Alphabet Challenge – Day Two

Alphabet blogging challenge


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. Sheย  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.

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  1. Donna says:

    Wow! Your first couple of paras could have been from my biography (if someone wanted to write one about me).
    “Enid Blytonโ€™s Famous Five Books” Exactly. But the Secret Seven always copied them! I did like though the Five Find-outers with Fatty! Can’t remember what those were called.

    “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.”
    Ah, Mallory Towers with the twin girls (what was their names). Most of my friends preferred the other school set, St Clares I think they were, but I really didn’t like them. Only read a couple of Sue Barton books, don’t know why I didn’t finish the set.

    “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.”

    Yes, yes and yes, and I’m going to look forward to reading them to my littl’un in the future.

  2. Lindsay says:

    Thanks, Donna. It’s lovely to find out that others share your reading history.

    The main character in the Mallory Towers books is Darrell Rivers – wouldn’t have remembered that but I looked it up – and Blyton’s second husband was Kenneth Darrell Waters! I don’t remember reading the St Clare’s books, but perhaps they’ve all merged into one.

  3. Donna says:

    Ah yes, Darrell Rivers. The twins were in St Clares, which I only read a couple of books of, but obviously having the twins were more notable for my memory, if not in the actual books!

  4. Christine says:

    Like Donna, you could have been describing my first forays into fiction. I loved The Famous Five with all my heart and wanted to be George. I remember, when I was about 12 and had exhausted pretty much all of the childrens’ books in circulation (like Lindsay, Saturday was library day and I came away with as many books as they allowed) my mother suggested I might be old enough to move on to crime fiction. And that of course meant Agatha Christie. There followed many happy years devouring crime novels before I finally bored of the genre. Of course, I do read ‘deeper’ stuff but there are times when some bloody good, easy on the mind escapism is called for. And on that note, I think you’ve forgotten to mention one of the books you’ve read this summer, Lindsay.

  5. Coming back to this one to read it properly … off to a meeting right now and would prefer to do it justice … my favourite topic ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. Lindsay says:

    Funny how many people share the Famous Five vibe. It’s strange, but I didn’t really read crime or thrillers when I was younger, although I like them now – occasionally – so haven’t read much of Agatha Christie. Wonder if they still hold the magic.

    As for another book I’ve read this summer, I can’t think which one you mean, Christine!

  7. Donna Whitehouse says:

    Thanks Christine for reminding me what I started reading when I finished with ‘children’s books’ – crime stories, particularly anthologies of short crime novels, which then developed into thrillers and horror books (King and Koontz) and from then into SciFi, which I haven’t escaped from, although I do read the odd ‘other’ book, such as a certain author’s first novel ๐Ÿ™‚

    Sorry Lindsay for going slightly off tangent, although you did ask if we had read the same books.

  8. Lindsay says:

    Don’t apologise, Donna – tangents are good. It’s always interesting to share reading likes and dislikes. I’m not particularly into horror, sci-fi or fantasy, although I recognise their popularity. I think I’m too fixed in reality!

  9. I recall and have read most of the books you mention Lindsay and wonder if you read ‘Jo’s Boys’ the sequel to ‘Little Women’? Bet you did ๐Ÿ™‚

    Like Christine, in my teens, I discovered and devoured every Agatha Christie I could get my hands on and have always loved the genre, now more into Patricia Cornwell, Karin Slaughter, Mo Hayder, Peter Robinson for ‘easy’ reads.

    I enjoy David Lodge offerings and all I’ve read by Ian Rankin. I especially love Ian McEwan ~ my favourite is Enduring Love with Chesil Beach a close second. Adored studying Graham Greene, he needs to be studied [rather than just read] for the angst I think …

    Mrs Dalloway is my fave from Virginia Woolf mmmmm … stream of consciousness mmmmm …

    I haven’t managed much reading other than textbooks this summer but plan to do nothing other than read on hols later this year and will make sure I take Painter of Silence since you recommend it so strongly.

    Like you said, this post could go on forever. Great choice for ‘B’ ~ a fave topic for so many: books ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. Lindsay says:

    Yes, I read Jo’s Boys and I think there was one called Good Wives and a fourth I can’t remember. But Little Women remained my favourite.

    I do like crime, although don’t read a lot. I quite like Sophie Hannah – have you read her? I read a couple of books by Mo Hayder, partly because I met her – she did an MA in creative writing at Bath Spa – but I wouldn’t call them books to enjoy!

    Not a huge fan of Ian McEwan, although he wrote that brilliant opening sequence with the hot air balloon (which novel was that?) but I don’t think the rest of the book lived up to that start.

    Discussions about books obviously could go on and on, and we’ve hardly scratched the surface!

  11. It is interesting how we all have our preferences, despite having virtually identical backgrounds in reading ~ have to confess I’ve always loathed Heidi (!) probably says more about me than the book.

    Goodness, I’d love to meet Mo Hayder, lucky you, and I do enjoy her books ~ yes, really ๐Ÿ™‚

    The brilliant opening sequence is from Enduring Love, it is simply stunning, I adore that book.

    I’m off now to look at Day 3 of your alphabetti spaghetti ~ what fun ๐Ÿ™‚

  12. Lindsay says:

    I wonder what I would think of Heidi if I read it now! I’ve just remembered ‘What Katy Did’ and ‘What Katy Did Next’. Did you ever read those?

  13. Christine says:

    I’m also starting to remember books I enjoyed, particularly when I was younger – And What Katy Did and the sequel are in there. What about Swallows and Amazons, the Jennings books, and Just William? Loved them. I remember loving Heidi. In fact, when I look back, I don’t ever remember not enjoying a book and was always thrilled it when I discovered an author with a back catalogue. Oh the joys of going to the library and finding another book by an author I was loving. Now, I tend to give a book at best a couple of chapters, at worst, the first paragraph. Which probably says more about me than the state of literature today. Maybe I’m aware of my allotted time running out and not wanting to waste it on something that doesn’t hold my attention straight away. I love Anita Shreve and Lionel Shriver but at the moment I’m reading Ruth Dugdall- not sure how to describe her books (there are only 2) although Amazon call them psychological thrillers – they’re a bit more than that, I think. And Lisa Genova – Still Alice was excellent!

  14. Lindsay says:

    I don’t think I got on with Swallows and Amazons, but liked Jennings and Just William.

    I don’t know Ruth Dugdall or Lisa Genova, but will look out for them if you say they’re good.

  15. polly says:

    Yes, I read and loved What Katy Did and What Katy Did Next ~ going back to Heidi, I don’t think I’d read the book until after seeing a couple of episodes of that, as I remember it, appallingly twee drama, and of course that coloured my perception / reception of the book.

    One of my faves of recent years is The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger ~ haven’t read Her Fearful Symmetry yet, a bit worried that it couldn’t possibly live up to the previous novel but I have it on my Kindle for the hols. I also love all Margaret Atwood books.

    Not writing any more now! Must get on ๐Ÿ™‚

  16. Lindsay says:

    I didn’t see Heidi on the television, but I do wonder what I would think of these books if I read them now. The Malory Towers and Famous Five books are still going strong today, so they must have something.
    I didn’t ever read The Time Traveller’s Wife – one day maybe.

    Don’t know if you saw my post on facebook the other day, Polly, about a site called I Write Like where you can put in a sample of your writing and it compares it with a famous author. I put in two separate samples – in the first, it compared me with Chuck Palahniuk(?) and in the second, Margaret Atwood!

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