Sunday, 2 March 2014

My favourite books: a reading autobiography - Part One

I finished Harold Fry this week during a bout of middle of the night insomnia.  Thanks to all of you who encouraged me not to give up on him  - yes it was worth continuing to read.  I cried for Harold and Maureen and for Queenie.  Although the journey seemed implausible (and interminable), actually the ending didn't.  I won't spoil it for those who haven't read it, but I liked the way the media coverage of Harold's journey was satirized (maybe not the right word - more gently mocked because the lovely thing about Harold was the way he was uncritical and accepting of everyone).  Also his reunion with Maureen was beautifully described.  It reminded me of a book I read years ago about love between older people: Paul Scott's 'Staying On'.

For my March contribution to the Year in Books, I'm going also going to use an idea I found on another blog I read, Veg Plotting.  This blogger (and yes she mainly writes about gardening) has selected a list of her all time top twenty favourite books.  I like this because I'm constantly on the quest for the kind of book I love - one which I cannot put down or which makes me laugh or which says something important about the world.. And then there are those which are associated with a time and place. The problem is that too many of the books I read don't really meet with my expectations.  These ones are the ones that do.  I'll confine myself to a sentence or two about each otherwise this post will be very long.

Formative books

Heidi by Johanna Spyri
My mother read this book to me and my sisters in front of a two bar electric fire in the sixties.  A favourite childhood memory.

Anne of Green Gables L.M Montgomery
One of several classic children's books found on a bookcase at Granny's house, Sunday School prizes for my aunts. Sunday School prizes were the main source of books for us as children.

The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe and other Chronicles of Narnia C. S. Lewis
Like many of my choices, inspired by watching the BBC Sunday tea-time drama.  Found the series in the lovely wood panelled library at the Rainey Endowed School.  Here began my lifetime love of libraries.

The Secret Garden Frances Hodgson Burnett
I long for a walled garden because of this book which I can clearly picture myself reading in Ballyronan.  Bought an beautiful illustrated copy and read it to my daughter when she was about 8 or 9.


Far from the Madding Crowd Thomas Hardy
My first classic novel studied for 'O' Level.  A bit of a struggle then but now my favourite Hardy because at least there's a happy ending. Can't bear reading 'Tess' as Angel annoys me so much.

The Rainbow D.H. Lawrence
Studied for A level with our wonderful teacher Ken Keys.  I remember being seeing a double rainbow, an arch within an arch, days after splitting up with my boyfriend at the time and seeing it as terribly symbolic. It seems cringeworthy when I look at it now, though.

Hard Times Charles Dickens
My favourite Dickens. Great plot, as with all of Dickens. I like his defence of Fancy over Fact at the beginning of the novel.  Michael Gove take note.

Pride and Prejudice Jane Austen
Well as one of five girls, how could I not love this book?  I'm the eldest and, yes, I'm more of a Jane than a Lizzy.  Always the good girl, pleasing mummy.

Rebecca Daphne du Maurier
I love the mystery and the description of the rhododendrons and the first line is so resonant 'Last Night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.'  A classic novel with a similar character, Jane Eyre (too priggish), didn't make the final list. About 15 years ago, I saw an excellent stage adaptation of the novel with June Brown from Eastenders as Mrs Danvers - it was my last ever visit to the theatre with my mother.

To Kill a Mockingbird Harper Lee
The best modern classic and my favourite book to teach. I love the narrator - who could not be moved to tears when she says 'Hi' to Boo at the end.  Even thinking about it brings tears to my eyes. The Help by Kathryn Stockett, a more recent novel on a similar theme, nearly made the list.

So that's it for the first 10.  Will do the rest of the list next week if you are still interested.  I'd also love to her other people's top 20.

Thank you so much to Laura at Circle of Pine Trees for the Year in Books link up.  I've found some fascinating blogs because of it and had more readers here too.  I hope you don't mind me diverting slightly from the original idea in this post, Laura

My March read is Expo 58 by Jonathan Coe.  I'm already most of the way through it, having had several bad nights' sleep this week.    So I'm going to try Stoner by John Williams too. Thanks to Older Mum for this recommendation.

Springtime in The Secret Garden


  1. One of the things I loved about going to secondary school was having access to the library every day. I read Heidi and The Secret Garden in my first term and adored them. I can remember really clearly being sent home from school early one snowy afternoon and sitting by the fire at home reading with my sister. I was quite capable of reading whatever chaos was going on around me.

    1. I tended to use reading as an escape from the chaos of our house - still do I suppose.

  2. Great idea for a post.
    There's a few of my favourites there too, Heidi and Ann of Green Gables were certainly books I loved in my childhood, strangely I never read 'The Secret Garden'. Also enjoyed 'Rebecca' and I want to re-read 'To Kill A Mockingbird' this year. 'Stoner' is a good read.

    1. Looking forward to 'Stoner'. My husband has finished it recently and really liked it too and he doesn't say that about many books.

  3. Oh those Sunday tea times! Funny though, apart from the Narnia books, I detested all the others you mention, especially the Secret Garden; I was more of a Susan Cooper, Nancy Drew or E. Nesbitt girl. But I have to agree with you on those classics. Hmm, I might have to try a top 20 myself.

    1. You sound a bit more active/adventurous than me at that age! My daughter didn't much like ;The Secret Garden' either to be honest. Bought the book more for me than her I suppose.

  4. I love the look of The Secret Garden, have a fondness for illustrated books so think I may have to look at that one. Love the Anne of Green Gables series and have them all... I see the young me in Anne, I too had red hair in pigtails, was always getting into bother for being a bit outspoken - and still am! Not the pigtails obviously, and OK the hair may not be as lush or red as it once was, but in my head it is. Sadly the mirror doesn't lie!

    1. You know, I can't remember much about what happened but I remember the character and the hair.

  5. The Secret Garden is - excuse the pun - a perennial favourite of mine. I too have a beautifully illustrated copy, given to me when I was little. And the whole Anne of Green Gables series have been read over and over. I'm lucky enough to have my mum's old set of green Harrap hardbacks.
    I love Rebecca too, and have just finished To Kill a Mockingbird, one of my March choices for the reading link-up (I raced through it, couldn't put it down). How did I get to 38 without having read it?
    I love your post. It's got me thinking... thank you for the inspiration!
    Sarah :)

    1. Thanks - hoping to get round to part 2 this weekend.

  6. I love this idea... and all of your 10 choices, apart fromThe Rainbow, which I haven't read, although I really should have done. Wow, picking just 20 books, I would really struggle with that! x