Saturday, November 12, 2011

Chapters In My Life -Week 7

It's week 7 of 'Chapters In My Life' and this week, Simon from 'Stuck In A Book' tells us about his book choices:

I’m so pleased that Spangle asked me to participate in this series, it’s fun to delve back into what bloggers and authors used to like, as well as what they tell us about now. But that’s where I hit my first dilemma – my reading tastes have changed a lot since I was a teenager. Whose hasn’t? I’m only in my mid-twenties, so if I look back to half-my-life ago, I do wrinkle my nose in disgust a little. Sweet Valley High? Point Horror? Goosebumps? Shouldn’t I have been one of those prodigy kids who reads Dostoevsky under the covers aged six, and is translating postmodern Urdu poetry by the time I turned ten? Well, I decided to pick books which reflected what I loved at particular times in my life, but also those which pushed me towards my current tastes.

Five Get Into Trouble by Enid Blyton
This was the first book I ‘read by myself’, although really it was me reading one page very slowly and then Mum reading the next one – and, when things got exciting (will George, Julian et al ever escape from being kidnapped?! Er, yes) I would read one page and Mum would read three.

It saddens me that a lot of children were banned from reading Blyton – I read little else for several years, and it helped turn me into the voracious reader I am today. Yes, she could be sexist and even racist, but I’m not one who believes in getting rid of every book which reflects mindsets of the past. What Blyton could do best (and goodness knows it wasn’t style or dialogue) was write a ripping yarn which made a five year-old desperate to turn the pages – and keep on turning pages for the rest of his life.

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
I was too embarrassed to pick something from my Sweet Point Goosebumps phase – although kudos to my parents for letting me read what I wanted to, rather than making reading seem awful by forcing me into books I didn’t want to read. Luckily for me, my pre-teenage years were not entirely blighted by unillustrious reading matter. I can’t remember what led me to pick Anne Frank’s Diary off the shelf, but I was engrossed and fascinated. I haven’t reread it since, but I remember Anne being an exceptional writer, as well as the voice of a generation.

It has also led onto my love of real-life recordings of 20th century history, usually through diaries or letters. I always have a volume on the go (Nella Last’s War has been a recent love of mine) and I feel as though I understand the past much more intimately.

Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
Nineteen Eighty-Four was the first ‘grown-up’ book I ever read – and also, I believe, the first non-children’s book that all four members of my family had read. Again, I have no idea why I chose it, but I thought it was brilliant. For the first time in my reading life I was grappling with a classic – and all that that implies: deeply complex characters, a sense of purpose to its construction, and above all Orwell’s brilliant writing. I suppose all these ingredients can be present in children’s writing, but let me remind you of my diet of Blyton. Nineteen Eighty-Four didn’t turn me into a socialist, but it did make me realise that books deemed classics weren’t necessarily dull – and re-reading this one a couple of years ago confirmed that it was still an incredible novel.

Modern Humour by various
I’ve tried to pick books for Chapters in My Life which I haven’t done to death on my own blog, and this was an important little book for me which led onto all sorts of other delicious reading. Don’t let the title fool you, Modern Humour was actually published in 1940, and I picked it up in a little book stall on our local market. I bought it because it had a short story by AA Milne, but of course I flicked through the rest – and really loved two pieces by E.M. Delafield. Off I went to my library catalogue, and that’s where my love of EMD started (with a large-print copy of The Provincial Lady Goes Further, being the only Delafield title Pershore had.)

Modern Humour didn’t only send me off to read Delafield, now one of my very favourite writers. It also made me feel part of a early-20th-century reading world, even if vicariously. Reading any novel in isolation is really only an experience of one author and one set of characters – Modern Humour surrounded me by many authors, many glimpses into different books and different readers. It helped set off a love for the period which has only increased.

Speaking of Love by Angela Young
Finally I’m going to choose one of the books which has been most important to me in the most recent stage of my reading life – which is blogging. I started Stuck-in-a-Book in mid 2007, and was extremely excited when I started being offered review copies of books later that year. Now I get offered so many that I can’t read them all, but back then I eagerly read everything I was sent – including Angela Young’s first novel. It’s a novel about mother/daughter relationships, the impact of mental illness, love, and above all: story-telling. So it helps that Young is a story-teller par excellence. The reason I’ve chosen it isn’t merely because it’s very good – but because I was quoted on the back of the paperback edition. You can imagine how excited I was – and how pleased that it was on a book I really loved.

So, five quite different books, even though four of them come from the 1940s. My reading tastes still aren’t as wide as some people’s (although I’m willing to experiment sometimes!) but I doubt I could love books any more than I currently do! I’m very grateful all the reading of my youth led me in this direction, and look forward to many more years of reading to come!


  1. Good to meet you Simon. I have to admit I still havent read 1984 and need to.

    Great feature again, Karen.


  2. Brilliant! Such a vaibrant and lively post. I thoroughly agree with you about Enid Blyton .... and in my childhood there was not a great deal else to choose from. She does tell a ripping yarn and I, too, became a voracious reader of her books ... and then more books. I began with Noddy, in fact, and graduated to The Famous Five. Reading is reading and if one begins with the Dostoevsky under the covers (like it!) perhaps one misses out on the entire spectrum of reading.
    Thank you, Simon!