In recent years to mark World Book Day the BBC has aired a fortnight’s worth of daily shows called “My Life in Books” in which a variety of well-known personalities tell us about their five favourite books. These often include something unforgettable from their childhood, something that spurred them on to new beginnings or something they read to their own children.
I thought I’d have a go myself and found it a lot more difficult than I’d thought. Five books is very few (when you are as old as me) so I decided some categories would help me compile that definitive list. This is what I came up with….
A Childhood Memory – A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson. I had two copies: this lovely hardback edition with illustrations by Hilda Boswell; and a smaller edition with woodcut illustrations which was in black and white. Not so pretty, but easier to carry about. I loved the way the poet knew exactly what being a child was all about; that feeling of imprisonment when you are ill and confined to the boredom of bed; the thrill of bonfire night; the resentment when it’s still light in summer but you have to go to bed anyway. I think this is where I really learnt to find magic in the humdrum of everyday life and use my imagination to create my own little world to ecape into.
Reignition – The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks. I was in my mid twenties and had been far too busy to read a book for some time, when I came across this by accident. I was living in Leicester and one of my favourite haunts was a small building on the High Street which housed a fantastic restaurant called Bread and Roses in the basement, a radical bookshop called Blackthorn Books (and my future employer) at street level, and a busy meeting room upstairs where the anarchist group (and others) met. This book jumped out at me one day as I made my way through the bookshop for Akram’s famous felafels downstairs, so I bought it and have never looked back. Everyone I have subsequently recommended it to has loved it; it’s so unusual. I’ve since read several more of Banks’s novels, but not yet dived into any of his science-fiction which is published under the author name Iain M. Banks. Here’s Will Hill’s story.
One to Read Aloud – Each Peach Pear Plum by Janet and Allan Ahlberg. This was a gift to my daughter from her grandmother, my lovely mum. It’s a delightful rhyming I-Spy book which features many favourite characters from fairytales and nursery rhymes such as Tom Thumb, Mother Hubbard, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Robin Hood, Baby Bunting and more. The Ahlbergs wrote and illustrated many gorgeous children’s books, and were also regular customers in Blackthorn Books where I worked for a couple of years in the late eighties.
A Lesson in History – The Fatal Shore by Robert Hughes. I was born in Australia back in the days of the 10 shilling passage, but the family returned to England before my 2nd birthday so I have no memories of life Down Under.
I got a yearning to find out what and who had shaped my country of birth, and this is the book I settled down to read. It’s a hefty tome at 603 pages with another 44 pages of notes at the back, but is all-consuming and probably the most gut-wrenching, thought-provoking, shocking and horrific book I’ve ever read. It is a history of the transportation of convicts to Australia from 1787 to 1868.
“The very day we landed upon the fatal shore
The planters stood around us
Full twenty score or more
They ranked us up like horses
And sold us out of hand
They chained us up to pull the plough
Upon van Diemen’s Land”
A New Discovery – The Crossroads by Niccolo Ammaniti. I bought this at my local bookshop as part of one of those 3 for 2 deals, and it turned out to be an inspired choice. It’s very different to what I’d been reading around the time. The writing style is very young, fresh and modern. The story centres around a teenage boy struggling to hold together the life he shares with his criminal father and his associates. It is darkly comic, exposing the oafishness and violence in Italy’s underclass, and weaves together several sub-plots and sidetracks. I found it hugely enjoyable, though disturbing, and have picked up most of Ammaniti’s other books anytime I’ve spotted them. He writes mostly from the perspective of teenagers or young adults; coming of age stories with a twist.
This post was Freshly Pressed, for which I’d like to thank WordPress. I’d also like to say hello to everyone who visited my blog on the strength of that selection and say I hope I won’t disappoint. Keep on reading, I know I will! Click on Librarium for more books.