Required reading

You might wonder why our suitcases coming back were so heavy, especially considering the biggest new/reclaimed items we returned with were unwieldy but comparatively lightweight: one foot-high stuffed reindeer, one ukelele, and an extra doll.

But then, there was this little haul:

Yes, we picked up a couple of books along the way.

You’ll note that many of these do not look new. In fact, some are positively antique. That’s because I have this little habit of raiding the bookshelves in “my” bedroom at my parents’ house when I’m back and removing some of the most meaningful items in case some day everything gets somehow disbursed to a charity shop before I can reclaim it. Additionally, in a fit of nostalgia, B rescued a stack of his old beloved Asterix and Tin-Tin comics from his nephew, on whom he’d bestowed them in 1999 when he emigrated. He was always concerned that said nephew did not fully appreciate them, but in fact his mistrust was misplaced – nephew had enjoyed the stories and kept them through a house move – but now was happy to give them back to someone with safer hoarding tendencies.

Shall I catalogue the whole bunch for you? Oh, okay then…

Left-hand column, from the bottom:

  • sundry Asterixes
  • sundry Tin-Tins
  • Ian McEwan, Sweet Tooth
  • AM Homes, May We Be Forgiven
  • Exploring English 1
  • Roald Dahl, The BFG
  • Two Mr Men books
  • Roald Dahl, James and the Giant Peach

The two novels are a present from my sister-in-law, who is knowledgeable about books. She was delighted to hear I hadn’t read them, but it’s not really that much of a surprise since the only books I read last year were probably a few tried and trusted Dick Francises.

Exploring English was the Inter-Cert short-story collection – that is, B and I and every other 15-year-old in Ireland studied many of its stories. It’s a really great selection of Irish and other fiction, and now holds pride of place beside our copy of Soundings (the original, scribbled full of notes; not the recent reprint).

I bought the Dahls because Dash is really getting into this chapter book thing, and several items from his cousin’s bookshelf were eagerly consumed (via reading out loud by someone else, I mean) over the break. I produced James and the Giant Peach at the airport yesterday morning, and this happened:

 And this,

And also this

All that got him triumphantly to the end of the first paragraph, and he hadn’t actually retained any of the information, but it’s a good bit above his reading level, and anyway, it’s the intention that delights me. We did read some of it to him as well.

Anyway. The right-hand stack, bottom to top, goes as follows:

  • Deb Perelman, The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook
  • Marian Keyes, The Mystery of Mercy Close
  • JRR Tolkein, The Hobbit
  • Arthur Ransome, Swallows and Amazons
  • Noel Streatfield, Ballet Shoes
  • Antonia Forrest: Autumn Term, End of Term, Cricket Term, Attic Term
  • Rumer Godden: The Peacock Spring and The Greengage Summer

I am totally delighted with the cookbook, which has been on my Christmas list ever since Deb announced it would be happening, back in the Spring. I only opened it this morning for the first time, I’m halfway through the first chapter, and I can categorically state that the woman is a genius. As if we didn’t know that already.

The Keyes is the last in the series of sister-books that began way back with Watermelon in 1998. She’s a delight and a wonder and I and started it yesterday and despite children on airplanes I’m halfway through. It’s immensely comforting to have such an entertaining piece of south county Dublin sitting on my bookshelf for whenever I need it.

And the others, well, they’re special, obviously. My copy of The Hobbit was given to me by my aunt on my 11th birthday (this fact is recorded in my wobbly cursive on the title page), the Swallows and Amazons series was one my Dad (the hobbyist yacht-builder and lover of messing-about-in-boats) and I read together, and I look forward to seeing just how well or badly it has aged when I share it with Dash in a year or three. Noel Streatfield was my tween author of choice – more sophisticated than Enid Blyton but before I’d got to LM Montgomery, perhaps. So very British, so very pre-wartime, so very full of optimism that every little girl had inside her an actress, a ballerina, or perhaps an engineer.

The Antonia Forrest books were just a little more up-to-date – though it’s hard to pinpoint since the first was published initially in 1948, the second 10 years later, and the last two in the 70s – but they all take place within about two years of each other. They’re your standard sisters-at-English-boarding-school stories, but with a side of maturity, boyfriends, and comparative religion never seen in Blyton. (Mabel’s real name comes from one of the characters, who always struck me as the coolest, nicest, strongest girl-you’d-want-to-be ever.)

Then, the Goddens. I picked up the first half of her fascinating memoir, A Time to Dance, No Time to Cry at the Labor Day book sale (local institution) and loved reading about the life behind the woman whose books had held me so as a teenager. I always consider The Greengage Summer to be the first “grown-up” book I read – not that the protagonists are older than teenagers, but because the narrative is non-linear and flits from afterwards to before to during without warning. It at first confused, and then elated me to pick out the strings of this story, steeped in heady, sensual, through-adolescent-eyes France, and fit them together myself. The Indian Summer is not quite so good, but smells and colours of India come through so vividly that it was no surprise to find out from Godden’s memoir that she lived there for much of her life.

So I should manage to keep my new year’s resolution of reading more quite easily. I didn’t say I’d be reading new books, did I?

3 thoughts on “Required reading

  1. Hangar Queen

    I have my own dog-eared and much scribbled upon copy of Exploring English 1. It’s currently languishing in a West Virginia attic.Biding it’s time and counting down the hours until it’s released from Ze Koolah and put back in Gen.Pop.

    I just stumbled across your blog after checking in with today’s IT and am enjoying it immensely.

    So to answer your question. Yes and ‘Hello’ yerself.

  2. bethany actually

    Ooh, I’m happy to hear Mercy Close is good! I actually have a copy already; I tend to buy Marian Keyes’s books from when they’re first released because I’m weird that way. But I have not had a chance to start reading it yet. It’s surprisingly difficult to remember to read an actual paper book when one has gotten used to the convenience of always being able to read on one’s phone while putting the toddler to bed or being driven to dinner.

    I loved the Streatfeild books as a kid. LOVED THEM. I still love them, actually.

  3. Pingback: Magic wand required - Awfully Chipper

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