Since I was 18, I have kept a notebook/diary of every book I have ever read – yes, every single one! Pre-18 I wasn’t a big reader, in fact, I read only when I had to, which were books we had to read at school, and a small handful of other books – Heidi, some of The Famous Five and Secret Seven books, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and the Asterix books. I struggled with reading as a youngster and was obsessed with drawing so art was my escape and was the place where my imagination really took hold.
That shifted though as I moved into my late teens, when my diary of books first began. If you are a reader and don’t keep a record of books you’ve read, I recommend it. It’s really interesting to look back over the years and remind yourself of books you’ve forgotten about. It’s also interesting to see how your tastes have changed, and, what is most interesting of all, is how the memory of the books triggers a specific ‘other’ memory – those lovely connections that set off a little explosion in our heads.
For example, the first two books I read of my own volition (not including the handful of children’s books mentioned above) were ‘Jayne Eyre’, by Charlotte Bronte, and ‘The Female Eunoch’, by Germaine Greer. I was 18 and these were books from the bookcase at home – even now, I can picture the bookcase, a young me knelt before it like an alter, the other books sat there, waiting, books which I didn’t read but liked to flick through, imagining I would read them one day.
Following this there was a burst of Catherine Cookson – she was the first writer whose books I devoured. I loved the stories, the tension, the romance, the twists and turns. Really, it was these books that got me into reading. It was also these books that initiated my regular trips to the library – a beautiful old building with high ceilings, a huge staircase leading to a higher mezzanine floor that went all the way round and which you could peer up into, and an overwhelming smell of wood and paper… and the silent shufflings as people pulled books from shelves and turned pages. Wonderful!
As I flick through my notebook now (dating 1983 – present, so spanning 31 years) I have come across some real gems – books I’d temporarily forgotten about, like abandoned graves waiting to be revisited and remembered. Here are just a few (along with the sometimes hilarious mini reviews I used to write alongside):
June 1987: ‘The L-shaped room’, Lynne Reid-Banks: Brilliant, moving and sad, wonderful characters.
June 1990: ‘Ariel’, Sylia Plath: Disturbing, very hard to understand, complex and slightly mad.
October 1991: ‘The Shell Seekers’, Rosamund Pilcher: Lovely story, though too much domestic trivia!
After 1991 my delightful (snort) reviews tail off, which is a shame really. Just to give you an idea of other books read over the years though, there is:1992: ‘A Judgement in Stone’, Ruth Rendall, 1999: ‘Birdsong’, Sebastian Faulks, 2004: ‘Angela’s Ashes’, Frank McCourt, 2006: ‘Margrave of the Marshes’, John Peel and family, 2009: ‘The Art of Racing in the Rain’, Garth Stein, 2011: ‘Proper Go Well High’, Oliver East, 2013: ‘The Hundred-year old man who climbed out of the window and disappeared’, Jonas Jonasson … and so it goes on…
I’ve read a few wonderful books this year. Here are my four faves:
‘Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close’, Jonathan Safran Foer (intense at times, grabs you at the first page)
‘The Miniaturist’, Jessie Burton (magical, haunting and captivating)
‘Middlesex’, Jeffrey Eugenides (highly original, amusing and fascinating, wonderful protagonist)
‘Grayson Perry’, Wendy Jones (fascinating, honest and a complete delight)
And for 2015, I have waiting: ‘Grayson Perry’, Jacky Kline, ‘The Ocean at the end of the lane’, Neil Gaiman, ‘The Queen and I’, Sue Townsend, and ‘The five people you meet in heaven’, Mitch Albom. I can’t wait to read them.
What are your reading recommendations for 2015?