic reviews cover mainly crime fiction. I love her insightful reviews and feminist critiques and hope you’ll check out her blog!

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I have been a voracious reader of crime fiction since I was 2. I am not kidding. Back in the early 1990’s there was an amazing book about a group of animals that lost a cake in the forest called The Lost Cake – although no pictures of said book survive. The plot centred on their quest, and the final finding of the cake to everyone’s happiness. My Mum always remembers how much I loved the story, and the joy I got from learning, once again, that the cake was found. So much so, that I wanted the book to be read aloud to me at least twice a day. Apparently, it was a nightmare for both my parents, although they now remember those nights with love. To their joy, I learned to read, I eventually grew out of the story.

I spent my childhood reading almost everything that I could lay my hands on. My parents would buy me as many books as they could afford, but I also browsed my grandparents’ and aunt’s libraries in search for my next read. I remember trying to read Tom Sawyer – and miserably failing! – when I was 8, just because I loved the cover from a collection aimed at young readers that my grandparents got as soon as they discovered my passion for books. Around this time, I also got my first library card, and tried – I still do – to use it as much as I can. Remember libraries count on us to stay alive, especially in times of economic crises, like the one Spain went through during my childhood. Despite the volume of books available to me, I must admit I spent a few years trapped between children’s literature and more adult stories. I lusted after covers of adults’ books and I used to browse the mystery and crime section at our local shop to no avail. Children’s literature did not appeal to me, and I was scared by adults’ books – after all I was an 8-year old pounding on the possibility of reading adult crime fiction.

And then I was handed a quick way out of that limbo: My aunt presented me her collection of comic books, though not the ones that you are imagining. These were two volumes of literary classics adapted to comic format that made it very easy to me to explore more adult narratives in a more approachable way. My 10-year old was in heaven! I would carefully explore both volumes before deciding on a story, always with a renewed desire to find a story that would make me feel like my lost cake. Even though these stories were – now I see it – mainly written by white, English/American men, they meant the key to a new world, or at least, a necessary rite of passage in Western literature. And one day, I found a story that excited me more than my lost cake:

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The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is the first Sherlock Holmes story that I read, but also the first adult novel that I allowed myself to read. Back then it took me a few attempts to go through the grotesque depiction of the hound in the comic, but everyone in my family kept encouraging me to keep reading. I did, and once I finished reading the story I asked my parents for the real deal: My first Sherlock Holmes book. Since I had always been a voracious reader, my parents looked at me with a mix of love and sadness knowing I was no longer a children’s books reader, and there was no way back. My adult book hauling had started.

I live in a small town and although the book was not available at our local bookshop, they requested it to the publisher for me. They promised they would call me, and I patiently waited by the phone for days. I’m actually still waiting, as they never called. Seeing how important the book was to me, my parents decided to take me to the City. I remember browsing the mystery section, which I saw with new eyes now that I was familiar with that formidable detective that I so much admired. I discovered them, as I squealed telling me parents, that he was famous, very famous, and there were so many books that I imagined I had a lifetime of crime stories to read. From that moment on, I would request a Sherlock Holmes book to anyone who offered to buy me a gift.

The problem with the Canon is that is extensive, except if you are a pre-teen who would only read Sherlock Holmes. In less than a year I was left with five Sherlock Holmes stories. I decided then I did not want to live in a world where there are no Holmes stories left for me to discover, and I have kept that childish promise to myself until the present day. Instead, I focused on compulsory readings at high school, learning English, and reading British, and American literature. Even though I am Spanish, I have always drifted towards English culture, a passion that everyone in my family still holds dear nowadays. During this period, I discovered three female sisters who died young but wrote dark novels in 19th century England. I discovered the power of the Mississippi and male friendship; and the cold winter in New England where four sisters gave away their Christmas breakfast to a family in need. I read as much as I can, already showing an interest for women authors, and thinking myself the Beth of my life story, even though I am clearly a Jo. For a while, I left crime fiction and instead abandoned myself to tales that resonated with the sometimes hard process of growing up.

When at 18, I had to decide what to study at university, I was caught up between Philosophy and Spanish Grammar. I was really good at both subjects in high school, and I thought I could pull off a degree in any of them without much effort. But, less than 24 hours before the deadline to apply ended, I looked at my bookshelves just in time to realise that they were crowded with books from the UK, and the States. What if I could make of my passion my profession? Could it be THAT easy? As I announced my decision to my family, they all sighted in relief: ‘We didn’t want to interfere with your decision, but it was so clear English Studies is your thing!’ So, English Studies it was for me! During my degree, I had amazing lecturers who taught me the classics, and even offered extra reading, sometimes lending me their own personal copies of books that were not in the programme. Back then I read two or three books a week, all related to the subjects I was studying. I loved every single literature class. I loved to study a text, and finding the structure. Mapping out the characters’ development. Deconstructing the hidden meanings of every line. It was hard work. I did not have much free time. And I was at my happiest. But I had no time for crime fiction, and needless to say, it was no included in the programme. Until I met MS.

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Just half an hour talking to MS in her office about my reading habits and my reading she knew I had a passion for crime fiction. She was the person who told me I could study crime fiction. And since she is an English Literature professor and I had no idea what I wanted to do with my English Degree, I believed her. But again, I found myself thinking: Could it be THAT easy? Can some of the hardest decisions in life be made this easily? This was 8 years ago, and I have never looked back. I have studied crime fiction under MS’s tutelage since then. I wrote my dissertation about the Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie series. I wrote my MA dissertation about the television show Rizzoli & Isles, and I am currently writing my doctoral thesis about forensic crime fiction. Words cannot express how lucky I feel that I have found someone who understands why my bookshelves are crowded with crime novels.

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It was also under her advice that I discovered Patricia Cornwell and the Kay Scarpetta series. My inspiration! The reason I have decided to pursue a PhD in Humanities with no funding! The one person with whom I share lack of sleep and lots of coffee! After reading the first novels in the series, I decided to explore more contemporary crime fiction. What if there was a bunch of female forensic doctors out there who understand me better than some real people? Enter Kathy Reichs’ Temperance Brennan series – and their television adaptation Bones – who have also taught me that it takes a lot of hard work to get to where you want to be. But can be made. So keep working! Do not never give up!

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I credit Dr. Maura Isles – from the TV adaptation of the Rizzoli & Isles series, I’m just discovering Tess Gerritsen’s novels! – with teaching me that you do not have to adhere to social constructions, and if you want to go to a crime scene with your new Louboutin’s, you can. And you should be proud. Even though they are fictional, these women have taught me more about resilience, ambition, and work ethic than any teacher did during elementary school.. I am constantly surprised by their power as fictional characters, but I am also honoured to have met them, and have them in my life. There is nothing I like more than a (fictional) morgue when I’m stressed!

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As I see it now, my life has just been a succession of realising my passion for books could be turned into something useful. Something similar has happened with my blog Books & Reviews, which I started inspired by a friend, and has now become a key part of my career and my online identity. However, I would not be here if it weren’t for the books mentioned here, and all the wonderful authors that made me discover that I can be a Humanities person and still love medicine and forensic science. Reading is an act of self-discovery, but it is also a rebellion against social, familiar and professional expectations that try to label us. Crime fiction has taught me that the status quo can be questioned, and that it is possible to get out of your comfort zone and come out of it triumphant.

What a fantastic post from Elena! It’s so interesting that Arthur Conan Doyle features frequently on crime writing fans lists, clearly an incredibly influential writer.

Are any of your favourites on this list?

It may be Reading Ireland Month here at 746 Books in a week, but The Books that Built the Blogger will continue, and next week I’m delighted to feature Susan from the brilliant A Life in Books!