Monday, 17 February 2014

My Favourite Books - Part One


This post was prompted by reading a post over at Veg Plotting last week which you can see here. A group of bloggers and tweeters had been discussing one of those Amazon book lists via Twitter and came up with the idea of producing a blog post listing favourite books. It was agreed to limit the lists to twenty books each. My favourite twenty books? What a question! I thought and thought some more about this, coming to the conclusion that it had to be not only books that made a lasting impact on me but also be books that I could not possibly part with. I was an avid reader as a child and all the way through my teens and twenties before slowing down for some years. I think that the amount of reading and computer use that work involved sadly dampened my enthusiasm for reading for pleasure. My book consumption rate slowed down for some time but has picked up dramatically since I left work over five years ago. Now I'm rarely without a book on the go, although not surprisingly, I get through more books in the winter months than in the summer, when of course I would rather be outdoors.

I'm going to post this list in two parts starting with those books that cast their magic over me as a child, teenager and a young adult.

1) 'Brer Rabbit Again' - Enid Blyton - now I have to confess that this may not have been my all time favourite Enid Blyton book but I just had to include this author. The author's work has come in for criticism in later years but I am convinced that Enid Blyton's writing sparked off my lifelong love of readingThis book is the only one that I still have in my possession possibly because it's a hardback. It relates the adventures of a rather mischievous rabbit. I'm still not sure why nearly all the other animals in this are also all called 'Brer' whether they be fox, bear, wolf or rabbit!
2) 'What Katy Did' - Susan Coolidge - this book was given to me by a dear family friend when I was nine. I spent the best part of six months in hospital at this time and then another three months or so recuperating at home, before I was able to go back to school and normal life. I can vividly remember reading about what Katy did and if you read it too you will remember that a twelve year old Katy met with an accident, which left her confined to bed for some considerable time. So I felt that I had something in common with Katy and loved this book and its sequels too. The book had just the one illustration which you can see above. The colouring was my art work. I think and hope that it was a one off. No way to treat a book!
3) 'Miscellany One' & 'Miscellany Two' - Dylan Thomas - an inscription inside these books reminds me that these books were my first ever school prize. We had previously studied 'Under Milk Wood' at school listening to Richard Burton's incomparable recording, which influenced my choice of prize. The miscellanies include poems, stories and broadcasts by this Welsh wordsmith. Some of the poems especially 'Poem in October' and 'Fern Hill' are still amongst my favourite poems and the boyhood reflection of 'Memories Of Christmas' usually gets an annual seasonal outing. I know that this selection is two books but I thought that it would be legitimate.


4) 'Selected Poems' - TS Eliot - this was one of our set texts for 'A' level English Literature and was my first introduction to this poet. I can still quote fragments of some of these poems more than 40 years later. Above you can see a page from my copy of this book. We were told by our teacher that we would be able to keep this book at the end of the course and he encouraged us to write notes in pencil as we worked our way through this book. I had never written in the main body of any book, before or since so such scribbles seemed deliciously wicked. It is such a strange sensation looking back on my notes written as a 17/18 year old but I'm so glad that I kept this book and so grateful that I had two brilliant teachers to take me through the course. Again a book that I pull out of my bookshelf several times a year to revisit some favourite poems.
5) 'The Chambers Dictionary' - I left home for university with my very first dictionary which was a gift from my parents. Before that I had always shared a dictionary with my brothers and sister so it was rather special to have my own. Somewhere along the years this copy was replaced with a more up to date edition when I got to the age of 40, again a gift from my parents. It will be possibly soon be time for a new edition to catch up with many of the new words that have been introduced into the English Language since. My Chambers has seen me through many years of reading, writing, playing Scrabble and tackling crosswords and is absolutely indispensable.
6) 'The Lord Of The Rings' - JRR Tolkein - this stays in my mind as I first read this as a student. Finally I was able to read late into the night without any nagging reminders from my mother to turn the light off and get some sleep. I burned the midnight oil and then some more in the reading of this and remember the sheer excitement of the sense of freedom this bought with it.
7) 'The Prophet' - Kahil Gibran - another memento of student days which has remained on my bookshelf ever since. Why this book by poet, philosopher and artist Kahil Gibran is so well loved is described far better than I can here.
8) 'The Mersey Sound' - Adrian Henri, Roger McGough and Brian Patten - I bought this book after attending a poetry recital by this trio of poets in my first year as a student. This was poetry of my age and time with references to the here and now - so far removed from Byron, Keats,Tennyson et al. It was a complete contrast to any poetry I had come across before. Little did I know that it was to become the best selling poetry anthology of all time and that I was to go on to live and work just outside Liverpool.
9) 'Running To Paradise' - Poems by WB Yeats - another student purchase bought about by my acquaintance of this Irish poet through A level English Literature. This collection of poems includes some poems that bewildered me and some that entranced and still do. The latter category include 'The Song of Wandering Aengus, 'The Lake Isle of Inisfree' and 'He Wishes For the Cloths of Heaven' which goes as follows :

"Had I the heaven's embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half -light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet :
But I, being poor, have only my dreams ;
I have spread my dreams under your feet ;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams."

10) 'Once Upon A Time' - The Fairy Tale World of Arthur Rackham' - introduced by Margery Darell - student days were well behind me, when I bought this book back in the days when I regularly bought books from a book club. It contains some classic fairy tales, 'Alice's Adventures in Wonderland' as well as 'Aesops Fables'. I think that the main attraction though was the inclusion of Charles Dickens's 'A Christmas Carol' which I reread every festive season. That and the exquisite black and white as well as colour illustrations by Arthur Rackham.

Numbers 3, 9 and 10 are out of print but second hand copies can still be found.

So that's the first half of my top twenty which I've thoroughly enjoyed compiling. I think that I will need a breather though before selecting the second batch so will return with that in a few days. You will be able to see what other bloggers have chosen over at Veg Plotting. Make sure that you have pen and paper in hand when you visit!

20 comments:

  1. I wonder how many people found a love of reading by starting off on Enid Blyton. I was one of them, The Mystery series were my favourites.

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    1. I don't think that there were any Enid Blyton books that I did not enjoy Jo. I think she must have been responsible for many a lifetime love of reading,

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  2. I nearly included What Katy Did on my list but then forgot, how annoying. I also considered T S Elliott. An interesting list as I havent heard of some and I do enjoy discovering some new authors. My Enid Blyton choice would have been the Mallory Towers series - I longed to go to boarding school as it sounded so exciting but according to the boarders at the school I went to it wasnt!

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    1. A great way of discovering some common ground Helen but also of picking up some suggestions too. I was torn between 'What Katy Did' and 'Little Women', both of which I read at the same age. I also wanted to go to Malory Towers too as well as St Clares before discovering 'The Chalet School' series. Somehow a school in Switzerland seemed more attractive :)

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  3. Love that you've got a dictionary in your list, it would be in mine too.

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    1. An absolute essential though I sometimes wish books could emulate 'Kindles' when I come across new words :)

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  4. I love your list. I bet Enid Blyton got many of us reading. My favourite was The Faraway Tree. Did you read Anne of Green Gables? That would have to be on my childhood list and Dodie Smith's I Capture The Castle and then as a teenager: Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre and Wordsworth's The Prelude. It is difficult isn't it because the more you think about it the more you remember ones you can't leave off your list.

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    1. I missed out on ' the Faraway Tree' Chloris but did catch up on it as an adult. Oh yes I loved 'Anne Of Green Gables' too and the other titles you mention too. It is a hard exercise but the fact that I still still have all the above books in my possession helped me to decide on my favourites :)

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  5. Hi Anna - I have pondering this a lot since I read Helen (PG)'s list last week and know it would be a really difficult task but also that there would be several cases of 'anything by...' . I am pleased to see your poetry (and I might email you the same page in my TS Eliot!) and dictionary and children's books too, and for me there would have to be a lot of non-fiction as well. Different books make an impact at different stages of our lives, so I think this kind of list is inevitably a reflection of that - and will also stimulate rereading of favourites, which is definitely a good thing :) Thanks Anna

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    1. A challenging but most enjoyable exercise Cathy which bought back many happy memories and that was only part 1! Would love to see the same page in your TS Eliot.

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  6. I love my Chambers dictionary too, and despite a more modern alternative I still go back to the Chambers in the end! I have also got a Chambers thesaurus, ordered alphabetically, which was so useful when I started translations! I love this idea of choosing 20 favourite books... you've got me thinking now! look forward to the second instalment!

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    1. Interesting to read that you are a Chambers fan Cathy and that you prefer it over your modern alternative. Now the thesaurus sounds tempting - my old Roget's thesaurus is on the point of no return. I will look out for one next time I'm in a bookshop.

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  7. Enid Blyton - I remember crying because the Famous Five weren't real and I knew I'd never get to meet them, such was her power over me at one point. What Katy Did was a real favourite and I still remember the saintly Helen's lesson of people having a rough handle or a smooth handle to grasp and trying to find the smooth handle. Perhaps people should discuss their favourite books more often - it seems we're all more connected that we realise.

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    1. Thanks for your comment Helen. Yes Helen was rather too saintly at times although I think the character did not annoy the nine year old me as much as she would annoy the me of now :) I think that it's great to have these discussions - as you say there's a lot we share in childhood and beyond. Also a great topic when there's not so much going on in the garden to relate.

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  8. I have few overlaps with you - but agree Enid Blyton's importance is under-said. I find it hard to see what's wrong with her writing. Maybe critics have too much subsumed story-telling to grammar. But stories are the point. There is racism there, definitely. But that was of the time. And for this time too, for that matter. We can't pretend otherwise. Where it occurs in the books it's a good opportunity to talk with children about how we perceive people who seem to be different from us. And this, in her books, includes people with disabilities - who get a pretty rough ride under her pen.
    Your picture of Katy makes me gulp. It is, presumably, the moment before she falls from the swing and breaks her back. I too liked the Katy stories but they have left me with a degree of feeling inferior. The books praise acceptance of suffering (is it cousin Helen who's the permanent invalid?). And they show how you can organise a household from your bed. I am unwell a lot and always complain. What's more, my house is a tip. The art of inspiring people to sweep and hoover eludes me. Maybe because I've never grasped its joys myself.

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    1. Thanks for your perceptive comments Esther. Yes Enid's writing does reflect the time that she was writing in and also her upbringing but then surely that applies to all authors. She had such an imagination though which I think reached out to and embraced children and she certainly turned me into an avid reader as a child.

      Yes that illustration does link to the moment before Katy's accident although I'm not sure I realised it when I was colouring it in. I think that the nine year old me probably was unaware of some of the issues that Cousin Helen's philosophy raises. I now wonder if the book was inspired by a real life situation. Will have to investigate.

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  9. I love that you were able to while away the hours of confinement by reading about Katy. She must have been such a comfort and killer of boredom for you. Unfortunately I was not an avid reader growing up and my literary limitations pain me. Like you I do most of my reading in the winter since the sunshine is always luring me to the garden. Great post.

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  10. Thanks for your comment Grace. I was indeed extremely bored during that period especially as I did not feel particularly ill so reading did help to fill in an enforced idleness. We all have literary limitations - the more you read the more you realise how much you will never get round to reading. Don't be so hard on yourself :)

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  11. 20 treasures picked from the shelves that surround me ... Alice and Heidi and Little Women and Now We are Six ... I too have coloured in those wonderful line drawings, but I used the coloured pencils my civil engineer father once used as a draughtsman with very sharp fine points!

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  12. Excellent choices Anna - for some strange reason I read What Katy Did Next first, not realising the trauma in the first book. Cousin Helen's rough and smooth handles was a life lesson for me - I so wish some people would apply it on Twitter, they'd get much further with their ideas if they did.

    I was a huge fan of Enid Blyton. Yes, her books are flawed (as many authors' books are), but there's no taking away how much she inspired a love of reading in so many children.

    I toyed with TS Elliot, but would have to choose one of his short poems (Preludes 1), over a complete book. I can still remember reading that aloud in English at school in my first year and how strong a picture and atmosphere was conjured up in my mind at the time. It happens every time I read it.

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All your comments are much appreciated and treasured. I wil try to reply to everyone who leaves a comment, but it may take me a few days, especially when I start spending more time in the garden and at the lottie. I know that you will understand :) I am sure that I will also visit your blog if I have not already done so. If you have any
specific questions I will either reply to them here or you can email me at : thegreentapestry@gmail.com

Namasté

- Anna.