Alphabet Challenge – Day Two
The second day of my A-Z blogging challenge.
The letter is B
and the subject – what else? BOOKS
I didn’t have to think too hard about this one! Reading has been an essential part of my life since I was a small child. My earliest memories of reading are the Noddy and Big Ears series, quickly followed by Enid Blyton’s Famous Five Books. I used to go to the library every Saturday and take out four books – I seem to remember having finished them long before the week was up! I then moved on to books such as Fourth Form at Mallory Towers and Sue Barton: Student Nurse and can remember loving all the books in both series.
Around the same time, I read and loved Heidi, Black Beauty (read that over and over again) and Little Women together with the other three books in that series. Think I got my early feminist ideas from the character Jo.
Does anyone else remember any of those?
At school, we read Jane Austen, the Brontes, George Eliot and I enjoyed all of them. My English teacher was mad about Jane Austen – she used to say that heaven would be finding out there was a stack of Jane Austens she hadn’t read. I didn’t read Eliot’s Middlemarch until I was at college, when my English lecturer said it was the novel for the adult. Still not sure what he meant, but it sounds good! Dickens in one of the big names that I wasn’t all that keen on, but it always seems heretical to admit that.
In my late teens and twenties I read people such as Thomas Hardy, DH Lawrence, Graham Greene, EM Forster, Solzenitsyn and Doris Lessing. I remember reading Greene’s The End of the Affair and Rosamund Lehmann’s The Weather in the Streets compulsively when romantic adventures didn’t work out as planned! It was comforting to read about other people’s pain – even fictional ones.
It took me a while to come to Virginia Woolf, but having done so, I really enjoyed her novels, although they’re not easy reads. I got a lot out of reading her writer’s diaries and gaining insight into her creative processes, her feminist thoughts in A Room of One’s Own, and her essays, such as Mr Bennett and Mrs Brown where she explores the importance of creating believable rounded characters. Some years ago, I visited Woolf’s home in Sussex, Monk’s House and Charleston farmhouse where her sister, Vanessa Bell lived with a brood of children and artistic visitors. The contrast between the two homes – one barren and ascetic, the other colourful and exuberant – is a fascinating insight into their lives.
I can’t go through all the books I’ve enjoyed (or not) over the years (or I’ll still be writing this at the end of September!), so I’ll move on to more current reading. Three books I’ve read over the summer are Foreign Bodies by Cynthia Ozick and Painter of Silence by Georgina Harding, both shortlisted for the Orange Prize 2012, and the winner of the Man Booker PrizeThe Forgotten Waltz by Anne Enright. Foreign Bodies was my least favourite of the three. I didn’t find the characters particularly believable or sympathetic. The Guardian describes it as ‘a brilliantly mordant examination of displacement and inheritance’. If the description tries too hard and conveys too little, so does the novel itself.
I enjoyed The Forgotten Waltz immensely. Anne Enright has that wonderful way – shared by other Irish writers such as William Trevor and Sebastian Barry, of spinning a story, so that knowledge and understanding come to the reader almost without their realising they’ve been told something. She seems to say very little, but it’s all there, hidden in the rich prose.
But my favourite of the three is Painter of Silence which I’ve just finished. It’s beautifully written, in deceptively simple prose, that conveys huge pain and loss but in such an understated way that it creeps up on you. I recommend it – it’s compelling.
Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m exhausted and it’s only day two! But before I leave B behind for the heady heights of C, I want to add another B word. For me, B has to be about books, but someone suggested bats to me, and it got me thinking. Bats tend not to come out of it too well in literature. With their association with vampires and horror, they are often used to convey menace and fear. Perhaps because they’re said to symbolise unquiet souls and they inhabit the night, they’ve got a bad reputation. Does anyone know of nice bat stories?!
Who’s your favourite author? Who got you reading in the first place? What are you reading at the moment? I’d love to know.