My Life in Books

March 16, 2011 § 14 Comments

A friend of mine runs an eclectic blog over at blogspot. Being a friend of mine, naturally she is an avid reader, so she talks about books from time to time.

Another thing Ellie does is watch TV, and that is something I rarely seem to get around to doing. I therefore have not seen the BBC series ‘My Life in Books’, but the concept intrigues me. The point is to choose five books which say something about you. They’ve been doing this with celebrities, of course, and since I am not a celebrity I daresay my five books are a bit irrelevant to most people. I’m going to do it anyway though, because I’m fascinated by how much reading choices reveal about a person.

Carbonel by Barbara Sleigh was the first more-or-less ‘real’ book I read. I suppose I must have been about eight or so. This book is about a pair of children who, by various exciting means, are able to communicate with cats. They are mixed up in the challenges facing Carbonel, King of the Cat Kingdom, and his family: a white persian cat called Blandamour and, later, their children. Reading this book was probably the beginning of my taste for fantasy fiction.

Alanna: The First Adventure, by Tamora Pierce. I was about eleven when I borrowed this from the school library. I have remained a dedicated Tamora Pierce fan ever since. Alanna is a girl who changes places with her twin brother in order to go to Court to learn to be a knight. She’s a diminutive redhead with a fierce temper and the sort of unflinching determination most of us can only dream of. Tamora has written several collections of books set in the world of Tortall, and each one features some of the characters from the previous series. It’s an ingenious trick that’s kept me avidly reading them all, and I am still thrilled whenever any of my ‘old friends’ turn up again.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. I first read this at the age of fourteen or so (this is turning into a history of my life in books, isn’t it?). I’m pretty sure that my interest in history started here. I’ve since read every Jane Austen novel about a thousand times each, and I have a well-tended library full of literature from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Speaking of which, Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell is the fourth book on my list. This is one I discovered only when I was more or less adult, which is probably a good thing as it is much longer and more complex. It is one of the greatest, most wondrous and admirable pieces of fiction I’ve ever read. Ms. Gaskell’s ability to portray difficult, complicated characters is unparalleled in my reading. I love, love, love all of the people in this book – even the vacuous, selfish, stupid ones – and sometimes I wish I could stay tucked into its pages forever.

Finally, The Anvil of the World by Kage Baker. Ms. Baker is (or was) a science fiction writer normally, but she wrote a few fantasy books. This book has an unusual structure in that it is composed of three shorter, related narratives about the same central character, usually known only as ‘Smith’. Smith takes on a job as a caravan guard transporting artistic goods across country, and ends up fighting off assassins, sharing a hot tub with an attractive demon lady, starting up a hotel in a popular seaside resort, and incidentally saving the world. What I love most about it is Ms. Baker’s incomparable dry humour. It is one of those books I picked up cheap somewhere because I might as well, and now it is one of the brightest stars of my collection.

It was interesting but quite difficult picking those five. I’ll stop there, because if I allow myself to expand my allotment to ten or even more, I will be at this all week.

So, supposing you were on the run from the law and you had space in your luggage for five hastily-grabbed books, which would you choose?


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§ 14 Responses to My Life in Books

  • What I like most about this post is that I have never heard of these books!
    My list consists of books that are in most cases, fairly well known.

    “Catcher in the Rye” I was 13 when I read it first. My Dad had died a couple years earlier, I was young and on the verge of going crazy. Salinger talked me off the ledge.

    “Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus” Did my best scholarly work on this book. Why? See previous comments.

    “Assassination Vacation” by Sara Vowell. Funny, brilliant a little sad, then funny again.

    “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier&Klay” Good Story telling.
    “Homicide:Life on the Streets” by David Simon. I’ve read it so many times that I’ve had to buy 2 new copies.

    • Charlotte says:

      Hi Scott,

      I haven’t heard of a few of your chosen books either! I love collecting recommendations from friends, it helps to broaden the range of my reading.

      I’ve read Frankenstein, a few years ago – very creepy book. It’s interesting to hear such a great review of ‘Catcher in the Rye’ – I have an impression of it as one of those books that school children are always forced to read, and which they near-universally hate. I’d better get over that and have another look. After all, Jane Eyre is one of my favourites and it certainly falls into that category also.

      I’ll be looking up the rest. Thanks for sharing!

      • Jane Eyre is definitely one of those books that is a hard sell for teenage American boys. It was assigned reading in high school and to help us “get it” our teacher presented the BBC production of it to us in class. We would read some together, read some for homework and then watch what we had read. It really helped with our appreciation of it. I do believe that there is a new Jane Eyre film about to come out.

      • Charlotte says:

        There is a new film, which I have mixed feelings about because the last TV version – with Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens – was so very good. However, I will certainly watch it! A good film adaptation can transform a story.

  • Ellie says:

    I would grab the Sadlers Wells collection by Lorna Hill. Technically there are ten in the series but hey ho!

    I choose these as i have had them since I was about ten (ish). Every year, i pull each book down one by one and re read them.

    I know its daft, I don’t do ballet, or horses, but I just absolutely love them!…and I could never be without them.

    And yes, there are many more books that I love, but none of them pull me back time and time again in the same way.

    • Charlotte says:

      Hi Ellie,

      I’d half-forgotten some of my childhood favourites until you mentioned the Sadlers Wells collection. I had a fondness for books in that genre too (though in my case it made some sense I suppose as I did do ballet and horse-riding at one time. Especially the ballet). Makes me think of The Saddle Club, Scrambled Legs and several others. Sadly all of my copies are long gone and the memory of them is faded. It’s marvellous that you still have yours.

  • Pam Parker says:

    Hmmmm….. off the top of my head – five books I would grab? Heidi; Room; The Sun Also Rises; Gilead; the Bible.

    Now, given more time and thought, I think the list would change, and I may just spend some time on this. Thanks for the post. Fun to meet you in the Twitterverse.

    • Charlotte says:

      Hello Pam, thanks for commenting!

      Interestingly I found the same: the first list that sprang into my head was composed of a few different books. After giving it some thought I changed my list quite a lot. Peculiar that instinct and consideration would be different from each other in this context. Maybe it’s just the problem of making lists: there are are considerably more than five books that I cherish and never want to be without, so picking five is hard.

  • aarongraham says:

    I LOVED THIS POST! (Mind if I swipe the idea in a few weeks…of course I’ll kick everyone back to your site when I do) I think books are a fascinating look into the mind of an individual.

    Since I’m the kind of reader who is reading anywhere between 5-7 books at one time, this exercise will be easy for me. (I keep these books scattered around the house so I usually have something in arms reach no matter where I am)

    Let me go round them up and see what I have:


    Let’s see, in the living room I found Livy’s “The Early History of Rome” Classic. Written over 2,000 years ago so that’s gotta be worth something. I can only hope that my books are being tossed on the coffee table of some intergalactic cruiser as a Space Monkey needs something to browse through on his way to the nearest galaxy. (Yes, this world will be dominated by a future race of Monkeys)

    On the family room coffee table (actually it was under the coffee table) I have Shelby Foote’s master narrative on the American Civil War, “Fredericksburg To Meridian” I know, compared to British History, my American history seems like child’s play. We get all misty eyed when we talk about a battlefield that is 148 years old and I know there are Englishmen who must have wine older than that. Then again, I think 1776 just looks like a cooler number on paper than 1066.

    By my bed I have Ken Follett’s amazing new book “Fall of Giants” It’s a great historical novel on the Russian Revolution. (Can’t you tell I’m a History Junkie)

    And finally, in the bathroom I had Phil Gordon’s “Little Blue Book of Poker. More Lessons and Hand Analysis In No Limit Texas hold’em.” The title is self-explanatory and where I found it says a lot about it too.

    • Charlotte says:

      I don’t mind at all if you ‘swipe’. I’ll be interested to see your take on the topic!

      Under the coffee table is a perfect place to keep books about the American Civil War. I’m agreeing with you about 1776 but then the eighteenth century is my favourite period of history, along with the nineteenth. On the other hand I have a castle virtually in my back yard with walls dating from 1068, and a cathedral opposite to it whose west front dates from about 1072-1092 and the rest is a patchwork of early to late medieval. People are still living in 12th-16th century buildings around here, so 148 years does sound a bit … new. However it’s not entirely reasonable to view history as ‘the older the better’ – it’s all interesting!

      Last year I finished a degree in Heritage Studies, so I’m right with you on history. Endlessly fascinating.

      Now, I must ask you to please give me a full report on ‘Fall of Giants’ when you’ve finished it. I read ‘Pillars of the Earth’ and enjoyed it immensely, even though the book is, itself, immense. I’ve been eyeing ‘Fall of Giants’ for a while. The scope of it looks daunting but magnificent if it’s done well (which it probably is).

  • Kathleen Lourde says:

    Hi, Charlotte…

    Just wanted to mention to your readers that the Jane Austen novels and Wives and Daughters are available on Gutenberg for free.


  • I’m also (still) a massive Tamora Pierce fan, so I’m glad that A:tFA made your list! Pierce’s books were definitely the first books that really got me hooked on fantasy, and I believe First Test was the one I read first.

    I’ve never read Wives and Daughters, but I LOVE Gaskell’s North and South. She definitely has a gift for shaping great characters.


    • Charlotte says:

      Hi Emily, thanks for visiting!

      I think Tamora’s done that for so many young people. I always wonder why her popularity – though considerable – has never reached the heights of certain other fantasy authors for young adults. It doesn’t seem fair somehow. She beats them all, hands down! My own favourite series was always the Immortals. I still read that quite regularly.

      Well now, about Elizabeth Gaskell… I started with North and South as well, which, like you, I LOVE. It was my favourite, until I read (and watched) Wives and Daughters. I can’t stress enough how beautiful this story is. If you don’t have time to read the book at the moment (because it is long), try to see the BBC TV adaptation instead! It’s so good.

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