There’s this meme going round. I don’t think I’ve ever taken part in a meme before.
Author you’ve read the most books from: Hey, what happened to starting with an easy question? I read a lot of library books in my teens and twenties, so the answer to this might be Nicholas Fisk, Dick Francis, Leslie Charteris or Isaac Asimov. In terms of what we’ve got in the house, probably Terry Pratchett, because I know I’ve read everything of his that we’ve got, but we’ve got more Agatha Christie – I’m not sure how many of them I’ve actually read.
Best sequel ever: I’m struggling to think of something I’ve read that was a pure sequel. I’ve plumped for Ellis Peters’s Monk’s-Hood. It’s the third Cadfael book by publication date (there’s a collection of short prequels as well), and for me it’s the one where the series really hits its stride. I love A Morbid Taste for Bones, but it feels as if it was intended as a standalone novel (I don’t know if that’s true). It’s One Corpse Too Many that feels like the start of the series, and unfortunately for me it’s completely undercut by having seen some of the TV adaptations (recognising the recurrent character when he first turns up really kills the suspense).
Currently reading: Currently editing, which for me makes reading for pleasure a bit of a bust. If I want to read tonight I’ll probably pick up some GK Chesterton or Bill Bryson because a) they’re near the door, b) I can dip in and drop them again, and c) I can guarantee not being distracted by infelicitous usages.
Drink of choice while reading: If I’m really reading it doesn’t matter what I’ve got to drink, because it will either get cold or get knocked across the floor when I forget it’s there.
E-reader or physical book: If I’m sat somewhere comfy and you offer me the same novel on ereader or in the flesh, then obviously I’ll take the book, but I’ve always read on buses and in supermarket queues if I have a book to hand, and I’m an absolute convert to the app on my phone because it makes it easy to have something to hand.
Fictional character you probably would have liked to date in upper* school: I must read the wrong books; I can’t think of one single young hero I’d really want to spend quality time with. I did have a massive crush on Albert Campion around that time, though of course he’s far too old. It had more to do with the TV version, I’m afraid, but in mitigation that did make me look for the books.
Glad you gave this book a chance: Marina Lewycka’s A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, which I only read because someone gave it to me. Judging from Goodreads it’s a definite marmite book. I loved it, but it’s due a reread because I can’t really remember what I loved about it, except for the superbly dysfunctional family.
Hidden Gem book: It’s difficult to know what to class as hidden. I always thought Nevil Shute was well known, but I’m starting to get the impression that he’s not particularly widely read, so I’ll go for one of his early books, Lonely Road, which I had to crowbar into this survey somewhere. It’s generally classed (a little dismissively) as one of Shute’s pre-war novels, and that’s a misleading tag – it’s set before the second world war, but it’s very much a post first world war book.
Important moment in your reading life: Catching mumps. I didn’t get it badly but Dad had never had it, so I was firmly quarantined. I was a stumbling reader beforehand, had nothing else to do whilst I was ill, and jumped about four levels when I got back to school. I’m extremely grateful to the teacher who recognised how much my reading had improved and let me skip those levels.
Just finished: Michael G Munz’s short story collection Mythed Connections, a trio of lovely little pieces with the premise that if the myths were ever true then they still are, and therefore the ancient gods and heroes are still kicking around somewhere.
Kind of books you won’t read: I’m wary of romances, but will give them a chance. The hardest thing to persuade me to read is a Booker prize winner. I’m probably being terribly unfair, but I’m irredeemably shallow and I want to be entertained more than I want to be challenged. Feel free to force me to consider new ideas, but don’t expect me to get far with them if you haven’t sugared the pill with a cracking good yarn.
Longest book you’ve ever read: My husband says that I should count Lord of the Rings as a single book, but I’m not convinced. Prowling round the room and trying to guess, the contenders appear to be Stephen King’s Under the Dome, Miguel de Cervantes’s Don Quixote (like you don’t know who wrote that), Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, Lindsey Davis’s Rebels and Traitors and the full length version of Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land.
Major book hangover because of: Atlas Shrugged irritated and intrigued me, and I only finished it out of sheer bloody mindedness.
Number of bookcases you own: I was always more of a library reader, but my husband has a serious second hand book habit. Between us we have twelve. Everything’s mixed up together, but I’d say about 90% of the books are his.
One book you have read multiple times: Anything I like and own I will read again and again. A special mention for Michael Wombat’s Fog, which I read twice in three days because I was supposed to be proofreading it but got too sucked in to be critical the first time.
Preferred place to read: Somewhere sunny. But that’s my default answer for any activity.
Quote that inspires you/gives you all the feels from a book you’ve read: I was trying to avoid coming back to the same author twice, but one of my favourite single lines, for summing up the whole thrust of a book and showing you what’s been important all along, is from Ellis Peters. It would be a massive spoiler if I named the book, but I think I’ll get away with it otherwise. It doesn’t sound much on its own, but it’s a soul-wrenching wail of loss, and I hear it ring out the second I pick up the volume: “I would have taken her barefoot in her shift.”
Reading regret: Forgetting about all Lawrence Block for several years. I loved everything of his that I read, but that was at the last library I frequented before I moved in with my husband, and working through his collections rather distracted me.
Series you started and need to finish: Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe novels, if they count as a series (and if they don’t, tough). I’d heard of them, of course, but had never read any until I stumbled across Farewell My Lovey in a charity shop when I was on holiday alone. It absolutely bowled me over. I don’t know whether it was because it was new to me, or I was in just the right mood, or it really is by far and away the best of the set, but the others have never quite hit me the same way, and I’ve never got round to reading them all, though I’d like them well enough if I wasn’t trying to match them to that first experience.
Three of your all-time favourite books: Avoiding authors I’ve already named, and bearing in mind that this list might be completely different if you ask me tomorrow:
Jerome K Jerome’s Three Men on the Bummel, which now I come to think of it I could have included as best sequel ever. Discursive, conversational, charming and absolutely hilarious. If you have not encountered this you must read, at the very least, the section describing a class of small boys being required to analyse bucolic poetry. I’ve just realised how dull that sounds. No, really, just trust me.
Jedediah Berry’s The Manual of Detection, which is just bewitchingly beautiful and very, very strange (in the best possible way).
Harry Harrison’s One Step from Earth, a collection of short stories all featuring the same invention at different stages of its development and acceptance, but using very varied viewpoints and styles. The last piece is particularly haunting and effective, and this is always a shock to me because I knew about the Stainless Steel Rat for a long time before I discovered that Harry Harrison also wrote serious pieces.
Unapologetic fan of: Public libraries. I may have the business sense of a stunned vole, but I am absolutely behind the concept that everyone should be able to go and borrow a wide range of books for free.
Very excited for this release more than all others: I’ve got the attention span of a puppy in this respect. I get wildly excited when I see the adverts and then forget by the time they’re released. The last one this happened for was Lindsey Davis’s The Ides of April, which picks up the pieces of the Falco universe but shifts the focus to Albia. Now I’ve written this I’m all excited about the release again, though it was ages ago.
Worst bookish habit: Reaching for old friends instead of trying something new – and then not leaving reviews when I do try something new.
X marks the spot: I have a certain amount of leeway with this, but I picked the widest bookcase, ignored the fact that it’s double stacked, and came up with George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman, which is a blast. If you don’t know it, it picks up the story of the Tom Brown’s Schooldays character in the form of extracts from his own memoir of his wild career.
Your latest book purchase: If we’re going for actual book that I actually paid for (I’ve been downloading a lot of freebies off Smashwords lately, and I can’t really count buying a copy of this to send to Mum) probably Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter’s The Long War because of. . .
ZZZZZ… The last book that kept you up way too late: Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter’s The Long Earth.
*Bedfordshire has a weird three tier school system. Upper school is 12 to 16, or 12 to 18 if the school has a sixth form (which was still called a sixth form when I was there because they retained the secondary school year numbering when they changed, meaning that we started upper school as ‘third years’).