David blogs at Follow The Thread, and is (I think) the only person other than me who attended both the Bloggers Meet-Ups I organised a while ago! [EDIT: Oops, no, he wasn’t!]
Qu. 1.) Did you grow up in a book-loving household, and did your parents read to you? Pick a favourite book from your childhood, and tell me about it.
Frances: I did grow up in a book-loving household. A seriously book-loving family. My grandfather and his sister never said no when it came to a book and some of my best memories from childhood are of book shopping expeditions. All those possibilities! I was read to frequently by all members of my extended family but they did take to hiding my favorite book, The Lorax, because I cried every single time when we reached the end and the Lorax picked himself up by the seat of his pants and disappeared through the grey clouds.
David: I’ve always been around books and words, though I don’t think I’d say my household was more book-loving than the average. My father in particular has read books as long as I remember, but I wouldn’t describe him as a true bookworm – I’ve always been the most bookish person in my family. I was read to as a child: the Munch Bunch books were my mum’s main books of choice, and the Mr Men were my dad’s. Richard Scarry’s work was another childhood touchstone – I remember a book of 366 stories and poems, one for every day of the (leap) year.
My reading as a child took in myths and legends, books of obscure or humorous facts, fiction, poetry, and more. Given that, it’s hard to just choose just one book, but I’ve gone for Can You Get Warts from Touching Toads? by Peter Rowan. It’s a collection of answers to kids’ medical questions, such as whether eating bread crusts makes your hair curl, or whether it’s better to run about or fall asleep after Sunday lunch. I had great fun browsing this book, and the Quentin Blake illustrations only added to that (I can still remember one of the grandfather who claimed he could blow pipe smoke out of his ears).
Frances: Every Christmas, my family would listen to a recording of A Christmas Carol on Christmas Eve, and I just loved that. Got it into my head that I could read Dickens when I was much too young to appreciate but I persisted. No wonder that re-reading Dickens as an adult was a completely different experience than those childhood reads. :)
David: Terry Pratchett was my bridge between children’s and adult fiction. I first got into his work through the wonderful animated version of his novel Truckers; moving on to the Discworld books in my mid-teens was a natural progression. There are so many I could choose, but Wyrd Sisters is one of my favourites. The book great fun for Pratchett’s humorous riffs on Shakespeare (“When shall we three meet again?” “Well, I can do next Tuesday”). But it’s also an incisive exploration of one of his main themes as a writer – the ways we use stories to shape the world. For all Pratchett’s success, I think that aspect of his work is significantly underappreciated.
I also have to mention Wyrd Sisters because it was one of the texts I used in my A Level English Language coursework project, comparing the humour in three comic fantasy novels. That was a busy and enjoyable time – and probably one of the first occasions when I really thought about how my favourite books worked.
David: Summer vacations from university were a great opportunity to get some concentrated leisure reading done. In the summer after my second year, there were two large books in particular that I wanted to read. One was China Miéville’s Perdido Street Station; as that’s become the better-known of the two, I’ll concentrate on the other one here. Mary Gentle’s Ash: a Secret History was one of the first books I read because of online reviews: the vast (1000 pages, though it reads quickly) tale of a female medieval mercenary, which proves in time to encompass much more than that. I devoured it in a week and can still remember the experience. (Incidentally, both Ash and Perdido Street Station were shortlisted for the Arthur C. Clarke Award; this was one of the first years I paid attention to the shortlist, which has since become a highlight of my blogging year.)
Frances: A History of Love by Nicole Krauss is one of the most beautiful books I have ever read, but I have to say that some of the best reading experiences I have ever had have been because of my blogging life especially with my on-too-long-a-hiatus online book group, The Wolves. We have read the treasured together (Virginia Woolf) and all manner of new things. It is how I came to the infinitely playful Perec, Conversation in a Cathedral and many other wonders. I came to blogging for the conversation and that satisfied the want and then some.
David: Blogging has broadened my reading habits, and helped me to see that what I really like is not a type or genre of book, but a set of qualities that I can find in all sorts of books. I’ve also become interested in reading new literature, and seeing what writers of my own generation have to say. So the book I’m going to choose here is Mr Fox, Helen Oyeyemi’s journey through different versions of the Bluebeard story. When I read a writer like Oyeyemi, I know that the future of literature is in good hands.
David: I don’t really think of myself as having guilty pleasures – if a book is a pleasure to read, there’s a good reason for that, and I don’t see a need to feel guilty over it. Which leaves me with a book that might surprise people…
I’m going to say Agnes Grey by Anne Brontë. I only read it this year, but I’m choosing it because I think it’s a sign of where I am as a reader right now. I’m not as well read in the classics as I’d like to be, and there was a time when I wouldn’t have chosen to read a novel like Agnes Grey. But I really liked it, and appreciated it in ways that I wouldn’t have previously. That’s how I know I’ve grown as a reader, and I hope I will continue to do so in years to come.
David, on Frances’s choices: This reader has chosen a classic ghost story and a work based on Greek myth, so there’s an interest in traditional tales here. Anyone who would choose a Dr Seuss title as a childhood favourite surely loves language. Put the two together, and I think you have someone who appreciates storytelling – it wouldn’t surprise me if this person enjoys the spoken word as well as the written. The Thor comic makes me think of grand, sweeping action; and the Irving and Krauss books tell epic stories about individual lives – so I’d say this person enjoys books with a large or small focus. Definitely someone who’d be interesting to talk books with!