Recently my niece Emma (who is my favourite niece of that name) challenged me to list my top ten books via Facebook. I could no more do this than fly in the air, but I note below nine** books or groups of books, which had an impact on me that I still recall.
The Starry Floor by Eleanor Farjeon. Poems inspired by the constellations, Elspeth sent this to me when she moved away to Glasgow, I must have been about 7 years old. My very first poetry book, I adored it and can still quote from it. Still have it.
British Birds by F B Kirkman and F C R Jourdain. Bought by my parents around 1967, for me to pore over. It fueled a life time love affair with the avians. Still have it. Also Granda Stephen’s bird book, British Birds in their Haunts, Rev. C.A. Johns. I was allowed to read this in Brightons while the grown ups talked. I have this too, dated 1922.
A Day in Fairyland, by Sigrid Rahmas, illustrated by Ana Mai Seagren. Our childhood fairy story book, the curatrix of which is currently Ali. Glorious pictures in a book the size of a house, a wonderful tale of the denizens of Fairyland preparing for a party.
All the works of Iain Banks*. The Crow Road: “It was the day my grandmother exploded.” “Why do bad things happen?” The Bridge, Espedair Street, Whit etc. Summed up the late 20th Century condition, seen from West Fife. Phenomenal talent, much missed.
Perfume by Patrick Süskind. I liked it as much for the historic detail as for the portrayal of a psychopath.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. Redemption for Mr Rochester, vindication for love lorn Jane, and the wild Yorkshire moors. Although hopefully today’s standards would mean a more empathetic outcome for Bertha. Go into the British Library next to St Pancras station and see the original, sitting open at “Reader, I married him”. Also see The Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys for a more balanced Bertha view.
Melvin the Moose Child by Louis Slobodkin. Gift from Granny Miller and Aunty Net. Terrifying pictures and words, just a stroll in the forest, eh? Scarier than Heart Of Darkness but it all ends well as Melvin makes new friends. I still have this. I still get sweaty palms when I hold it.
Poems of New York ed. Elizabeth Schmidt, Everyman edition. Brought this back from our 2013 visit, some terrific selections, some of which have already been quoted here. Totally evocative of the city and invokes a nostalgia for times I didn’t even experience, testament to the power of the words.
My Family and Other Animals etc by Gerald Durrell. He was a grumpy character and many of his autobiographical reminiscences were made up. But I must have read this book 20+ times when I was in my teens. The tales of Corfu, bathed in the rosy glow of what was always going to be a happier time (pre World War 2 so draw your own conclusions) mixed with the happy if anarchic family and the countless animals, who seemed to have more sense than the humans at times, were my comfort reading. The tale of the disembowelled turtle makes me laugh out loud.
*I have not read any Iain M. Banks. I recognise and applaud SF as a genre, I just don’t read it, yet.
**still reading ….