Top Ten Tuesday: Most read authors

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by the Broke And The Bookish. This week’s theme is all about the authors I’ve read most.

I had a wee break from TTT because I found the last two topics a little tricky, a bit too niche for my reading/blogging habits. This week’s theme is more general so you’d think it’d be easier, wouldn’t you? My trouble is that although I like to think I’ve read books by a wide variety of authors, I don’t tend to read more than two or three books by any one of them. In reading terms I like to get around a bit. I’m a commitment-phobe.

1 Enid Blyton. Famous Five, Mallory Towers, Noddy…. I read them all. But not Secret Seven. Eurgh. I hated Secret Seven. Favourite: The Hollow Tree House.

2 Charles Dickens. I don’t want to sound like a stuck record but Dickens is one of the only authors I go back to again and again. I’ve read eight of his novels and some short stories too. Favourite: Probably Our Mutual Friend.

3 J. K. Rowling. Harry Potter was one of those very rare occasions when I read an entire series all the way through from beginning to end. It may only have been possible because I spread it out over fifteen years but still, quite an achievement in my eyes. Favourite: Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire.

4 Agatha Christie. When I’m feeling lazy, or I really just don’t know what to read, I turn to Christie. I’ve read so many over the years that the titles, plots and characters are starting to blur a little. Favourite: Murder On The Orient Express.

5 Roald Dahl. No surprises here. I had the complete set. I read them all. Repeatedly. Favourite: Either The Enormous Crocodile or The Fantastic Mr Fox…… or maybe Matilda.

6 Margaret Atwood. My old roommate was responsible for getting me completely hooked on Margaret Atwood. I never finished the Oryx and Crake series so one day I’ll go back and do that…. I hope. Favourite: The Blind Assassin.

7 Jacqueline Wilson. I read tons of these as a child and then read a load more when I was trying to finish the BBC Big Read. They were great. Favourite: Double Act.

8 Winston Graham. I discovered the Poldark books while I was staying at my grandparents’ house in Sussex one summer when I was about 12. Over three successive summers I read them all. Favourite: Ross Poldark.

9 Judy Blume. She understood teenagers. ‘nuff said. Favourite: Superfudge at first, Deenie when I was a bit older.

10 Graham Greene. I’m scraping the barrel with this one since I’ve only read four GG books, but that’s still more than I have most other authors. I got a bit obsessed with Graham Greene for a while. Favourite: Brighton Rock.

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The Liebster Award

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The Creative Counsellor very kindly nominated me for this award. It’s the first time I’ve been nominated and I’m chuffed to bits. Thanks!

Here are the rules:

  • Each nominee must have under 200 followers
  • Thank and link to the nominated blog
  • Answer their 10 questions and propose 10 new ones for your nominees
  • Nominate 10 blogs and tell them that they have been nominated
  • Write a post containing the questions
  • Include these rules in the post

And these are my answers to the questions posed:

1. What made you want to start blogging?

It was a spontaneous decision. I’d been reading Daniel Deronda and was desperate to discuss it with someone but sadly not one of my friends, relatives or colleagues seemed to have read it! I turned to Goodreads which, in turn, led me to some great book blogs. I realised that blogging might be a fun way of connecting with other readers with the same interests.

2. What was your favourite book as a child?

I’ve talked before about some of my favourite childhood books. I’m not sure I could whittle it down to just one but I think Cruel Kings And Mean Queens deserves a special mention. I work in the heritage sector and am surrounded by history (and books!) every day. I like to think that if it hadn’t been for Terry Deary’s book then I’d never have looked for other books about history and I’d never have been set on this path! So yeah… thanks Terry.

3. If you could recommend only one book for me to read, what would it be?

As a lifelong Dickens fan I recommend Dickens to everyone. I know he’s not always everyone’s cup of tea but when he’s at his best he’s brilliant. I love Great Expectations and it’s fairly short so I think it’s a good one to start with. But if you want something you can really sink your teeth into then you can’t beat a bit of Bleak House!

4. What and where is your favourite book store and why?

I buy many of my books from the Oxfam second hand bookshop just round the corner from where I work. It’s teeny tiny but always busy and the stock is usually pretty good. I often pop in on my lunch break and I can usually find something I fancy. The staff also play a pretty eclectic mix of music (loudly) which I always enjoy: today it was the ‘War of the Worlds’ soundtrack, on Friday it was Jacques Brel. I’m sure I once heard them play something that sounded a lot like Mongolian throat singing.

5. What hobbies do you have other than reading?

Very few, I am really quite a boring sort of a person. I like museums, walking, baking (although I’m not good at it), old churches (although I’m not religious), Scrabble, Ikea, seeing my family, Dr Who, birds, curry, sewing, Miss Marple, wine, Shakespeare, complaining about the weather, QI, cups of tea, chocolate, Christmas, Billie Holliday, castles, old black and white films, pizza, holidays…. oh loads of things. I’m not sure if any of these really count as hobbies though.

I should point out that this is not a list of my favourite things in order. If that were the case I would obviously not place ‘seeing my family’ in between ‘Ikea’ and ‘Dr Who’!

6. If you could have one magical/mythical animal as a pet, what would it be?

Good question. I’m quite attached to our local legend of Black Shuck but I’m not sure he would make a good pet (although probably an excellent guard dog) and I don’t know that he’s been seen in these parts recently.

7. How do you decide if you want to read a book or not?

There are certain genres that I tend to avoid – mainly romance and horror – but anything else is fair game. If I’m really stuck for something to read I’ll turn to a classic.

8. You inherited a bookstore (Congratulations!) but you have to change the name. What do you call it?

When I was reading Cold Comfort Farm a few weeks ago I came across a character called Agony Beetle and I immediately wished I’d used that name for this blog. ‘The Agony Beetle’ has a good ring to it; it’d be a great name for a bookshop too.

9. What was your least favourite book to read in school and why?

That’s easy. As You Like It. It was my set Shakespeare text for A’ Level English and I hated every last second of it. I mean, really, what is the point of it all? It’s just silly. After this I seemed to forget that there were Shakespeare plays I’d studied and enjoyed and I became absolutely convinced that they were all like this. It wasn’t until four years later that I actually watched a live performance of a Shakespeare play (The Tempest at the Globe, in case you were wondering) and realised what a genius the man was.

Incidentally, I saw an open air performance of As You Like It last summer and it was no better than I remembered which, in a weird way, made me feel vindicated!

10. If you could visit Hogwarts (the fictional version) or Narnia, but not both, which would you choose and why?

Oh, this is hard! As much as I like the Narnia idea it’d have to be Hogwarts. I’m not ashamed of being 32 years old and still liking a bit of Potter and there’s something about all those secret passages, invisible doors, moving staircases and dungeons that appeal to my inner child!

And here are my ten questions for the nominees:

  1. What do you think are the best and worst things about blogging?
  2. On an average day where and when do you read?
  3. Do you ever borrow books from a library or do you prefer bookshops?
  4. Which fictional place would you most like to visit?
  5. Are there any real literary locations you’d like to visit? (The birthplace of your favourite author or the setting of a particular novel, for example). 
  6. You’re going on a long, long journey but you only have room for the collective works of one author in your bag (don’t ask me why!). Who will it be?
  7. How do you treat your books? For example, do you flex the spine? Do you fold the corners down to mark your page? (This will settle a years old argument between my friend and I. She’s much kinder to her books than I am).
  8. What are your favourite literary TV/film adaptations?
  9. Do you prefer to read the book or watch the adaptation first?
  10. Of all the books you own, which has your favourite cover?

And I nominate these bloggers:

Good luck!

The Little Prince (1943) by Antoine de Saint-Exupery

“Littleprince” by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (1900–1944). Licensed under Public Domain via Wikipedia.

When it is midday in the United States, the sun, as everyone knows, is setting in France. One would just have to travel in one minute to France to be able to watch the sun setting there. Unfortunately, France is too far away for that. But on your tiny little planet all you needed to do was to move your chair a few steps. And you could watch the twilight falling whenever you felt like it…

‘One day, I watched the sun setting forty-four times,’ you told me. And a little later you added: ‘You know… when one is terribly sad, one loves sunsets…’

I’m quite late to The Little Prince party, despite often having heard it referred to as a masterpiece of children’s literature. It’s high praise indeed and I was worried that, as so often happens, the product wouldn’t match the hype. It might, I thought, be one of those books that children find magical but which are difficult to appreciate as an adult. I always feel a little sad when this happens.

Thankfully I needn’t have worried; The Little Prince is kind of magical if you’re an adult too, possibly even more so. In fact I suspect that, however much children might enjoy the story, it’s the adults it really speaks to most. I’m not sure whether that was deliberate on Saint-Exupery’s part; I imagine he probably knew exactly what he was doing here.

The story is a very simple one, involving an airman whose plane crashes in the desert, miles from civilisation. Here he meets a little prince who has fallen to earth from a tiny asteroid. While the airman fixes his plane the prince tells him about his home, the planets he’s visited and the strange folk he’s met on the way.

My feelings about this book were a little conflicted at first. I thought it was beautifully written and beautifully illustrated (even in my cheap black and white paperback) but I wondered if maybe there were too many messages here, too many lessons for the prince to learn at once. I wasn’t sure if there was a bigger theme uniting it all that I’d somehow missed. It just felt a bit incoherent and I was disappointed.

After a couple of days thinking about it I decided that actually my feelings were much more positive than I’d first realised. I like the fact that this was such a personal book for Saint-Exupery, one that drew directly on his own experiences in the desert and his own personal relationships. It’s really not a happy story; it’s about loneliness, growing up, friendship and longing for home when you’re far away. It’s a revealing portrait of how its author must have been feeling at the time.

Going back to the adult/children debate; I’m sure the feelings evoked by this book are more potent if you’re old enough to have experience of them, if you can look at yourself and realise that you’re more like the geographer or the rose than the little prince. I’d like to read it again, I think, in a year or two to see if I take anything else away from it. I think it’s probably one that gets better with each reread.

Top Ten Tuesday : Childhood favourites

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In honour of TTT’s birthday, this week’s theme is ‘Favourite Top Ten Tuesdays of the past’. However, this is only my second week of participating and I didn’t really fancy listing ten memes that I didn’t participate in! Instead I thought I’d mark the anniversary by revisiting the very first one. I hope the meme’s hosts at The Broke and the Bookish don’t mind too much.

The first version of this list was very, very long. It needed a huge amount of whittling down but I managed to get round it by only including those books I read before I was 13 (immediately ruling out Harry Potter, Philip Pullman, Oliver Jeffers, and many others….). I was then left with the difficult task of deciding which of the remaining books I loved most: Lady Daisy or The Children Of Green Knowe? The Hollow Tree House or The Borrowers? It was surprisingly hard and I couldn’t help feeling a bit disloyal!

But there you go… Sometimes you have to be ruthless.

Here’s my list:

1. Cruel Kings and Mean Queens by Terry Deary. This was a Christmas present from my aunt when I was about 8 and I read it to death. And then my younger brother read it to death too and refused to give it back (I think he still has it now). If it hadn’t been for this book I’d never have been able to bore my friends and relatives with stories about Edward II getting a hot poker up the bum, King John losing his jewels in the wash, and Queen Anne’s garlicky feet….  The Horrible Histories books also gave rise to a ruddy brilliant TV series which in turn brought us this:

2. All of the Little House… books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I know it’s cheating but I couldn’t pick a favourite (although it might have been Little House In The Big Woods). I got the first couple for my birthday and then repeatedly pestered the staff at my local library to order the rest in from other counties. I’d then read them in a day, hand them back and re-order them again a few weeks later. Those poor librarians must have dreaded my visits.

3. Tristram & Iseult by Rosemary Sutcliffe. This was my favourite of the King Arthur myths. I read several versions, all slightly different, but Rosemary Sutcliffe’s was the best I thought. I seem to remember that she left out the love potion (I might be wrong) and the bit where Iseult gets a piggy-back from a leper. Perhaps this was too smutty for a children’s story?!

4. The Enormous Crocodile by Roald Dahl. I resolved to have only one Roald Dahl book on this list but it was ridiculously difficult to pick the best one. I chose this in the end because it reminds me of my sister who was always firmly on the side of the crocodile. She thought the children were stupid.

5. Lady Daisy by Dick King Smith. When we were studying the Victorians at junior school my teacher used to spend the last half hour of each afternoon reading to us from this book. It was the best bit of the day. I also loved DKS’s animal stories (Wasn’t there one about a boy who hatches an ostrich egg under his pillow? What was that called?).

6. The Hollow Tree House by Enid Blyton. I know they say she was a racist child-hater but so what? I read loads of Enid Blyton books and remember them all fondly, even the horrible, creepy ones. This book made me want to live in a tree.

7. Goodnight Mr Tom by Michelle Magorian. Our class read this together in Year 7 English. One morning some smart-arsed boy announced that he’d read ahead a few pages overnight and a certain character was about to die. It caused a riot. The headmaster was called, detentions were handed out… Absolute carnage.

8. Gobbolino The Witch’s Cat by Ursula Williams. This thrilled me and terrified me at the same time. That poor cat.

9. Funny Bones by Janet and Alan Ahlberg. Surely this matches the great classics for quotability? My cousin and I were singing the skeleton song just the other day… I also loved the Happy Family series.

10. The Railway Children by E. Nesbit. I read this again and again. I saw the film on TV one Saturday afternoon a while ago and sobbed my heart out at the bit with Jenny Agutter on the station platform at the end. I was on my own but it was cringingly embarrassing all the same.

The Wombles (1968) by Elizabeth Beresford

One of Margaret Gordon's original illustrations in The Wombles

The Wombles: Illustrations by Margaret Gordon

“Human Beings like shouting,” said Orinoco through his hat, “Haven’t you noticed that yet? They shout when they play goluff and they shout at their dogs and they shout at their children. They like it.” 

“Very odd,” said Bungo, wrinkling his forehead, for Wombles, though they are great talkers, are quiet creatures by nature. 

Like many people who were born in the mid-80s, I remember watching the Wombles on TV when I was very small. I still remember the theme tune by heart (and have been humming it for the past two days) but I never read the book. In fact, I’m not even sure that I knew it was a book until I moved in with P. He’s quite attached to his battered copy and it seemed only fair to give in to his subtle hints and actually read it, especially as I am constantly badgering him with books I think he should read. It must get very annoying.

I promised I’d be kind about it, partly because (as he pointed out) I did say that children’s books could be just as appealing as adult books (if you distinguish between them at all). I knew that comment would come back and bite me on the bum. Luckily it’s pretty easy to be kind about The Wombles.

The wombles, for the uninitiated, live in a burrow under Wimbledon Common in south London. P’s book has lovely pictures that show them to be small bear-like creatures but I’m sure they were much larger and had pointier faces on the TV show. They spend their time clearing the rubbish left behind on the common by messy humans; this rubbish is either eaten, repaired or recycled in some way by the wombles (‘Making good use of the things that we find/Things that the everyday folks leave behind‘ as they say in the theme tune). The Wombles is the first in the series; we’re introduced to young Bungo (wombles chose their names from an atlas when they come of age) and his friends and see them get into all kinds of scrapes. Tomsk gets stuck up a tree, Orinoco runs away, Great Uncle Bulgaria and Cousin Yellowstone get front row seats at the tennis…. My favourite story was the one with Mr. D. Smith, a lonely old human the wombles invite to their Christmas celebrations. It was surprisingly heart-warming.

For the first few pages I was a bit distracted looking up womble names on Google Maps. I discovered that Bungo is in Japan, Tobermorey is on the Isle of Mull and Madame Cholet is named after a region in France. Once I had all that cleared up I started to get into it a bit more. It’s nice in a very twee, innocent sort of way – the wombles are unfailingly polite, they have bracken and berry pie for tea, play Wombles & Ladders at weekends and do The Times crossword (apart from the female wombles who work in the kitchens – this is the 1960s after all!). I wish I’d read it as a child, I would have loved it.