World Book Day

World Book Day has sort of crept up on me this year. But I can’t let the day pass without something on my blog about books, so a section of this post is taken from one I wrote last September when I was doing my A-Z alphabet challenge when B had to be books, and some is new.

I LOVE bookshops and libraries. I find it painful to walk past a bookshop without going in. And of course, once I’m in there, it’s almost inevitable that I’ll find myself at the till clutching my next ‘fix’. Libraries exert a similar pull, but there’s something about a new book that nothing can compete with. My husband says that for me books are like orphaned children – I have to give them a home and love them!

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 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. 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!

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.

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.

At one time I was doing a course on post-colonial literature and I read all of Nadine Gordimer’s books and loved them. I think that might be the only time I’ve read all the books by an author one after the other. But it’s fascinating to see the range and variety offered by a writer such as Gordimer.

Now, although I’ve always got a book on the go, I don’t seem to read as many as I would like. People often ask me who are my favourite writers and I find it a hard question to answer. Over my years of reading, I’ve loved, liked and hated books that I’ve read. Some just haven’t done it for me and I no longer bother to finish those. When I’m asked for my favourite, the thousands I’ve read swim through my mind, and I usually find myself giving some pathetic response. However, some favourites of mine include ‘The Secret Scripture’ by Sebastian Barry, ‘The Story of Lucy Gault’ by William Trevor, ‘Fingersmith’ by Sarah Waters, Rose Tremain’s ‘Music and Silence’ and Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’. Oh dear, by naming those, I feel as if I’m betraying all those others I’ve loved.

Just as I find it hard to pass a bookshop without going in, I find it equally difficult to get rid of my books. Consequently, my bookshelves are groaning under their weight. One of my bookcases contains mainly books I’ve had for years, and will probably never read again, but sometimes I stand and stare at them, recalling their and my interwoven history.

I was jogged into remembering World Book Day by a similar thought in a lovely post from Jo Phillips today where she says I wish I had kept every single book I ever bought, and kept a list of every library book I ever borrowed. Because all of my life is there, to be read.

And that’s it – if you love books, they share your life, they make you happy and sad, laugh, cry, think, wish and hope. What more can you ask for?

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  1. Maureen Hall says:

    I found myself empathising with every word of this. Having just ‘down-sized’ I’ve been forced to let go of some of my books, but oh, it has been hard! And there are some I will never be able to part with even though I’m unlikely to read them again. But seeing them on the bookshelves is important, and reading the titles transports me instantly to another time, another place – another me. So the bookshelves will continue to groan, and other books will come in to replace those that have moved on. The reading map of life will continue to expand, despite the lack of physical space!

  2. Lindsay says:

    ‘The reading map of life’ is a nice way of putting it, Mo.

  3. What a lovely post – and thanks so much for sharing a link to mine. I also read and re-read Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair – it’s by far my favourite Greene novel. I was also really affected as an early reader by two great gothic classics – Draclua and Frankenstein. The way Dracula was written, in diary entries and new reports really struck me and this is something I’d like to tackle in fiction one day. And Frankenstein opened up a place in my heart for the tragic, misunderstood figure in fiction, which is probably why Anne Tyler’s novels appeal to me so much.

    What I’ve loved about World Book Day is reading about the effect books have on early reading and one’s own character. I’m definitely made up of all the little bits and peices of people I’ve read about. Some great books on your list, Lindsay – that’ll keep me going for a few more years!

  4. Lindsay says:

    Caught up in the rush of life, I had temporarily forgotten about World Book Day until I read your post, Jo, so thank you for provoking me into writing something – if a little late in the day! I’m glad you enjoyed the post. It seems when you develop a love of reading as a child, it stays with you as a friend for life. I love Frankenstein as well. It was one of the set texts when I used to teach A level, and I never tired of reading it. As you say, the plight of the isolated monster is incredibly moving. He is often so misunderstood in popular culture. So much to read, so little time!

  5. Caroline says:

    Given the number of books in my house you would think I had kept every book I’ve ever read but I have been trying to make space. So hard to get rid of books though.

  6. Lindsay says:

    It’s crazy but almost impossible to let them go, isn’t it, Caroline?

  7. polly says:

    A good home for books you need to let go is the Oxfam Bookshop ~ they do wonderful things with the money raised.

    Lovely post for World Book Day.

  8. Lindsay says:

    Thanks, Polly. Oxfam Bookshop is definitely worthwhile supporting, especially knowing that not only might another reader benefit from your books but the money raised will go to a good cause.

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