Happy weekend, everyone – but there is no rest for the, er, bloggers. Still six more bloggers waiting to tell you their lives in books! Hasn’t it been fun, so far?
Nymeth writes Things Mean A Lot, a title derived from a Red House Painters song, and started blogging a week or two before I did. She gave me the option of using her real name (Ana) or her blogging name (Nymeth) and I thought I’d go for the one with which I was most familiar – but she’ll answer to either!
Claire: My love for books and for reading was instilled in me from an early age, mainly by my mother and grandmother. I loved being read to and I was one of those children who always knew (and objected!) whenever the reader skipped over a part or mixed up the words. The two picture books that stand out in my memory are Mog’s Christmas by Judith Kerr and Dogger by Shirley Hughes, both written by stalwart children’s authors who have endured. Mog’s Christmas was the second outing in the famous series and concerns Mog the cat’s unsettled reaction to Christmas; I’m a huge fan of Christmas and cats and I like to think that Mog’s Christmas contributed to that. Oh, and I loved the book so much that my grandparents had to rename their kitten Mog! She was as much a part of my childhood as the book was and died when I was fifteen years old.
Dogger, like Mog’s Christmas, wasn’t exactly a happy story and I wonder if my love of sad stories that end happily says something about my reading preferences… Dogger is the eponymous toy dog who is lost and found again; however, it is also a heartwarming tale of a sister who sacrifices her own toy for her little brother’s happiness. I loved, loved, loved it.
Nymeth: I did grow up in a book-loving household, though my parents never really had the habit of reading to me. I confess I feel slightly envious when fellow book bloggers share their memories of being read anything from The Lord of the Rings to Dickens to Jane Eyre as bedtime stories! But to give my parents the credit they deserve, they led by example: they were always plenty of books around the house, and I would always see them reading. So from a very young age I learned to associate reading with something adults did for enjoyment, and I very much wanted to do it myself.
Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer was a huge childhood favourite of mine. I first discovered it through the Japanese animated series from the 1980s, which was on TV a lot when I was little. I asked my parents for the book, and for many years I reread it every six months or so. I had no idea Twain was one of the great American novelists then – I just loved his book for its sense of adventure and possibility and for Tom Sawyer’s endless mischief. I would love to revisit it one of these days, along with the more critically acclaimed Huckleberry Finn. I must have been 13 or 14 when I last read them, and have no idea what they’d look like to my adult eyes.
Nymeth: Probably one of George Orwell’s most famous novels, Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm. I read them a few months apart, but I can’t really recall which one came first. I also can’t remember what was going on in my life at this point, though funnily enough I have very vivid memories of lying in my bed in the afternoon and reading these novels. I must have been in seventh or eight grade, and I remember feeling all clever and grown-up and proud of myself for understanding Orwell’s allegory in Animal Farm and grasping at least some of the political subtext that informs the dystopian world in Nineteen Eighty-Four. I also felt very satisfied with myself for having picked up these novels on my own (I didn’t grow up in an English-speaking country, so we didn’t study them in school).
Of course, looking back now I see that the power of Orwell’s novels doesn’t exactly lie in their subtlety. Laura Miller says in The Magician’s Book that these are great stories to “cut your critical teeth into”, and I can see what she means. They’re pretty transparent but no less satisfying for it, and so they can easily make young readers feel confident that they can understand metaphors and allegories and tease out political themes in more complex literary works.
A year later I had read her back catalogue and was writing my Master’s thesis on aspects of her work.
Nymeth: I don’t often remember to list it among my favourites, but Aurora Leigh by Elizabeth Barrett Browning was important to me because it sparked my interest in the Victorians and, obliquely, in gender studies. I’m not sure if I’d say it helped set me off in a new direction in life – I didn’t go on to study any of these things in grad school, for example, though I did consider it. But the novel opened up a new world for me, and the readings that followed from that help shape my thinking to this day.
Blogging and reading of blogs has been an enriching experience but it also changed the way I read. The wealth of recommendations, challenges (especially literary prize list reading) and books for review was a lovely by-product of blogging but it was also overwhelming… I found it important to return to my roots as a reader and read more on a whim rather than have hype or deadline dictate my reading. I am enjoying my reading again (reading is never fun when it becomes a chore) and every so often allow myself to be led by the enthusiasm of another blogger into my next book read or purchase. I have always been an eclectic reader but think I have become more discerning of my own preferences since I returned to making my own reading choices again.
Nymeth: Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers, which I might never have picked up if not for book bloggers, and which I’d certainly have read out of order if not for bloggers – I was rescued from that horrific fate at the very last minute! I know this might sound clichéd, but blogging has done a lot to expand my horizons over the past few years. The more time I spend in the virtual company of other bookish folks, the more my interests widen. And this is something for which I’m incredibly grateful.
Nymeth: I hate to be a spoilsport, but I don’t really believe in the concept of guilty pleasures :P I think people have come to expect my blog to be an amalgamation of interests that don’t often go together, so I’m not sure what would be surprising. I guess there’s The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa. I was obsessed with it in my teens and memorised entire passages. It’s one of those books that helped make me who I am, but because all of this happened pre-blogging people are unaware that I’ve even read it.
A cat lover since childhood, as evidenced by Mog’s Christmas
A fan of feminist fiction
Someone interested in novels that successfully combine elements of several genres (Angela Carter is brilliant at this, as well as just brilliant in general)
Someone with very diverse reading taste
Someone who values both good writing AND good storytelling.
See, all of this fits Claire perfectly. The more I think about it, the more I become convinced that I’m right ;) [Simon: haha! well done you!]