A couple of weeks ago, my friend, Daniella, tagged me on Facebook. “List 10 books that have stayed with you in some way. Don’t take more than a few minutes, and don’t think too hard. It is not about the ‘right’ book or great work of literature, just ones that have affected you in some way. Does not have to be in order.’
I should then have nominated 10 friends to be tagged in turn. I am hopeless at this. By the time I have got round to it, all my friends have already been tagged by someone and there is no-one left to choose. But I did write my list – pretty much off the top of my head and here it is:
Tolstoy, Anna Karenina
Vasily Grossman, Life and Fate
L. M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables
Sarah Waters, Fingersmith
Lawrence Block, Out on the Cutting Edge
Taichi Yamada, Strangers
Susan Coolidge, What Katy Did at School
Margaret Wise Brown, Goodnight Moon
Susan Varley, Badger’s Parting Gifts
Joyce Dennys, Henrietta’s War
Note that I am not saying these are the best or even my favourite books, just a few that have stayed with me. This list is all fiction. Maybe I’ll do non-fiction another time.
One of the advantages of my e-reader is that I can download a lot of out of copyright material and that’s what I’ve done with some of the books I used to love as a child but had somehow mislaid over the years. I have done that with Susan Coolidge’s Katy novels. WHAT KATY DID AT SCHOOL is still on my shelves and I have reread it now and again, but it was years since I had read WHAT KATY DID or WHAT KATY DID NEXT and I’d never read the later ones in the sequence. Well, now I have and there’s a special interest in reading them again as an adult and being conscious of their historical context. It’s interesting in itself that books written for children over a hundred years before were considered suitable reading for me as a child in the sixties. I certainly can’t imagine my own daughters enjoying them. The Katy novels are very much in the mould of LITTLE WOMEN which had come out a few years before in the 1860s, and Charlotte M Yonge’s family stories were no doubt an influence too, but I have to say that they are not nearly as good as either. They are distinctly preachy and the characters are not as fully developed. After her initial feistiness and disobedience is punished by a fall from a swing which injures her spine, Katy is really a bit too good to be true and it doesn’t seem to occur to anyone that the girls in the family might do anything but keep house. Having said that, I did enjoy reading them. They give a fascinating picture of family life and social life in the US of the 1860s and they still retain some of the charm of childhood associations. When I’m very tired or not feeling great, the old childhood favourites – or maybe an Agatha Christie – are the books I reach for.