Books in My Life

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 HistoryThe 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 DiscoveryThe 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.


69 thoughts on “Books in My Life

  1. OMum22 August 7, 2012 / 12:09 am

    My grandmother bought me a copy of A Child’s Garden of Verses. It really is a lovely book. I still have it. Great idea for a blog post by the way, I shall have to give it a go myself.

    • Bridget August 7, 2012 / 1:49 pm

      Do! It’s tough, and now I’ve just remembered one or two others. Perhaps a list of ten would be enough! 🙂

  2. tarapatterson August 7, 2012 / 12:22 am

    “A Child’s Garden of Verses” I grew up with this book! What a treasure 🙂

  3. Mikalee Byerman August 7, 2012 / 12:27 am

    What an amazing activity! I know the book “A Wrinkle in Time” would be on my list…and “Hop on Pop” as a book I shared with my children. Quirky I know…but I’m convinced it is responsible for their passion for reading, given the sheer number of times we read that together! 🙂

  4. solidgoldcreativity August 7, 2012 / 12:34 am

    Oh, A Child’s Garden of Verses is one of my favourites too. Our teacher read it to us in first class when I was 5. I still remember the wind, and the rainy day, and the boys building a boat upon the stairs. I’m sorry to say I’ve never read A Fatal Shore. But just this morning in Australia we’ve heard that Robert Hughes, the author, has died.

    Thanks for a stimulating post!

    • Bridget August 7, 2012 / 1:47 pm

      Oh! Sorry to hear about Robert Hughes – a truly great writer.

  5. Bette A. Stevens August 7, 2012 / 12:56 am

    Nice BLOG. Hope you’ll check mine out and “like/follow/comment” at
    MY (Bette A. Stevens) Blog

    My Facebook Fan Page

    I love “A Garden of Verses.” MY SHADOW is one of my favorites and I used it in the classroom when I was teaching. Now, I’m retired and writing books of my own. Published my first two children’s books this year.

  6. Streetlight Reader August 7, 2012 / 1:48 am

    I honestly have to say Thank You to you because you made me remember Each Peach Pear Plum! I was actually thinking about this book a few days ago and I was trying so hard to remember the name. I remembered the cover and the illustrations and I knew it was one of my favourite books to read as a child, but for the life of me I couldn’t remember the name! So Thank you so much! Now I’ve got to ask my grandparents if they still have this book because I want to read it again! I don’t think I’ve read the other books on your list, but I would love to check them out some time!

    • Bridget August 7, 2012 / 9:40 am

      I’m so pleased I have helped! Some others to look for are Peepo! and The Jolly Postman. Happy reading.

      • Streetlight Reader August 8, 2012 / 4:19 am

        I read The Jolly Postman for my Children’s Literature class in university! When I was small I also enjoyed the Postman Pat books too 🙂 And of course the cartoon!

  7. pezcita August 7, 2012 / 1:55 am

    This post brings back so many memories. I too remember reading and loving “A Child’s Garden of Verses” growing up. Other favorite book friends include Little House in the Big Woods, A Christmas Carol, Toons for Our Times, Mason-Dixon Knitting, and Don Quixote. (In that last case, I mean the 1943 illustrated edition at my college library. It had charming woodblock print caricatures and absolutely no footnotes.)

  8. Garrie Madison Stoutimore August 7, 2012 / 2:00 am

    How your post brought back memories of my father reading me “The Lamplighter” from A Child’s Garden of Verses. I read its over and over to my children, and someday will read it to theirs.

    • Bridget August 7, 2012 / 9:37 am

      Thankyou for your lovely comment. Your grandchildren are very lucky.

    • Bridget August 7, 2012 / 9:36 am

      Thanks so much. I will definitely have a read of your blog.

  9. myliteraryleanings August 7, 2012 / 2:46 am

    I have never read any of these. Maybe I should. Thanks for sharing.

  10. Mona Lisa August 7, 2012 / 2:48 am

    I really appreciate your introduction into the books you have included in your blog – although I don’t always make it a point to keep up with my reading, blogs such as your own help stimulate and motivate my interest in picking up a new novel.

    Excellent blog, I really enjoyed your insight. Keep up the good work. It is hard to find interesting blogs such as your own, so I also enjoy reading an informative and entertaining blog such as your own. Please visit for information and disease prevention and healthy food and drink recipes.

  11. Naomi August 7, 2012 / 3:28 am

    Interesting choice of books. I’ve read A Child’s Garden of Verses, but not the others. The Crossroads sounds like something that would appeal to me, and my kids would have fun with Each Peach Pear Plum. Thanks for the recommendations!

    • Bridget August 7, 2012 / 9:58 am

      You’re welcome. I hope you enjoy them!

  12. At Home With God August 7, 2012 / 3:47 am

    I like how you not only told us the books that shaped you, but what they were about and what category they fall under. The Fatal Shore sounds quite interesting to me. I love history and know little to nothing about Australia. I think I’ll add it to my list.

    • Bridget August 7, 2012 / 9:44 am

      Thankyou. I’m glad you enjoyed it. Happy reading.

  13. samokan August 7, 2012 / 3:55 am

    I remember having books about different bible stories but I think my favorite was about Greek Mythologies : Cupid and Psyche. Childrens books were expensive and not easily accessible in my hometown.

  14. Along Comes Mary August 7, 2012 / 5:12 am

    Congrats on Freshly Pressed! Lovely post, & amazed to find out theres a book called “Each Peach Plum Pear”, 1 of my favorite songs is by Joanna Newsom titled Peach Plum Pear, now I possibly know her inspriration;)

  15. meditatingmummy August 7, 2012 / 6:22 am

    Congratulations on being freshly pressed. Love your blog. I can still remember getting my first copy of R.L. Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses. I can’t seem to find it in the US and would dearly love to give my children a copy. Will do another search. Aside from reading Kidnapped and Treasure Island, and really enjoying the stories, I couldn’t believe how his poetry captured my own escape into the world of Enid Blyton and make believe. I don’t know Robert Hughes very well, but I do have one book. I lived in Australia from age 17-26 and still call it home. I love that you have mentioned an Australian author 🙂

    • Bridget August 7, 2012 / 9:48 am

      Thankyou so much. There are many more books which could have made this list. Maybe I’ll choose some new categories and make another blog! One day.

  16. Jules_GastroRD August 7, 2012 / 6:31 am

    Your post certainly brought back memories – I also had a copy of A Child’s Garden of Verses and I loved it – the verses and the illustrations and I would read it regularly, I still have my copy but it now languishes somewhere in the attic. Thanks for sharing.

    • Bridget August 7, 2012 / 9:48 am

      Thanks. I’m overwhelmed with everyone’s lovely comments!

  17. Sarah Harris August 7, 2012 / 7:26 am

    Loved Robert Lewis Stevenson and was just talking to a friend about our love of Hans Christian Anderson today!

  18. Karen August 7, 2012 / 8:58 am

    Each peach pear plum, I spy Tom Thumb! Loved that book 🙂

    • Bridget August 7, 2012 / 9:51 am

      Me too! The illustrations are so detailed and contain all kinds of hidden treasures.

  19. RiverSeth August 7, 2012 / 11:14 am

    I am not ashamed to say that I still own a copy of Each Peach Pear Plum. It is a good book for children- so im planning on keeping it forever!

    • Bridget August 7, 2012 / 11:26 am

      Pleased to hear it – parting with a book is so difficult for me; I have piles of them everywhere.:)

    • Bridget August 7, 2012 / 11:44 am

      Glad to hear it. It’s a lovely book, with new surprises at each read.

  20. carolinescutt August 7, 2012 / 11:48 am

    I recently purchased a bookstore (very recently, as in last week) and I am reading all things book-related at the moment. When I saw this post I wasn’t surprised to find Children’s Garden of Verse on your list but when I saw Iain Banks I smiled. His work was recommended to me when I was traveling in Scotland years ago. I must reread The Wasp Factory — and add his titles to our offerings!


    • Bridget August 7, 2012 / 12:26 pm

      Good luck in your bookshop. I had such fun in Blackthorn Books during my employment there.

  21. afterthekidsleave August 7, 2012 / 12:00 pm

    Is it odd that the only book I’ve read on your list is Each Peach? : ) I used to read it to my children many years ago; when grandchildren start showing up, I look forward to reading it to them as well. I’d also include in the Read Aloud category: pretty much any book written by Robert Munsch.
    My own Childhood Memory book choice would be Now We Are Six. I can still remember the thrill of receiving it and realising I could actually read it, all by myself!
    I’ll keep an eye out for the Iain Banks and Ammaniti, they both look very intriguing.
    Thank you for sharing.

    • Bridget August 7, 2012 / 12:29 pm

      I don’t think that’s at all odd. There are so many books I could have included, but settled on these in the end. Enjoy reading!

  22. Anna August 7, 2012 / 1:57 pm

    A shout out for Leicester! Woo!

    I always meant to read The Wasp Factory, but never quite got round to it. I really must endeavour to pick up a copy at some point… and many congratulations on being FP’d 😀

    • Bridget August 7, 2012 / 2:06 pm

      Thankyou, Anna. Love Leicester. Is Blackthorn still there? I fear the worst.

      • Anna August 7, 2012 / 2:08 pm

        I’m really intruiged to find out if it is still there, the next time I’m down I shall have to have a look. I sincerely hope it is, it sounds wonderful!

      • Bridget August 7, 2012 / 2:40 pm

        It really was and hope still is. The large chains have been killing off the independents for years now unfortunately.

  23. Pat August 7, 2012 / 2:18 pm

    I’d like to add A.A.Milne’s Now we are Six to this list.
    Who could forget/resist Sneezles and Nanny letting Alexander Beetle out?

  24. Erin's DC Kitchen August 7, 2012 / 3:58 pm

    Oh how I love the illustration of a Child’s Garden of Verses, my mom has a very old copy of it from her childhood and I never tire of paging through it. My favorite childhood book would probably be Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey.

  25. poemattic August 7, 2012 / 4:00 pm

    I enjoyed reading your blog. Us book lovers have so much in common. I have been looking in the attic for books read by my children to give to my grandson. Now that he is entering Kindergarten I have decided that I will write him once a week to ask him about what he’s reading and send him a book that his father or auntie loved when they were his age. There’s no doubt in my mind that books have a great influence in our lives. Thanks for sharing.

    • Bridget August 7, 2012 / 7:05 pm

      That’s a lovely idea!

  26. mplsgossipgirl August 7, 2012 / 4:15 pm

    Thanks for sharing! I really want to read The Wasp Factory now.

  27. andy August 7, 2012 / 5:03 pm

    Thank you for sharing ,i like nice post

  28. Fiona @ lifelyricslemoncake August 7, 2012 / 5:28 pm

    Such a great idea. I wonder if I could do it. I’m having a reading slump at the moment. I really love the idea of a restaurant called the Bread and Roses and a bookshop all in the one building. Definitely my kind of thing.
    Also, I recently found a book by the Ahlbergs The Jolly Postman (Or Other People’s Letters) including lots of letters that you could open and enjoy. Here’s a video of Allan Ahlberg talking about it.,,9780670886241,00.html

    Well done on being Freshly Pressed !

    • Bridget August 7, 2012 / 7:07 pm

      Yes, we have The Jolly Postman – isn’t it wonderful? Thankyou for the link!

  29. susielindau August 7, 2012 / 6:01 pm

    I loved reading “A Chlid’s Garden of Verses” to my children. This is such a great idea for a post. Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

  30. Valorie Grace Hallinan August 7, 2012 / 6:27 pm

    So glad to have discovered your blog. I can’t wait to read me. We seem to have similar interests. Especially love this book post.

  31. the_lunatic August 7, 2012 / 6:28 pm

    Fabulous list! Inspires me to make my own .. 🙂

  32. Lisa August 7, 2012 / 6:52 pm

    fascinating list

  33. literary imprint August 7, 2012 / 7:31 pm

    Too true! books for me definately are a soundtrack to life just as much as songs can be (if not more so). Loved your post. Am inspired now to read a few from the list! thanks!

  34. jensine August 7, 2012 / 10:10 pm

    very cool … for me as a kid it would have had to be: Narnia (the whole series), Pollyanna, Anne of Green Gable, What Katie did – and Astrid Lindgrin and Hans Christian Andersen books … all of them … as a teenager: had a passion for Sartre, loved Douglas Adams, had a fling with Vonnegut and read all of the Austen and Bronte sisters offerings, Harper Lee and Stephan Zweig too … as a twen I fell in love with Jonathan Coe, rekindled the flame for F. Scott Fitzgerald and Oscar Wilde discovered and fell hard for terry Pratchett and Colin Bateman … now in my thirties I still love them all but am discovering new authors all the time and find it hard to chose

  35. susan sheldon nolen August 7, 2012 / 10:15 pm

    A Child’s Garden of verses! My first set of poems to learn by heart! Thanks for an interesting read!

  36. kollshi17 August 8, 2012 / 2:44 am

    thank you

  37. Dan August 10, 2012 / 11:41 pm

    The structure of this post may not have been your idea, but you’ve pulled it off beautifully. Comes across as honest, sensitive and informative. A much more comprehensive version of the same thing would be interesting too- but mabye less suited to a single, succint post. Great work!

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