Jodie is better known to most of us as Geranium Cat, and was (I believe) one of the first bloggers I met in person. Lovely!
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.
Laura: My mother was an avid reader and always had something on the go. To this day I can picture her curled up in her “reading chair.” She made sure I learned to read before starting school, and took me to the library on a regular basis. I outgrew the library’s juvenile fiction before I was old enough to receive an adult library card, but was given one with a special designation that allowed me to check out all but the most “mature” books.
When I was very young I received several books by Joan Walsh Anglund as gifts, and I adored them. They are small books that fit well in a child’s hand, with very sweet illustrations and titles like Love is a Special Way of Feeling and A Friend is Someone who Likes You. Their central message was all about being loved and caring for others. I remember having them read to me, and then reading them on my own. They were a regular source of comfort, and even now their covers bring back warm feelings.
Jodie: Yes and yes. I adored books and was encouraged and read to by everyone around me. One grandfather read Winnie-the-Pooh and Christmas Carol to us “with voices” and Granny was wonderful both at reading Alice and at making up stories. My favourite book from my early childhood was Barbara Sleigh’s Carbonel, about a girl who buys a witch’s cat and has to free him from a spell. It’s the first book I can remember reading to myself, because everyone else was too busy that day. I’m sure learning to read wasn’t quite that straightforward, but it’s a book I still love.
Laura: I read Jane Eyre one summer, I think I was about 12. At that point, this was the longest book I’d ever read. I entered a local bookstore’s summer reading competition, so who knows why I chose such a long book! I remember taking it with me to summer camp, partly because I was enjoying it, but more than anything I wanted to win the competition! I didn’t win, but I did well enough to earn a small gift certificate. And Jane Eyre definitely sparked my interest in classics and made me more willing to approach books others might consider difficult.
Jodie: As soon as I was old enough to go to the library alone I was sent every week (not that I needed encouragement) to choose books for my father to read on the theatre switchboard when there were no lighting changes and, inevitably, I read them too. So I grew up on a diet of crime and science fiction – H.P. Lovecraft, James Blish, John Creasey, Robert van Gulik…I definitely shouldn’t have been reading van Gulik’s The Haunted Monastery at whatever age I was then (probably about 12), I was distinctly shocked by it, but I’ve got it on my bookshelf now, so I think it should get the “first grown-up book” category. Choosing those books certainly shaped my own reading habits though, because I had to be discerning; I couldn’t simply take 4 books off the shelf and hope that they’d do.
Laura: In the mid-1990s, I joined a book group with a lot of fantastic women, all older than me and great role models. One of them introduced me to The Mists of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley, a retelling of the Arthurian legend from a female perspective. At that time, I was just becoming aware of the way history, myth, and legend can differ based on who’s telling the story. Mists sent me off on a period of reading alternative points of view and learning about the often unsung role of women in history.
Jodie: I think that has to be The Once and Future King by T.H. White, because after I read it I became quite obsessed by myths and legends, something which has never changed. Following the trail started by White led to so much other literature, from his contemporaries like Sylvia Townsend Warner to his sources, such as Malory and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. I love multi-layered fiction, and I think White was my first experience of it. Um, the only thing that’s wrong with this answer is that I read it when I was 12, but it really is the well from which all my interests spring.
Laura: In the recent past I’ve discovered two wonderful authors: Winifred Holtby and Molly Keane, who wrote two books that landed on my list of all-time favourites: South Riding and Good Behaviour. Both are Virago Modern Classics, which have had a profound impact on my reading habits (and my pocketbook)! When I started blogging in 2007, I read a lot more contemporary bestsellers, mixed with some classics but mostly ones typically taught in school. I discovered Virago Modern Classics through LibraryThing, and have been introduced to so many fine women writers I never would have discovered otherwise.
Jodie: The recent favourite is easy – Angela Thirkell’s August Folly, the first of her books that I read. I came to blogging almost through despair – that’s hardly too strong a word. Five years ago I had read everything that I could face on the library shelves, a nauseating cocktail of chicklit, inferior crime writing and poorly-written fantasy. I was utterly miserable but I decided that the Internet must be good for something by then and started looking for recommendations by people who liked the same sort of books as me and bombarding the library with requests for books – oh yes, and buying them. I no longer wait for a good book to come to me by chance, I actively pursue them, as far as I can afford to, and the proportion of newly published books I read has gone down considerably. I still read crime and fantasy, but I can be much more discerning, and I won’t finish a bad book just for the sake of having something to read.
Laura: This is difficult to answer because I don’t usually read for escape, or for guilty pleasure. But since most of my reading tends to be “heavy” stuff, I do need a break occasionally. Then I find that mystery or crime novels, which I rarely read otherwise, can be just the ticket. Most recently I escaped into Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl and have enjoyed C.J. Sansom’s Matthew Shardlake mysteries, set in the Tudor period.
Jodie: Well, not exactly guilty, but this one has not only spent the last year on my bedside table, but I regularly take it with me when I’m away from home. It is The Illustrated NFL Playbook, subtitled: “Pro football explained in diagrams, charts and definitions”…I should explain for those to whom the letters “NFL” mean absolutely nothing that this is American football, as mysterious to the uninitiated as cricket (which I loathe, along with virtually every other form of sport I can think of). All I can say in my defence is that it has proved a wonderfully safe topic to steer conversations towards on those occasions when my three large menfolk disagree (sometimes joined, I’ll admit, by me) on quantum computing, or whether pecorino is better than parmesan, or what to do about the Palestinian question. At such times all I have to say is, “Who do you think has the better defensive line, the 49ers or the Bears?” and they’ll be throwing statistics around for hours. The funny thing is, I’ve started to really enjoy it…
And… I’ve told you the other person’s choices, anonymously. What do you think these choices say about their reader?
Jodie, on Laura’s choices: There were two books I didn’t know at all. Googling Love is a Special Way of Feeling by Joan Walsh Anglund shows that it looks very sweet, and ideal for parents to read with their child sitting on their knee – a book for sharing. I’d guess that this is someone who grew up in surroundings where books were treasured. South Riding – Winifred Holtby and Good Behaviour – Molly Keane? Well, I suspect that this person’s bookshelves may have quite a few volumes with dark green spines and probably a collection of Persephones too? And that they probably like secondhand bookshops and would much rather read a book published last century than the latest bestseller. In The Mists of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley, I think I might detect a fellow lover of myths and legends? Definitely a romantic, at any rate, though, taken along with Jane Eyre, perhaps a romantic with a sense of restraint. Something these books have in common is the strength of their female characters: even quiet Jane refuses the safe option, while Sarah, Aroon and Morgaine struggle against the dictates of their worlds. Finally, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn – this is the other book I don’t know, but I think all these choices tell me that this person is interested in how people and relationships work and in the role of woman in society, and is someone who looks for emotional integrity in their reading.