10 random books to tell us about yourself

I happened to stumble across one of my old blog posts the other day, while searching for something else, and I thought it would be fun to resurrect a meme I made up in 2010. I love the idea of getting to know people by looking at their bookshelves – and this meme was a microcosm of that, picking 10 books to tell about a reader.

Here are the rules I set out last time…

1.) Go to your bookshelves…
2.) Close your eyes. If you’re feeling really committed, blindfold yourself.
3.) Select ten books at random. Use more than one bookcase, if you have them, or piles by the bed, or… basically, wherever you keep books.
4.) Use these books to tell us about yourself – where and when you got them, who got them for you, what the book says about you, etc. etc…..
5.) Have fun! Be imaginative. Doesn’t matter if you’ve read them or not – be creative. It might not seem easy to start off with, and the links might be a little tenuous, but I think this is a fun way to do this sort of meme.
6.) Feel free to cheat a bit, if you need to…

I decided to do it a bit differently this time – in order to include all the books I have in Somerset, I used my LibraryThing catalogue and a random number generator to come up with ten of my books – here they are, in the order they came out.

Please do have a go at this meme! I won’t tag anybody this time – but I’d love to see which ten books other people come up with. You can write much less or much more than I have – basically, make this meme fit whatever you’d like to do.

Good Wives

1. Good Wives? by Margaret Forster

I haven’t read this, or anything by Forster, but this book is testament to my willingness to stock my shelves with recommendations that I hear about from dovegreybooks, the Yahoo Group I’ve been in since I was 18, and which has helped shape my literary taste so much.

The Aloe

2. The Aloe by Katherine Mansfield

This is working out roughly chronologically so far, as I first discovered Mansfield while attending lecture days run by Oxford University, when I was about 17 or 18. Most of the people there were retired or heading that way; I was an eager young man who knew very little about literature, had never heard of Mansfield, and was struck by the astonishing writing I’d stumbled upon. I have read this one, though rather later.

Lettice delmer

3. Lettice Delmer by Susan Miles

Oh, Persephone Books! How you have also shaped me as a reader. I found out about them through their reprint of Richmal Crompton – and they led me to dovegreybooks. I can’t imagine a time when I shan’t have my Persephone books on proud display – and I have read this verse novel, which I really liked.

About Alice cover

4. About Alice by Calvin Trillin

I’m trying to use these selections to tell you a bit about myself, where relevant, and About Alice is testament to my outsider’s fascination with grief. It is such a fundamental human emotion but, having never lost anybody close to me, it is one I don’t really understand. I found Trillin’s beautiful book about his late wife remarkable.

A Genius for Living

5. A Genius for Living by Janet Byrne

This is a biography of Frieda Lawrence (D.H. Lawrence’s wife) that turned up in my LibraryThing, though I have an inkling that I’ve actually sent it, unread, to a charity shop… which (super tangentially!) can be the link to my first sort-of job, which was volunteering for Oxfam. I sorted and priced clothes, and was grateful not to have to do anything with books – because throwing them away was too horrible a thought.

Country Housewife's Book

6. The Country Housewife’s Book by Lucy H Yates

I haven’t read this Persephone Book yet – indeed, it’s more of a dip-in then I read-all-the-way-through. So I’m going to use this pick to tell you about my irrational loathing of authors who use their middle initial. Actually, it’s not quite irrational. It’s because every American literary critic seems to do it, and I did NOT have that sort of wordcount to spare in my doctoral thesis. Scarred, that’s what I am.


7. Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne

I’m delighted this one came up! A.A. Milne was my first love, in developing my own taste for obscure and out of print literature, and an abiding one. Winnie the Pooh isn’t obscure, of course, so this can also stand for my love of woodland, which I’ve had all my life. And in about 2003 I was lucky enough to go to the Hundred Acre Wood (which, psst, is not really 100 acres).

When I was Otherwise

8. When I Was Otherwise by Stephen Benatar

I don’t recall where I bought many of the books on this list – but this one I do (I think!). It was one of the books I picked up at Barter Books in Alnwick, in 2012, though I haven’t read it yet. That trip was a weird time. I was giving a conference paper at Newcastle University, and then travelling down to Worcester to go to my best friend’s wedding. It was also a time that I was terrified, waiting for an examination to rule out cancer (which was very much ruled out!) that was taking ages to arrive. So the little haul of books comes with a real medley of memories.

Making Love

9. Making Love by Jean Toussaint

I haven’t read this, and I can’t remember quite where I bought it, but it is part of my usually-failing attempt to find books I like translated from French. I’ve enjoyed a handful (including, yes Peter, Colette) but there’s still something of a barrier there. Maybe one to take when I go to France this summer? As for a fact about myself associated with this book – France is my most-visited country by far, outside of the UK: I’ve been there five times. My French is still beyond abysmal.

One Pair of Hands

10. One Pair of Hands by Monica Dickens

Lovely to finish with a hilarious memoir, on my list of 50 Books You Must Read But May Not Have Heard About. I don’t remember where I picked this up, but it was one of the few recreational books I managed to read during my (intense!) undergraduate English Literature degree. And, well, I love baking – but this book reinforces that I tend towards the tried-and-tested when it comes to cooking. Read this and you’ll want to do the same…

Over to you! Put a link in the comments if you do (a version of) this meme yourself.

23 thoughts on “10 random books to tell us about yourself

  • May 29, 2017 at 8:55 am

    Brilliant idea. I may do this – though I am behind in reviews and already have something scheduled for later this week, but I am going to have a go at this.

    Only read one of your list; the Monica Dickens.

  • May 29, 2017 at 10:14 am

    Amazed how many of these are still unread… although that might happen to me too, if I pick them up at random. A very interesting collection! I’m doing something similar with my most obscure series, although there it’s a deliberate choice.

  • May 29, 2017 at 10:53 am

    Now I’ve finally caught up with my reviews, I might well try this for early next month. Fun!

  • May 29, 2017 at 11:34 am

    I remember this one – love it. I have the Calvin Trillin book – got it recently and must read soon. I’ll have a go at this meme soon! Might use a random number generator on my LIbrarything catalogue and see what comes up!

  • May 29, 2017 at 12:08 pm

    What a great idea for a blog post! I love the randomness but also the stories our books tell labout us. And isn’t it lovely how books, like firewood, “warm us” not just twice but thrice. In the buying, the reading and the sharing.

    I’d love to do this exercise but I can’t share as I don’t have a blog. Perhaps I’ll do a FB post about it. I’ll certainly share your post, Simon. But if anyone wants a guest post (from a book lover who’s also an author), do get in touch.

  • May 29, 2017 at 1:15 pm

    Love the explanation of your hatred of middle initials! May have a go at it myself, using your LibraryThing idea, though it reminds me that I need to lock myself up for a week to update my catalogue.

    Did you know that in the Scots version of Winnie the Pooh, Piglet is called Wee Grumphy?

  • May 29, 2017 at 6:22 pm

    I’ve just posted my random ten books here. It’s strange what books get thrown up by such a process.

  • May 29, 2017 at 7:45 pm

    What a great idea – and what a lovely selection of books! I’m definitely tempted to try this myself.

  • May 29, 2017 at 8:19 pm

    What a fun meme! I may have to have a go although I’m not sure whether I could be entirely certain if I’d read any book I pick at random off the shelves… :)

  • May 29, 2017 at 9:30 pm

    What a lovely idea – I enjoyed reading about the connections between your books and your life.

  • May 29, 2017 at 9:37 pm

    I would love to play, but we moved in October, and my books are still packed (drat it!). Good idea!

  • May 29, 2017 at 10:06 pm

    Totally stealing this. I’ve only read One Pair of Hands also, though of course I’ve read bits and pieces of Winnie the Pooh — I don’t think I’ve ever actually read the whole thing completely through.

  • May 31, 2017 at 4:50 pm

    I had a go through Library Thing (which hasn’t been updated for a few years) and a random generator which produced:
    Churchill – a Life – by Martin Gilbert (the single volume rather than teh 3 volumes + extras)
    Gospel of St John – by J K Barrett (a commentary on the Greek Text by a Durham professor)
    Practice your French – Osborne books (in an endeavour to encourage you & Colin, Simon)
    To me personally – Wilf Wilkinson (drawn from radio 4 Thought for Today)
    5 go to Smugglers Top – Enid Blyton (a classic of its kind)
    Sherlock Holmes – the complete novels and short stories (purchased 40+ years ago- and read)
    Ethics in a Permissive Society – William Barclay (theologian on the Sermon on the Mount)
    Kate & Emma – Monica Dickens (acquired after listening a radio play of one of her books)
    You English Words – John Moore (a Tewkesbury man looking at language)
    Using the Bible in Drama – for family services and assemblies
    Apart from the Dickens and Wilkinson all read or consuted!
    Our Vicar

  • May 31, 2017 at 6:51 pm

    You mention, in talking about “One Pair of Hands,” that you like to bake.
    Have you tried reading Mimi Sheraton or Peg Bracken?

  • June 1, 2017 at 1:46 pm

    Just arriving. Must do this…. but racing out the door shortly.

  • June 1, 2017 at 8:14 pm

    Okay…. I went to my own library catalogue spreadsheet, which has separate sheets for each category, and randomly clicked on one from 10 different categories. I was surprised and delighted with some, and just surprised with others. Cheated only once.

    Copied and reformatted from spreadsheet: Title, Author, Year Pubbed, Where I bought it, when I bought it.

    The View from Castle Rock, Alice Munro, 2006, St Nicholas Church Bazaar, 2012
    Upstairs Downstairs, John Hawkesworth, 1972, Toronto bookstore, 1973
    Helen, Georgette Heyer, 1928, Goodwill Shop, Toronto,
    Fast Women, Jennifer Crusie, 2001, Burndale Library, New Jersey, 2003
    Trixie Belden and the Secret of the Mansion, Julie Campbell, 1948,
    Mina Laury, Charlotte, Brontë, 1838
    Selected Journals of Lucy Maud Montgomery;Vol IV, 1929-1935, Mary, Rubio, ed, 1998, Indigo, on line, 2009
    Henrietta Sees it Through, Joyce, Dennys, 1986, Indigo online, 2011
    If Walls Could Talk, Lucy Worsley, , 2011, Book Outlet (ex Book Closeouts), 2013
    Language in Her Eye; Writing and Gender; views by Canadian Women Writing in English, Libby Scheier, ed, 1990, 1990s

    Only 2 unread: The View from Castle Rock and Mina Laury

    That was fun.

  • June 2, 2017 at 8:23 pm

    My random ten (closed eyes and grabbed at book shelves) …

    Climbing Days, Dan Richard
    Long Live Great Bardfield, Tirzah Garwood
    At the Source: A Writer’s Year, Gillian Clarke
    The Forest Unseen, David George Haskell
    A Talent to Annoy, Nancy Mitford
    The Life and Adventures of William Cobbett, Richard Ingrams
    Beowulf: A Verse Translation, Seamus Heaney
    Evelyn Dunbar: War and Country, Gill Clark
    The Modern Peasant, Jojo Tulloh
    The Makioka Sisters, Junichiro Tanizaki

    Thanks for the meme, that was fun!

  • June 5, 2017 at 3:46 pm

    Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America, Firoozeh Dumas
    On my TBR list. This is part of my 6-month commitment to read only non-white authors, which has turned into a year because I’ve enjoyed it so much! Previously, the books I’d read were largely British or American and my favorite period was 1910 to 1959, as my main interest was the lead-up, experience, and aftermath of the world wars. While I have still read a few white authors here and there, I’ve otherwise been reading well out of my norm and personal experience, mostly fiction. I am amazed at what a shift it as caused in my perspective. I recommend it!

    The Semi-Attached Couple and the Semi-Detached House, Emily Eden
    I read this pair of novels when I was firmly in my Virago period. I remember loving it and that it was witty and it fed the need I had then to read about English class issues. I actually liked them better than Jane Austen’s novels because they weren’t quite as gentle. Eden’s satire is a bit sharper, and more cynical.

    Dead Man’s Folly, Agatha Christie
    In high school, I read every Christie I could get my hands on. In those days, I read voraciously and with little in the way of a critical eye. I read whatever was available and when I found an author I liked, I read all of their work and then read any author of the same type, which lead me in this case to Dorothy Sayers and Ngaio Marsh. I miss those years, when I had so much time to read and I wasn’t worried about whether I was wasting my time with a book or not, but rather just enjoying the experience. Now, in my 50’s, I’m more concerned with how many books I’d have to read per month in order to get through my whole TBR list before I die! A daunting prospect and, yes, morbid.

    Tuck Everlasting, Natalie Babbitt
    Oh, I loved this book as a kid. A slender volume but wonderful for introducing younger readers to the idea immortality and exploring whether that’s a good or bad idea. I had the pleasure of re-reading it when I read it to my son some years ago. While it didn’t hold up quite as well for me as an adult, it did result in a lot of interesting discussion with my son.

    The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt
    I should really take this off of my TBR list because I know I’m never going to read it. At my age, a book of 700+ pages is going to have to be astoundingly good for me to take it on and as friends have read it, I’ve heard things that make me less and less interested in reading it. In fact, I should probably do a vigorous cull of my TBR list, because I often add things on whim. I will say that I enjoyed her book, The Secret History, when it came out.

    A Little History of the World, E. H. Gombrich
    I admit that I wouldn’t have read this on my own, but I am homeschooling my son and a friend gave me this on CD, so we listened to it in the car. And then we listened to it again, at my son’s request. As with any history book, especially one that purports to be a history of the world, there is controversy over whether he gets the details right, and whether it’s skewed to the Western world (which of course it is, written as it was in Germany in 1935, although updated in the 1990s). But I enjoyed it immensely, even though its target audience is kids. It’s lively and engaging and touches on most of the great turning points in history. There was a lot of stuff I didn’t know and it resulted in a lot of good conversation.

    How It All Began, Penelope Lively
    Lively is one of my favorite authors. The first book of hers that I read was Oleander, Jacaranda: A Childhood Perceived, and I was hooked. Her ability to write about the mutability of memory is amazing. As in my 20s, I found every book of hers I could and I own most of them. I must say that How It All Began is not one of my favorites, but it’s still better than a lot of books.

    Beautiful Shadow: A Life of Patricia Highsmith, Andrew Wilson
    I have a think about Highsmith. I love her books and she was as fascinating as her flawed fictional characters.

    Civil to Strangers and Other Writings, Barbara Pym
    I own all of her books, including a recipe book written by her sister Hilary. I very much doubt that I have to defend my love of Pym to this audience!

    The Gate, Sōseki Natsume
    I’ve been trying to read this since December. It’s only 256 pages, but I just can’t keep my interest in it, despite my good intentions. It’s slow and I have no sympathy with the characters so far. I may have to give up, but not just yet. Why? Because it was a gift from someone who keeps asking me about it, and because it fits in with my current reading goal. One reader who gave it 4 out of 5 stars said, “No one makes dullness stimulating like the Japanese. As if the ultimate in refinement is to find transcendent significance in the utterly blank.” I fear this is why I may never finish the book. I have the same resistance, irritation, and boredom that I do every time I try to read Virginia Woolf.

  • June 5, 2017 at 3:52 pm

    I forgot to say that that was fun! I was up 2 hours before anyone else and it was an indulgence to drink my coffee while I dipped into my Goodreads lists and revisited books I hadn’t thought of in a while. While it doesn’t begin to cover four decades of reading, it’s an interesting glimpse. Thanks for suggesting it. And I noticed a typo. While I have frequently had a “think” about Patricia Highsmith, I meant to say “thing.”

    • June 15, 2017 at 11:40 pm

      Thanks so much for participating! I’ll go over and have a look soon.


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