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!