Edrei tagged me a fair while ago, unfortunately landing his request slap bang in the middle of the summer from… Well, not hell exactly, but definitely the summer from chaos. As I am only just starting to return to Planet Blogosphere from my prolonged and not all together enjoyable sojurn round my freaked out mental state, I have decided that how best to ease back into blogging than with the history of my reading?
Do you remember how you developed a love for reading?
I don’t remember ever starting to read, I just remember always reading. There were always books around the house and somehow it just seemed to me that reading is what one did. At one point my mother tried to ban reading at the breakfast table in an attempt to engender some pleasant conversation. Instead we all just read the back of the cereal packets and maintained a grumpy morning silence. She gave in eventually.
I do, however, remember with great clarity when I first developed a respect for reading. My mother had handed some old Enid Blyton books to me, mainly a selection of the Famous Five adventures. My father has very strong opinions towards Ms. Blyton and most definitely did NOT want me reading her works. Banning me from reading them, however, was contrary to pretty much everything he held dear. Plus, us Kemp women are stubborn so he knew banning them was just going to make me want to read them MORE. His compromise was that, whilst I was allowed to read the Blyton’s already in my possession, if I wanted other titles, I had to get them myself. Our local library wasn’t well stocked, so save up my pocket money I did, and all the more precious were the books as a result.
It was this, I think, more than anything else, that has brought home to me over the years that reading is a privilege not to be taken for granted. I cherish all the books I read and want to share that joy with new generations of children…
And I’ll stop there because I am starting to sound like Freak Interview Girl again (yes, I have been going for lots of publishing roles lately, and they all seem to want some high-fuluting reason for why you want the job. What’s wrong with “I like books and the job looks interesting?” Anyway).
What are some books you read as a child?
The afore mentioned Famous Five series, the Mr Men books, Thomas the Tank Engine, The Hungry Caterpillar, all of Roald Dahl, Dick King-Smith, Tamora Pierce, Anne McCaffrey…
What is your favourite genre?
I will read most anything, so long as it is well written (my problem with Dan Brown and Clive Cussler isn’t their genre, rather the fact they can barely string two words together), but I have a tendency to lean towards science fiction and (some) fantasy when I have money to splurge. I also have a very guilty little habit of reading trashy romance (especially regency romance) and trashy vampire books – total brain-floss and popcorn, but just so deliciously delightful. Even in my guilty pleasures, however, I am a snob, and demand a certain standard of plotting, characterisation and (heaven forfend) dialogue.
Do you have a favourite novel?
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, for when I am feeling in need of a longer soppy romance, or The Crow Road by Iain Banks when I want a proper book to get my teeth into. Plus the perennial favourites of Austen and Wyndham… Right now it’s very easy to say what my favourites are, because I could only bring a few books with me to Oxford and had to make some hard decisions!
Where do you usually read?
Curled up in bed with a mug of tea, or in an armchair with a cup of tea, or on the sofa with a mug of tea… Location is less important than the accompayning mug of tea you will find! I also read on the bus, on the train, in the car, at the airport, in the bath, in the kitchen, walking to/from the bus/train/car/airport/bath/kitchen… I read pretty much anywhere and everywhere. If I am in the middle of a good book, then I am generally pretty loath to put it down.
When do you usually read?
I always read for at least 15 minutes before going to bed and I always read for at least 15 minutes in the morning as I drink my first cup of tea of the day. Through the rest of the day it depends what I am doing. It is not unusual for me to spend an entire Saturday and Sunday lost in an authors world, oblivious to all that is going on around me.
Do you usually have more than one book you are reading at a time?
I tend to have one book I am focused on at any one time. Occasionally, if I am reading a book that is weightier or not grabbing my attention so much, rather than give in totally, I will intersperse it with some brain-floss.
Do you read non-fiction in a different way or place than you read fiction?
When I am in research mode, I tend to read non-fiction at my desk, armed with a notepad and pen to make notes. I am not a big non-fiction person in my book life. Reading for me is an escape to another world and I have rarely felt the lure of what my father refers to as “the Dead Generals” (biographies). When I do go down that route however, I read pretty much as I read everything else: quickly, in long sittings, and to the exclusion of the rest of the world.
Do you buy most of the books you read, or borrow them, or check them out of the library?
At one point I brought every book I read, then I just ran out of space. Renting and moving a lot will do that to you! I have always been a member of my local libraries, joining them as soon as I move to a new place (with Oxford I was registered before I had even packed a single box!), and I make the most of them. They are an especially good source of brain-floss, as are charity shops.
Do you keep most of the books you buy? If not, what do you do with them?
If I buy a book, I keep that book. I very, very rarely get rid of books I have purchased. This is mainly because if I buy a book it is because I think I will want to read it over and over. It is also because I just like to own books – see the early childhood Blyton trauma. I grew up in a house where the walls were lined with books, and that is my idea of bliss. Right now I am suffering bookcase withdrawal and seriously do not know how I am going to manage.
Books I buy second hand are an exception to my “I’ve brought it, so I am never giving it away” mentality. If I buy a book from a charity shop and have no intention of reading it again, I will re-donate it so someone else will get the pleasure and some other charity will benefit. Or I’ll off load them on hapless friends who happen to mention they are running short of books… (One in particular did very well out of the latest book-cull).
If you have children, what are some of the favorite books you have shared with them? Were they some of the same ones you read as a child?
As me and children is just a topic which flips the brain (I have enough trouble looking after myself, without adding little people into the mix), I will have to look to a recent experience of clearing out the loft at the Homestead to the benefit of a friends daughter.
Going through the boxes of books I had grown up with was an odd experience, bringing back more memories than I thought possible. I wanted to stop and re-read every book as we pulled them out the crates and I could remember the provenance behind most of them. The Lucky Eight year-old got most of the Blyton’s, of course. Got to get a new generation hooked on the Famous Five, though I did warn her mother of the VERY dated gender politics and to be prepared for some questions… The other book I insisted she read, if she read no other was an anthology of short stories that included a story called “The Wrestling Princess“. I still remember my feeling as I read the story the first time, going “yes! Here’s a girl who DOESN’T want to wear the pretty dresses, but who would far rather be tinkering around with trucks and oil and helicopters!”
If you’ve got a 7-8 year old girl in your acquaintance, make them read this story!
(As a footnote to this, I know the little girl in question did read and enjoy the story, because not soon after, she showed me a story she had written that was clearly very heavily inspired).
What are you reading now
The Confusion by Neal Stephenson
Do you keep a “To Be Read” list?
It’s more a “to be read” pile – I tend to go into the library, denude the shelves, pile the ten or so books on my bedside table, read through them, and take them back to the library to start the process a week or so later. Yes, that’s right. It is not a rare thing for me to go through a book a day. You start to understand why I always register with the library?
What’s next to be read?
The System of the World by Stephenson (the last of the trilogy); or Nation, Terry Pratchett’s latest; or Anathem, Stephenson’s latest, if I can get hold of a copy. No bookshop has it on the shelves (some snafoo at the publishers end with barcodes as the nice boy in Waterstones told me yesterday when I looked piteously at him), which is annoying because for once I have a book token that needs to be spent in a physical shop! I might crack and get it off Amazon.
What books would you like to reread?
Pretty much anything on my bookshelves. I am actually re-reading The Baroque Cycle (Quicksilver, The Confusion, System of the World) at the moment. I re-read John Wyndham’s work at least once a year, getting something new from them each time. Ditto Austen (cliched but true) and Banks.
Who are your favourite authors?
Iain Banks without a shadow of a doubt. The man has a genius for dialogue, beautifully drawn, screwball family dynamics and finding the humour in even the saddest occasion. Any man who can open a book with “it was the day my grandmother exploded” and not disgust you is a legend.
John Wyndham, Issac Azimov, Arthur C. Clarke – I have a soft spot for the “classic” science fiction.
William Gibson is another man who is a genius with language. I read his books, glorying in his ideas and how he takes language, forces it to do the unexpected and crafts something new and beautiful. (Perhaps I should have done an English degree instead of Archaeology?)
I always eagerly await Neal Stephenson’s books because, though usually the weight of a house brick and murder on my wrists, he creates a whole world I can loose myself in for weeks at a time.
Meg Rosoff is a young adult writer who I would recommend everyone read. Her books are simply and elegantly written, with new ideas and twists you would never see coming. If I had my way, she would be as popular as Stephanie Meyer’s damn Twiglight Saga or Harry Potter – the same putative audience of “young adults” but the quality is a gazillion times better.
Now, instead of being mean and tagging other people (most of whom have been tagged by others already, anyway), I shall ask everyone to step into the comments with their answers to some of these questions. Perhaps most importantly, who are your favourite authors? I am a ravening reading beast, and I need more food!