And we’re halfway! Still plenty of wonderful people to come – and plenty of time for me to kick back with a cup of tea and enjoy a week off ;) By the way, today has my favourite ‘guilty pleasure’ of the whole series! I’ve taken the liberty of accompanying it with a cartoon from www.unshelved.com
Jenny is the other half (alongside Teresa, featured earlier this week) of US-based blog Shelf Love. She’s also the first of this week’s bloggers that I’ve never met in person – I hope this will be rectified one day!
One of my fondest childhood memories associated with books was staying in a holiday house on the beach during the off-season (read wet, cold and windy) accompanied by the boxed set of C.S. Lewis’s Narnia series, which Dad had borrowed from the library at his school (which was also my school, but that’s another story). Throughout the week we took it in turns to read the books in order — Voyage of the Dawn Treader still remains my favourite.
But if I was to pick a favourite book from my childhood I would have to say Robert C. O’Brien’s The Silver Crown, which I must have read at least two dozen times. It’s an adventure story meets psychological thriller; it was my first introduction to the concept of a page-turner. In it, a girl called Ellen receives a mysterious silver crown for her tenth birthday. When she puts it on and goes for a walk, little does she know the lengths that (bad) people will go to in order to steal the crown from her. For most of the story she is on the run from men wearing black cloaks and along the way she meets other characters whom she’s never sure whether to trust or not. It’s essentially a story about good versus evil, and I just remember loving the feeling of fear and suspense it evoked in me as I read it.
Jenny: I grew up in a house where reading was as natural and as expected and as full of pleasure as eating. My parents read to me when I was an infant on up through my teen years — I can remember summer evenings when all five of us sat around listening to my father doing the Ent and Gollum voices in the Lord of the Rings books. I must have been fourteen or fifteen then. I was a constant reader. All of us were.
When I was a child, I tended to read books over and over again. I’d take big bags of books out of the library, bring them back the next week, and then check them out again immediately. One favorite that I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone else mention was Sesyle Joslin’s The Night They Stole the Alphabet. It’s about a little girl who wakes in the night to find that three shadowy robbers have stolen the alphabet from her bedroom wallpaper, and all her beloved books are missing their printing as well. She takes off in pursuit, and her adventures lead her (with the help of some engaging friends) to a baby with a B in its bonnet, a reversed mermaid who warns her to mind her Ps and Qs, and a hospitable owl who invites her for a refreshing cup of T…
Jenny: My mother majored in 19th-century British literature when she was in college, so she had a tendency to give me grown-up books before I was really ready for them. But I can clearly remember a summer’s vacation to France when I was completely possessed by Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca. I must have been eleven years old, and I sat in a chair in our little attic apartment in Strasbourg, with our friends’ cat on my lap, and read that novel as if my life, and not the second Mrs. de Winter’s, depended on it. I probably read it three times that summer. What a punch that book still packs, doesn’t it?
Jenny: I’m not certain whether this is cheating, because these are books I have read many times, but the Eliots of Damerosehay trilogy by Elizabeth Goudge (The Bird in the Tree, Pilgrim’s Inn, and The Heart of the Family) were very important to me during early adulthood struggles in particular. In this trilogy, Goudge follows the Eliot family between the first World War and the second, and deals with the notions of what home means, what truth and integrity are when they are not centered only around the self, and how your own pain can be made into joyful sacrifice so something greater can be built. She does all this with lightness and humor, and she has the tremendous gift of writing good people who are not boring.
In terms of how blogging has changed my reading habits, I would say it has made me a “better” reader, by which I mean I think more deeply about what I’ve read and I tend to analyse a book’s structure, its plot, how the characters are developed, what the prose is like and so on. I’m constantly thinking why does this book work — or not work. And I’m more inclined to be forgiving of a book, knowing that getting all these elements “right” is so very difficult. I’ve never studied English literature or any arts subjects, so, in many ways, blogging about books has been a little like educating myself about the world of fiction — it’s been a constant learning exercise.
Reading so many other book blogs has also exposed me to a greater variety of literature and, while I’ve always been willing to read outside of my comfort zone, I’m now more inclined to try different types of books on the basis of blogger recommendations.
Jenny: Just one?!? Simon, that’s impossible. I’ve read so many magnificent books in the last five years — okay, um, just one then: HomebyMarilynneRobinsonLittleBigbyJohnCrowley-andPaleFirebyVladimirNabokov. (!!) Blogging has changed my reading habits a lot. I used to go to the library, look around me at the sea of books I couldn’t remember, give up, and re-read an old favorite. Now that I have a real TBR list and a good way of remembering what I’ve read in the past, I read far, far more new things. I almost never re-read any longer. I get so many wonderful recommendations from other bloggers. And I never feel alone in what I’ve read or what I enjoy reading.
I find these kinds of reads are perfect for when I’m on holiday and want to disengage the brain or when I need something to lift me out of a reading slump or just to cleanse the palate in between more “high-brow” reads. My favourite writer in this genre is Nicci French but I’ve also enjoyed novels by Helen Fitzgerald and James Siegel. More recently I’ve discovered Patricia Highsmith and John Bowles.
Jenny: My reading habits are so eclectic that I doubt anything I said would surprise people (old issues of Popular Mechanics? Boxing Today? Waxing My Mustache: A Personal Memoir? No, that last one would probably be interesting.) And I don’t feel guilty about anything I read. Oh, here’s a guilty pleasure: when I go to bookstores, I take the blaring political books with nasty titles (Liberals Are Ugly And Dress Funny; Republicans Hate Their Mothers) off the shelves, and shelve them in unexpected places where they are hard to find (travel, feminist theory.) I ought not. It’s making life difficult for the bookstore clerks. But I do it.