Not Quite 5 Books

The title of Balancing Jane’s latest post is: “Quick! Which 5 books have made you who you are?”. I would have replied there, if I thought for a moment that I could choose just 5. But of course, I could chose 5 books before I’d even got to secondary school, and perhaps I should, given how much your childhood can affect the rest of your life. If I did, I’d pick:

  • the Worst Witch series, Jill Murphy
  • My Family and Other Animals, Gerald Durrell
  • Alice (in Wonderland, and Through The Looking-Glass), Lewis Carroll
  • the Malory Towers series, Enid Blyton
  • Farmer Boy, Laura Ingalls Wilder

Mildred, the “worst witch”, was a hillariously forgetful, charmingly inept character in a series of stories that featured a beautiful charicature of boarding school, with the innevitable turning-people-into-frogs style of magic thrown in for good measure. She taught me that even if it looked like everything was going wrong, it would probably turn out alright in the end. Gerald Durrell’s autobiographical My Family is a disarmingly funny and honest account of his family’s life in Corfu, plus some commentary on animals. In secondary school, I returned to my Durrell collection – at that time, I owned almost every book he’d ever written – and read them continuously, to try to pass a creative writing exam by absorbing the style of a published author. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but I didn’t quite manage it – probably because I wasn’t being original enough!

Alice In Wonderland is probably the best-known of the books in my list, and certainly the oldest. I’ve always enjoyed maths, and logic, and the flights of absurdity in Alice are still fantastic to read. Darrell, the main character in the Malory Towers series, endeared herself to me for two reasons: she was drawn with short hair, and she often lost her temper! Farmer Boy, and indeed the rest of the Little House series, I’ve already written about in this post on Teaspoon of Sugar.

Between 11 and 16 I read hundreds – literally hundreds – of books. I think I got through most of the books in my school library, which – now that I think about it – were a fairly odd mix. I can’t even begin to narrow my choices down to 5 here, but some of the authors I read in that period were:

Tamora Pierce (a USA-based fantasy author – too many books to list), Gillian Cross (The Demon Headmaster series), Diana Wynne Jones (UK-based fantasy author), Bram Stoker (Dracula), Mary Shelley (Frankenstein), Michelle Magorian (A Little Love Song and Goodnight Mister Tom), Malorie Blackman (Noughts and Crosses), Nancy Werlin (The Killer’s Cousin), Jaclyn Moriarty (Feeling Sorry for Celia), Phillip Pullman (His Dark Materials series and the Sally Lockhart series), John Wyndham (The Midwich Cuckoos, Day of the Triffids, The Seeds of Time), J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter series – the books came out in the summer of every year I was in secondary school, you couldn’t miss them), Douglas Adams (The Hitch-Hikers’ Guide to the Galaxy, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul), Phillipa Pearce (Tom’s Midnight Garden), Mary Norton (The Borrowers), Judy Blume (USA-based teen fiction), Agatha Christie (crime fiction, and yes, I think I’ve read almost every book she wrote!).

And after that, I did a lot of re-reading. Many of the authors I’ve listed still appear on my bookshelf. That’s pretty impressive, given how often I’ve tried to trim it back! But here’s five adult books that I can’t go without mentioning:

  • 1984, George Orwell. A popular book for any list!
  • The Handmaid’s Tale, Magaret Atwood. Truly terrifying.
  • The Bloody Chamber, Angela Carter. Again, scary.
  • The Historian, Elizabeth Kostova. A beautiful re-working of Dracula, with extra libraries.
  • I Am Legend. Richard Matheson. More vampires – you can never have too many!

I don’t really have a conclusion to this, except to say: books. I like them. And I would like to have the space to store more of them, so that I could re-populate my bookshelf with all of the authors I’m now thinking of.