15 books that have stuck.
I got sent this “silly meme” by a poet-friend on Facebook, but thought it was interesting and cool enough to share. The idea is, you make a list of 15 books that have stuck with you, for whatever reason — not necessarily just those you liked, not necessarily those you finished, even. Just ones that have stuck in your head. You’re not supposed to think about it too much, just make the list off the top of your head, and no editing afterwards! My list is below, and I’d be really, really interested to see yours. You know where the comments box is — or if you take it to your own blog, link back!
1. Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by TS Eliot My Dad used to read this to my sister and me when we were kids, complete with “funny voices.” He used to read more poetry to us than stories. He had this really nice Faber edition with pen and ink drawings. I now have Old Possum’s on vinyl (I collect literary LPs), read by Thomas Stearns himself. He sounds very, very awkward. I know it’s a cliche, but Macavity is my favourite.
2. Miss Priscilla’s Secret, by Jennifer Zabel Awesome kids book about a lady smuggler/pirate/schoolteacher. Another one my Dad read to us with ‘voices.’ Our next door neighbour at the time once told my Mum that she used to come out to get her washing in/water the garden at around 6.30pm, so she could hear my Dad doing his funny voices! Embarrassing…
3. The Kingfisher Book of Children’s Poetry, edited by Michael Rosen I got this when I was about five, and still have it — it’s very dog-eared now. It’s the best book of poetry for children I have ever come across, because it doesn’t patronise… there are poems from “serious” and “difficult” poets in here and it’s not just old favourites. It introduced me to Fred d’Aguiar and e.e. cummings, for example.
4. The Great Elephant Chase by Gillian Cross I speculated recently that this is the book I’ve read most times in my life (its closest competitor is #5, below!) — from the age of 6 til I was about 11, I read this book over and over and over. I don’t remember what the appeal was, really (though I still have my copy somewhere) — it was a great story, I suppose, and it sparked my long-standing plot to travel around the entire United States.
5. Soul Music by Terry Pratchett Like a lot of adolescents I was big into the Discworld Series, and I have a lot of favourites (The Truth is a close second…), but this tops the list. I have read it so many times that the cover has fallen off. It’s a brilliant satire on the music industry and music geeks… plus it features Susan Sto-Helit (granddaughter of Death) in her most kick-ass phase! She was my main teen role model.
6. The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien Look, adolescents! This is REAL teen-obsession fantasy reading! No heavily-plagiarised boy wizards or effeminate vampires here. I’m from a family of Tolkien scholars (OK geeks, but with restraint — they don’t go to cons or dress up or anything!) and I got this from my aunt on my 13th birthday. I read it every year til I was about 20, Christopher Lee-stylee. I’m getting the itch to read it again soon…
7. Carol Ann Duffy’s Selected Poems This was my first poetry set-text in high school, and while a lot of my classmates found Duffy too erotic for comfort (lots of red faces in group discussions, particularly the blokes!), I loved her straight away. She’s remained one of my biggest influences so I am really grateful to my brilliant English teacher for teaching her stuff so well (no “what is the poet trying to do?” type questions!)
8. Dreaming Frankenstein by Liz Lochhead I got this just before I came to Uni and fell in love with her. She’s been another huge influence on my own stuff, and was particularly at this point in my life — I wrote a lot of angst-ridden, irony-dripping, ranting-feminist fairy-tale-influenced pieces during this period, which I majorly cringe over now.
9. Second Life by Edwin Morgan I found a lovely first edition of this in the sadly now-defunct Pickerings Bookstore, Edinburgh, for only £2! I’d been reading and loving Morgan since high school but this was the first book of his that I actually owned. I didn’t realise it was a first edition until earlier this year when I took it along to a class and my tutor nearly had a heart attack seeing me bending the spine! I also discovered it used to belong to Angus Calder — it has his name and address in the front. It’s a bit battered, but needless to say I treat it more gingerly now!
10. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold This is in the wrong place in the list as I read it before coming to Uni I think… it’s one of those books you read once and don’t ever really want to read again, not because it’s not good, just because it’s such an ordeal. I remember reading this in one sitting and then just emptying myself out — I don’t think I have ever cried so much reading a novel before or since!
11. The Boy Who Taught The Beekeeper to Read By Susan Hill I was very disappointed to discover recently that Susan Hill is a staunch Republican supporter/campaigner, because I love this book so much and it seems so out of character! This is a collection of short stories which are really poetic and sweet, but strangely dark underneath. I have a really gorgeous hardback edition and it’s one of those books that invites you to pick it up. I got it when I was about 19 and decided I need to read more short fiction.
12. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood Yep, the order of this list is officially shot to hell — this was the book I wrote about for my sixth year high school dissertation. I’d discovered Margaret Atwood from reading Lady Oracle, one of her lesser-known books about a historical romance writer who fakes her own death (I re-read it recently and it is freaking amazing, I didn’t just imagine it!), and The Blind Assassin had won the Booker the year I was 14. I re-read this recently too — I wrote about the theme of sisterhood, it was my first feminist critique! My teacher tried to get me to choose a different book as it’s such a huge tome, but I got a really good grade! :)
13. Howl and Other Poems by Allen Ginsberg The book that started my fangirl obsession with Ginsberg and all things Beat. I first read it at the beginning of my third year, and hated it at first — who knew?
14. The Poem That Changed America: Howl Fifty Years Later by Jason Shinder This was my Bible while I was writing my undergrad dissertation, an absolutely brilliant collection of essays on ‘Howl’ from people like Mark Doty, Alice Ostriker and Amiri Baraka. Jason Shinder — who sadly died recently — edited this book brilliantly; he was also a great poet. Really fantastic book.
15. Nine Horses by Billy Collins The first I heard of BC was in a book called Don’t Ask Me What I Mean: Modern Poets in Their Own Words (it’s awesome by the way! Get it!). It wasn’t a poem of his — he was actually talking about the cover image he chose for Nine Horses. I found him so funny and charming that I went and bought the book. Reading his work changed the way I look at poetry (and attitudes to it) for good, basically.
Oh goodess, I’ve run out — I haven’t even talked about The Time Traveller’s Wife, a book that frustrated the hell out of me (I still don’t know whether I love it more than anything or loathe it to death — what the heck?!) or White Oleander, which I wanted to hate but which is the only book I finished and then sat down to read again immediately. There are heaps more… but now tell me yours!