This post had it’s genesis from the lovely Claire at Divine Obscurity, and her thoughts on the books that changed her life. I thought I’d pinch the idea, and it’s quite interesting thinking about the books that have impacted the most on me over a lifetime (especially given I read 50+ books a year).
I have realised that there are many books in a lifetime, whilst shortlisting for this post. So this particular list is Jane: the early years – up until the point I finished university at 21. Here goes:
- The Enchanted Wood by Enid Blyton. I’ve gone right back to the beginning here. Probably the first concept I ever had of fantasy came from this book. The possibility of other worlds, all neatly spinning at the top of a magic tree populated by friendly fantastical creatures such as Moonface and Silky the Fairy. The adventures of Joe, Bessie and Fanny (in my day, I believe the names have now been changed to Joe, Beth and Frannie to please modern tastes). Its quite astounding to me that this book was written in 1939 (and that Enid herself was such a harridan to her children). Time has dated it, but it remains indelible in my mind, perfectly encapsulating the time when books caught me in their magical snare and took me to faraway places. (Blyton’s Secret Island and the Wishing Chair also had a very special place on my bookshelves)
- The Secret Garden by Francis Hodgson Burnett. I still have this; in fact it’s my mum’s copy, a lovely hard backed, blue bound edition with gorgeous illustrations. Probably the first historical piece I was aware of reading – the British Empire was a completely new concept to me. Always loved stories about orphans. And these children were uniformly horrid! Mary and Colin are spoilt, entitled brats who scream and fight and generally act like pillocks, ultimately saved by a boy called Dickon and the great outdoors. Just gorgeous. (Also love FHB’s Little Princess, with missing father’s, children stuck in garretts working to pay their fees, and genteelly impoverished misery).
- The Silver Brumbie by Elyne Mitchell. Oh man. I loved horses. I bought Horse and Pony religiously. I never had a hope in hell of owning one, but I’d read the small ads, looking for my own perfect pony. And this book is where that obsession started, when I was in the third year of junior school (about 9 or 10 years old). One of my teachers gave me this to read. With it’s beautiful silver stallion kicking it’s heels up in a river on the cover, I fell head over heels with Thowra, our beautiful silver brumbie narrator, and into the world of the Australia bush and kangaroos, the quest to become smart and clever and evade capture, all whilst building up a small harem, ahem, herd of fine creamy coloured fillies. I bought the series, and am proud to say that all these years later I still have them. (see also the wonderful For the Love of a Horse by Patricia Leitch, about a girl who rehomes a chestnut Arab mare. She just happened to be ginger and a little bit weird, like me. Instant book love. They’ve not left the building either).
- Pawn of Prophecy by David Eddings. My first foray into Big Girl’s Fantasy, when I was about 13. I remember buying this, I never had much money and I was on an after school trip with friends to Fenwicks Department store in Newcastle, where we always had cream cakes and coke and bought pretty stationery. This occasion I bought a rather insipid looking paperback, with this picture on the front:
Wizard, stern but beautiful woman, young boy with mysterious birthmark. I fell headlong into the world of the Belgariad (and subsequently the Mallorean), to the point where I stalked each book’s release, saving for weeks to afford the hard backs. This was the first multi volume fantasy series I ever read, and it remains to this day one of the best. It’s like a warm bath in times of stress. I have lost count of how many times I’ve read it, and I still can’t find fault with it. Each character in what is a standard hero-quest epic journey is beautifully realised, the world building is wonderful and quite frankly it set a very high standard for any future multi volume book set I’ve ever read (including Game of Thrones which reached astounding levels of tedium right about book 4).
- Tess of the D’Urbervilles / Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy. Sixth form! Whilst everyone else was raving about Mr Darcy, I found my spiritual home in Hardy’s exquisite misery. I also had a marvellous altruistic English teacher who recognised someone who would steal books wherever possible, so decided to offload a heap of classics on me that were being scrapped at school. He also loved Hardy, and encouraged me to write. Mr Jim Hollingsworth, you were a bloody brilliant teacher.
So I devoured Hardy. Not just these two, as many of them as I could get my hands on. Mayor of Casterbridge, Under the Greenwood Tree, A Pair of Blue Eyes. And, man, he could make me cry. I only understood about 1 sentence in every 3 of Jude, but that didn’t stop me being carried away on the surging tide of misery that is an every man’s existence. Did I mention it was this time in my life I became a fully blown gothling?! And Tess remains the personification of exhilarated sadness for me. Watch Gemma Arterton play her. I cried for days. Wonderful!
- Preludes and Nocturnes / The Doll’s House by Neil Gaiman. University. I read many, many books. None of them came close to the Neil Gaiman love fest that I inadvertently stumbled into when I started hanging out with the comic geek boys in the computer lab. A gent who named himself ‘Morpheus’ on our computer chat system (and was really called Colin) leant me a pile of single issues to read (along with Hellblazer, which is much more brutal but also absolutely brilliant). It’s hard to pick one volume, so I’ve just listed the first two, but the Sandman as a whole is a completely immersive and sometimes almost spiritual experience. And I wanted to be Shivering Jemmy. Or Delirium (actually, at university I probably was, I was such a dolly daydream head). Still love geek boys (Reader, I married one). But if push came to shove, I’d save my autographed Death: the High Cost of Living comics first in a fire (only kidding, husband!). BTW my favourite of the series has always been and remains Season of Mists. The devil resigns. It really doesn’t get better than that!
And that is quite enough! Picking those most important to me as an adult is going to even worse…though William Horwood is likely to figure highly on the list, along with Ray Bradbury and Clive Barker. Now off to hunt down book boxes…