The Books That Built the Blogger with Joslyn from Chronic Bibliophilia

This week on The Books that Built The Blogger, I am delighted to welcome Joslyn from Chronic Bibliophilia. Joslyn’s blog is quite new to me, but I love her book choices, her insightful reviews and her emphasis on women writers. I also love her choices for today’s post, read on and see!

Capture

Joslyn

 

As I’ve gotten older, I have found that though I wear glasses all day long, I see clearer without them when I’m reading. This middle-aged near-sightedness is nothing unusual, but there is something about this heightened focus, this ability to see truer while reading, that is emblematic of my life. Reading has always been an essential part of who I am, a way of interpreting and sometimes escaping the world. Now, it is also when I see most clearly.

Since I first announced to all who would listen that I could read, I have been a devoted bookworm. The books I read as a child truly shaped who I am and how I see the world around me. One of my favorite childhood games was to play library, creating my own card catalog and begging family and friends to come borrow an adventure from my shelves. I think it was not just the allure of cataloging (I will always love a good list), but the desire to share and talk books that drove me to this Poindexteresque past time.

One of the first books of any heft which I read again and again (and again), by myself or aloud with anyone who made eye contact, was “The Phantom Tollbooth” by Norton Juster.

phantom

If you somehow missed this exquisite book, I STRONGLY encourage you to go find it right this instant. No shade to J.K. Rowling, but Norton Juster is the original genius of imagined worlds and magical thinking. In “The Phantom Tollbooth” Milo, a boy “who didn’t know what to do with himself – not just sometimes, but always”, finds a mystery package in his room which, when unpacked and assembled, is a tollbooth “for use by those who have never traveled in lands beyond.” Milo’s tollbooth is the gateway to magical lands full of brilliant allusions and excoriating, tongue-in-cheek wit. There is Dictionopolis – host of the word market, “a happy kingdom, advantageously located in the foothills of confusion and caressed by gentle breezes from the sea of knowledge.” There is Reality, a dismal, empty place where “there were great crowds of people rushing along with their heads down, and they all appeared to know exactly where they were going as they darted down and around the nonexistent streets and in and out of the missing buildings.” Milo’s adventures are unsubtly about exploring new worlds, being open to new possibilities, and embracing mouth-watering vocabulary. It is an allegory for life and for the joys of reading, with something for every reader of any age.

Fast forward to an awkward pre-teen, earnestly attempting to share the beauty and meaning of Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” to a room full of snickering 7th graders more interested in fart jokes and The Babysitters Club than the wisdom of Atticus Finch and the intrepid nature of a girl called Scout. Near tears as someone shamelessly calls the book “Tequila Mockingbird”, I pressed on, hoping to reach at least one future reader whose life would be altered by the uncanny beauty and deceptive simplicity of Harper Lee’s masterpiece. “To Kill a Mockingbird” remains one of the touchstones of my literary life, a book I re-read at least once a decade.

mocking

 

The next book that built this blogger was John Irving’s “A Prayer for Owen Meany.” Set in a small granite town in New Hampshire, “A Prayer for Owen Meany” tells the story of John Wheelwright and his unlikely best friend Owen Meany, a doll-like imp with a tiny voice “Owen had to shout through his nose.” Irving uses all caps (no quotation marks) for all of Owen’s dialogue, a trick that is dramatic and immediately effective, forcing the reader to hear the unusual timbre and volume of Meany’s voice.

owen

What is most remarkable, perhaps, about “A Prayer for Owen Meany” is Irving’s virtuosity with foreshadowing. I have found no other author who has so clearly mapped out each story ahead of time, leaving brilliant easter eggs and bread crumbs as his story twists and turns. No detail is insignificant for Irving. If he mentions the color of a dress or a family’s inside joke, be sure that you will come across the momentous import of that detail in due time. “A Prayer for Owen Meany” is extraordinary in its complexity and in its ability to keep a firm grip on its reader’s attention for every page.

In 2001, I found myself alone in a new city, truly on my own in the world for the first time. With little income and a world full of strangers, books were my steadfast companions. My solitude and its echoing silences opened up a need for an outlet, someplace to “talk” about the books I was reading.

Thus began my first book journal, in which I could track what I was reading and my impressions of those books – an early, private, and analog book blog. That journal was kicked off with “Skinny Legs and All” by Tom Robbins.

tom

There is something about Robbins’ manic, personified writing at times of great upheaval in my life that brings me solace. I still remember reading “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues” on my honeymoon. Anyway, “Skinny Legs and All” is about love and lust, money and politics, and so much more. The blurb on the jacket actually summarizes it as well as can be done in one far-reaching sentence: “in which a bean can philosophizes, a dessert spoon mystifies, a young waitress takes on the New York art world, and a rowdy redneck welder discovers the lost god of Palestine – while the illusions that obscure humanity’s view of the true universe fall away, one by one, like Salome’s veils.” WHAT?!?! I realize that this choice, alongside “The Phantom Tollbooth”, makes my literary taste seem bent on the fantastical, which is oddly quite far from the truth. My taste runs towards literary fiction by and large, but I do love irony, satire, and tongue-in-cheek humor, and Tom Robbins has those in spades.

journalThat little reading journal and its successors served me well through a wide spectrum of reading adventures and major life changes. Looking back through its pages is like reading a diary – I can see where my interests wandered, when I felt happiest, what I was reading during life’s big moments. It even captures the depths of postpartum depression, when months passed without a single entry. In 2016, after 15 years of handwritten, closely-held notes, I decided to embark on something bigger and, to me at least, braver – a book blog. Thus was Chronic Bibliophilia born, initially with the idea of chronicling a Year of Reading Women and later as a delightfully fulfilling project documenting my literary journey.

 

My final selection of books that “built” me as a blogger, then, is Jacqueline Woodson’s “Brown Girl Dreaming.” This book, ostensibly written for youth but truly meant for EVERYONE, is poetic perfection. An autobiographical novel in verse, “Brown Girl Dreaming” is all about the power of stories and storytelling. It is an ode to reading, a hymn of praise to the importance of books to our inner and outer lives. “Brown Girl Dreaming” is the perfect defense for my blog’s premise – that we need stories to find ourselves and our place in the world and that those stories ought to expose us to a rich diversity of cultures, voices and ideas.

bron

“Brown Girl Dreaming” , too, was one of the first books I discussed on my blog where I felt like I was hitting my stride and gaining confidence and courage in my writing. Reading this treasure reaffirmed and strengthened my desire to spend more of my time writing and talking about books.

About Chronic Bibliophilia

For as far back as I can remember, reading has been more than a past time for me. Reading is breakfast; it is a hot shower; it is sleep on the perfect pillow. Sure, I could go a day without it. But why on earth would I? Chronic Bibliophilia chronicles my journey as I endeavor to become a ridiculously well-read human being. This blog provides reflections, reviews, and recommendations from a reading list focused on supporting and highlighting the voices that continue to face suppression. I believe that this project has changed not just what I read, but how I read and how I think. I hope you’ll join me on my literary odyssey. Click here to visit Chronic Bibliophilia and to sign up to follow the blog.

I love Joslyn’s choices and her thoughts behind them. The Phantom Tollbooth is a firm favourite in our house and has already been read to the twins! A Prayer for Owen Meaney is a book that is very close to my heart as it was my beloved Daddy’s favourite book. And now I’m totally intrigued by Brown Girl Dreaming, which sounds amazing!

It’s also interesting to read about the transition from book journal to book blog, for what are blogs after all? Other than an online journal?

Are any of your favourites in Joslyn’s list? Did anyone keep a physical book journal before starting a blog?

The Books that Built the Blogger with John from The Modern Novel

built-bloggers

This week on The Books that Built the Blogger, I’m delighted to welcome John from The Modern Novel. John’s website celebrates the world-wide literary novel since  the beginning of the twentieth century, arranged by nationality and is a fascinating acrchive of his  personal but extensive survey of literary fiction since around 1900, which will continue to grow. A translator by background, John’s posts features well over 1000 authors writing in English, French, German, Italian and Spanish and are a fantastic resource.

My name is John and I have a website – The Modern Novel– and an associated blog – themodernnovelblog.com – on the worldwide literary novel since the beginning (more or less) of the twentieth century.

f73a01ba255972535236a7a6e294ff3a

A couple of weeks ago, I saw a revival of Tom Stoppard’s Travesties.  The play is set mainly in Zurich in 1917 and revolves around Henry Carr, a minor British consular official (who really existed) and his relationship (real or imagined) with three residents of Zurich at the time: Tristan Tzara, Lenin and James Joyce.  The play is a very funny post-modern romp but also has something of a message. Carr, Tzara, Lenin and Joyce all express their view on the role of art. For Lenin, art must serve the people.  Tzara has a nihilist point of view. Art can be what you want but it is also intended to subvert the bourgeoisie.  Joyce (and, to a certain extent, Carr) state that art is meant to beautify and enhance our lives, though there are many different views of how this could be best done.

As a child, I read voraciously and, naturally, I read for the stories that books could tell. In my teens, eager to discover my Irish heritage, I started exploring Irish literature, with many of the obvious choices such as Yeats, Synge, O’Casey, Lady Gregory and, of course, the Irish myths and legends, with the Cúchulainn legends being a favourite.  It is through this Irish exploration that I came to Joyce, rather than by the more conventional route.

I naturally started with Dubliners, Portrait of an Artist and Stephen Hero but when I received a book token as a birthday present, I bought Ulysses at the (to me) expensive price of 10s 6d (for the younger generation, that is around 53p).  I knew nothing then of the controversy about the text and bought the only available hardback, the Bodley Head 1964 edition, based on the Bodley Head 1960 edition.  (See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ulysses_(novel)#Editions for the various editions of Ulysses).

106131

It took me some time to work my way through but I read Stuart Gilbert’s study (very helpful) and Ellmann’s biography did aid me. You have either read the book or consciously rejected it. Obviously, if you are reading this blog, you are well aware of it, whatever your views, so I do not need to tell you what it is about.

For me, as a teenager and, indeed, in later life, what Ulysses showed me that there is a lot more to a novel than just telling a story.  I still very much enjoy novels that tell a good story and have read and reviewed a lot on my website but, post-Joyce, readers and reviewers of literary novels know that the novel can do so much more.

In Travesties, Tzara stated that Ulysses, which he clearly did not particularly like, though admired, was a mixture of Homer’s Odyssey and the Dublin Street Directory for 1904.  This was, of course, a tongue-in-cheek remark by Stoppard.  Joyce (in the play) says But it is we who stand enriched, by a tale of heroes, of a golden apple, a wooden horse, a face that launched a thousand ships – and above all, of Ulysses, the wanderer, the most human, the most complete of all heroes – husband, father, son, lover, farmer, soldier, pacifist, politician, inventor and adventurer … It is a theme so overwhelming that I am almost afraid to treat it. And yet I with my Dublin Odyssey will double that immortality.  And, indeed, he has done so.  For what Joyce achieved was the ability not only to tell a tale, which of course, he did, but to give to his city of Dublin and to his main characters, in particular, Leopold Bloom, his Ulysses, an immortality that increase Homer’s contribution and goes well beyond, for example, that of Joyce’s forebears, such as Cúchulainn.

I enjoy reading books from elsewhere at least partially because they show me lives lived in a way very different from my own. I have, of course, been to Dublin but not to the Dublin of 1904 and it is Joyce’s skill to show not just the street directory of Dublin in 1904, as Stoppard’s Tzara states, but a unique, Joycean Dublin of 1904, just as Stoppard showed me an imagined Zurich of 1917 and an imagined Tzara, Joyce, Lenin and Carr, in a way that  a more conventional work would not.  Joyce, Stoppard and the many other writers I read have enriched my life, while I sit in sofa in England’s gloomy winter.

Many thanks to John for that fascinating post about how literature can transport us to a very specific time and place. Do you have a favourite book that transports in this way? Remember, if you would like to take part in The Books that Built the Blogger, just drop me an email at cmac2708@yahoo.co.uk!

The Books That Built the Blogger with Liz Dexter

Happy Easter Monday to everyone!

built-bloggers

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.

the-hobbit-book-cover

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.

The-Black-Moth-Georgette-Heyer-Pan

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.

612a443a47bed05cb09c19e4091acfe0

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.

n44821

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.

f697504a2fbe094c5a9bb4e9e239aa7a

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

built-bloggers

 

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!

anne-of-green-gables

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.

1961-Cover-Island-of-the-Blue-Dolphins (1)

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.)

The_Eight_(novel)

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.

nymph_the_lamp_nimbus

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.

malarky

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?